When they’re not out crushing the competition, Stoughton High School athletes can occasionally be found around town crushing cans. For a good cause, of course.

With AdamCan’s aluminum can collection bin at the Mandt Center “literally overflowing” earlier this fall, Lisa Pugh knew she needed some help and contacted SHS football coach Jason Becker to see if some of his players could assist. Several, as well as cross country runner Jaden Zywicki, volunteered a few hours on a recent Saturday to clean and crush around 300 pounds of cans for the business, run by her daughter.

AdamCan is a disability-owned business started by a Stoughton boy, Adam Notstad, in 2012 and now owned by Erika Pugh, 22. Proceeds from can crushing support other employees with disabilities and expanding the reach of the business, which supports recycling programs of dozens of area businesses, with its main can-crushing center at Mandt Center.

“Coach Becker believes that kids aren’t just about those Friday nights and winning games, he believes strongly in character development and participating in your community,” Lisa Pugh told the Hub. “We got a lot of volunteers willing to do that, so Erika and our family went to the Mandt Center (but) we had to think about how we can make this fun for the guys.”

The team won the night before so they were already in a good mood, she said, which improved further when they learned about that fun part -- they got to crush the cans with their vehicles.

“(They) were outside pulling those bags of cans out of the shed and making a little field of cans in the parking lot, which the director said go for it,” she said. “Once they had sorted out all the non-aluminum items, they drove over it with their cars, with Erika supervising in a car, driving over a field of cans.”

After a slow start to the year -- with many offices closed due to the pandemic -- the collection bin suddenly became a popular spot to drop off cans over the summer when places started re-opening, she said. It was great for the business, but soon Erika couldn’t keep up. By September, the shed was overflowing, with 2,400 pounds of aluminum cans so far donated from area homes and businesses.

Erika’s younger brother Luke, a senior member on the SHS football team, was one of several players who also volunteered their vehicles, while others helped her sort, rinse and crush more than 15 bins of aluminum cans. It’s a different routine than Erika is used to during the year, in which she works at the site crushing cans in the more traditional methods on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“People in Stoughton should know we totally appreciate their cans and they can drop them down at the Mandt Center,” Lisa Pugh said “Once a month they go to the recycling center in Madison, and turn those big bags of crushed cans in for cash.”

And while the cash is the reward at the end, Lisa said for her daughter, born with a disability, the best part of the job is getting out and meeting people and feeling a sense of belonging in the community.

“She doesn't talk, she's a non-verbal person, and her way of connecting with people is when people say her name and know her and wave hello to her, and that is really inspiring to her,” Lisa Pugh explained. “I’ll go to the store with her and there will be people saying hello to her that I've never met. I think that's really what any family of a person with a disability wants, is for their loved one to be valued and to be part of the community and accepted.

“I think that's what the business contributes for the community, not just the business but the greater awareness of the value of people with disabilities.”

The business often gets calls or emails from people wanting to donate their cans, and she said AdamCan may be in the process of expanding to meet an increased demand.

“We're just exploring this new workplace environment with people not going into a traditional office anymore, how can we still help people with their recycling and be a vibrant community business?” Lisa Pugh said. “She really enjoys going into her community clients and offices and picking up the cans. Hopefully we’ll continue to grow the business and do more fun events like we did with the athletes.”

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