As part of their continuing commitment to the community, Sam's Clubs across the country hosted "Disability Mentoring Days" in celebration of October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
On Wednesday, club No. 6406, 1580 Military Road in Niagara Falls, under the direction of Member Services Assistant Manager Jeff Dixon, hosted individuals with developmental disabilities supported by Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara. These individuals participate in vocational training programs at the agency, preparing them for community-based employment.
At Sam's Club, they shadowed employees in the bakery, café, front greeter area, electronics and produce. They learned about job duties and responsibilities, as well as the type of education and/or experience needed to apply for these and similar jobs at area businesses. The participants went straight to work under the caring guidance of various Sam's Club associates.
Attendees included Brian McDonald, Jacob Farnham, James Van Auken and Colleen Hildebrant.
"Wal-Mart and Sam's Club serve as primary sponsors for National Disability Mentoring Day, hosting their own mentoring programs. Participants with disabilities have been afforded the chance to explore their career field of interest, increasing the visibility of people with disabilities in the workforce and developing mentor-mentee relationships," Dixon said.
Through area employers, nearly 300 people receive a paycheck and spend it locally with supports provided by Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara. These individuals work in community-based positions with the assistance of job coaches in the supported employment/ticket to work programs; provide on-site environmental services to the entire Niagara Falls airbase and other area businesses; and learn about cafeteria services in the Lockport and Niagara Falls cafés. Individuals also earn a paycheck based on their production levels in-house while providing assembly, inspection, mailing and production work for area businesses. Moving into community-based employment is always the goal of the vocational training programs.
The national average of unemployment of people with disabilities is currently 80 percent. In New York, it is estimated 70 percent of working-age people with disabilities are not employed. Employment is not only beneficial to individuals with disabilities, but it is also good for businesses, OUN said.
"One of the major challenges to the productive employment of qualified people with disabilities is overcoming the stereotypes and attitudes about what people can and cannot do," OUN Executive Director Kellie Spychalski said. "Sam's Club has been leading the way in New York state since the '70s to educate their own employees and the business community that, by working together, we are able to increase the workplace demand for people with disabilities."
She added, "On behalf of our individuals, I want to acknowledge the many types of manufacturing, scientific and assembly businesses, the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, as well as the numerous small businesses, restaurants, hotels and supermarkets for their continued support of our vocational programs. By allowing us to be your business resource, you put people to work, creating a positive future for those employees.
"These companies understand that a strong workforce is one inclusive of the skills and talents of all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. We encourage any business interested in providing shadow experiences and/or employment to contact us. It is a win-win for everyone."
Held each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America's workers with disabilities. "My Disability is One Part of Who I Am." is the theme of this year's National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It was chosen by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy.
"This year's theme encapsulates the important message that people with disabilities are just that: People," said Jennifer Sheehy, acting assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, United States Department of Labor. "And like all people, we are the sum of many parts, including our work experiences. Disability is an important perspective we bring to the table, but, of course, it's not the only one."
For more information about NDEAM, visit www.dol.gov/odep/ and select "National Disability Employment Awareness Month" from the drop-down menu. To view the "Who I Am" PSA, visit www.whatcanyoudocampaign.org.
For 60 years, Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara, a United Way agency and Niagara County Chapter of NYSARC, has provided innovative and results-oriented supports to people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities of all ages and their families. It is dedicated to maximizing the quality of life for individuals with disabilities by providing them the resources to reach their greatest potential, including training, employment, recreation (youth and adult), horticulture therapy, fine arts, technology, programming at Niagara University, service coordination for all ages and residential opportunities.
Jeff Dixon delivered certificates of participation to Colleen Hildebrant, James Van Auken, Brian McDonald and Jacob Farnham.