By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – There wasn’t a dry eye in Common Council chambers this evening.
Mayor Gary Herzig screened Jessica Vecchione’s award-winning short documentary, “A Slice of Hope,” which tells the story of Jennifer Grigoli, owner of Sal’s Pizzeria, and her efforts to employ people in recovery at her restaurant.
“Jennifer set an example to other businesses in Oneonta and made Oneonta an example for other cities,” Herzig said before presenting Grigoli with the Key to the City.
And Grigoli shared stories of her employees that touched her, worried her and ultimately, gave her hope.
“The network let (an employee) know I was worried,” Grigoli said. “So he left a bag of my favorite tea in my mailbox to let me know he was all right. I knew this man would not be able to look me in the eye if he wasn’t doing well, but a few days later, I saw him, and he looked at me.”
Grigoli said in the film she first hired people who were still struggling with addictions, which she said was “frightening and sad because they were some of the best employees I had.” She decided she wanted to employ people in recovery to support their efforts to get their lives back.
The film opened with one of Sal’s employees, Dan Pizzaro, talking about how fortunate he was “to get a job and find good friends to help me get clean.”
Dostal said when Gigroli called her about hiring people in recovery, “it was a dream come true.” She said when she held meetings and asked people in the audience how many of them had people with addictions touch their lives, 85 to 90 percent of them raised their hands.
“All those people, whether they are the ones struggling with addiction or their loved ones are, will need help and support,” Dostal said.
“When people get their lives back after addiction, they are a grateful population,” Grigoli said. “What boss wouldn’t want employees who feel so grateful?”
Grigoli said she encounters pushback from people who don’t think Sal’s should have workers who have addictions. But she said she will continue to “talk about people who have gone on this journey.”
Thirteen businesses in Oneonta now hire people in recovery, following Sal’s lead.
“None of this could have happened with all these folks here,” Grigoli said, referring to Julie Dostal, executive director, LEAF, Barbara Ann Heegan, president, Otsego County Chamber of Commerce and producer Vecchione, who all supported her initiative and were at the Council’s meeting. “I just thought of something and asked for help.”