Getting Our Tires Dirty With Cars 3

Doing a good job takes hard work and tons of practice. Although our motivations may vary, it is only through rigorous training and supportive guidance that we are able to reach the checkered flag and cross the finish line. The team at Disney Pixar has once again demonstrated the rewards of hard work through the beautiful animations and important messaging in their latest hit, Cars 3.


Before we get any further, let’s hit the brakes. We are the Prospector Theater – a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing meaningful employment to adults with disabilities through the operation of a first-run, four-screen movie theater in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Employees of our Theater are known as Prospects, and we are encouraged to sparkle, shine, and transform our passions into professions.  Currently, there’s 105 of us Prospects, and 70% of us identify with a disability.


We show all of the latest blockbusters in our state-of-the-art facility. Each new movie creates countless opportunities for us to tap into the passions – or sparkle – of our Prospects to create meaningful work experiences, and promote audience engagement with a population of Americans who have long been absent from the workforce. In the U.S. alone, 80% of people with disabilities are underemployed or unemployed. This is a serious issue, but we’re the right team for the job.


Our unique training program drives our mission of employment. We teach and train with the pedal to the metal, full throttle, 365 days per year! Prospects are paired with appropriate and fitting jobs that help them to be AWESOME at their jobs. We’re firm believers that you work the best when you love what you do. Just like pit-crews, we provide Prospects with the tools, fuel, support systems, and structure they need to get on the track and win the race. Wrenches are frequently thrown into the mix,and we devise “work-arounds” that help Prospects through the yellow flags in the workplace. All car puns aside, we have devised a training program based around individualized work plans – this is why we are super excited about Pixar’s Cars 3!


“It’s all about motivation”, exclaims Rust-eze’s number one trainer Cruz Ramirez. “You can use anything negative as fuel to push through to the positive!” Our mission drives parallel with this sentiment. Our individualized work plans focus on Prospect strengths and areas for improvement. Just as Cruz uses specialized training techniques for her racers – meditating about fluffy clouds, projecting a car’s home town onto their treadmill screen – we do the same.


This training and support requires us to “get our tires dirty”, just as McQueen urges Cruz to do. The Disney Pixar team even lived up to their own words while designing the animation for the demolition derby scene; animators were asked to film themselves playing in mud so they could replicate it’s look! We too believe that meaningful work experiences require you to “get your tires dirty.” Internships, volunteering, mock interviewing, and “playing pretend” are the fancy racing simulator at the Rust-eze center. Initially they seem like an opportunity to accelerate, but in many cases they wind up being dead ends, or they spin us out of control before we crash. Our method of racing is different. The competitive and integrated employment program we have designed is the muddy course at Thunder Hollow – we adapt and adjust in real-time, and we are certainly not afraid of getting messy. We encourage Prospects to “look for opportunities you never knew were there.” The challenges and adversity we face when getting our tires dirty are just speed bumps on the road to victory. Growth and experience come from standards, accountability, and on-the-job learning as a paid employee. After all, we are racers, not simulators.


Dirty tires provide us with the experience we need to succeed on the track, but races are long and difficult. Nobody can win the race alone – we need pit crews and trainers to support us. Our approach to training is dynamic; the line between student and teacher is often flip-flopped. In the racing center, it is obvious that Cruz is the teacher and Lightning is the trainer, but oh how quickly the tables turn once they reach Fireball Beach. This goes to show that when we work together to be better at our jobs, everyone benefits – Prospects, customers, the community, etc. As we invest in teachers and trainers, we expand our capacity for good beyond the 105 Prospects who work at the Theater. Our teachers become teachers for future teachers. Behind every Cruz, there’s a Lightning. Behind every McQueen, there’s a Doc Hudson, and even Doc had a Smokey.


The model we have created is a beacon of hope for the millions of Americans with disabilities who can work and want to work, but cannot find gainful employment. Sadly, after more than 25 years since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the roads of employment remained closed for America’s most underrepresented, yet talented, workforce. Our Prospects are living testaments to Lou’s wise words: “life’s too short to take no for an answer”. We are tired of reaching dead-ends when we know that although our car may drive and look differently, with the right pit crew, it can still run the race with the other competitors in the field.


You too can help to drive our mission of meaningful employment. Race over to the Prospector Theater to experience the sparkle for yourself. Chat with our Prospects, enjoy our delicious popcorn, and park in our seats to experience a whole new era of moviegoing, and a whole new model of social enterprise.