Helping Expand Sign Language Education in the El Paso, TX Community

Melissa Cruz wordpress

American Sign Language (ASL) is a language involving signs made by moving the hands combined with facial expressions and postures of the body. It is the primary language of many Americans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and estimated to be utilized by 250,000 – 500,000 people.

At PRIDE’s Ft. Bliss site in El Paso, TX, many employees are deaf and hard-of-hearing. To facilitate communication between all employees and our customers, PRIDE’s Rehabilitation team of Job Coaches, ASL Interpreters, and Rehabilitation Counselors is ready to translate from English or Spanish to ASL, as well as Spanish to LSM (Lengua de Señas Mexicana/Mexican Sign Language) when needed.

Working to help individuals in the El Paso, TX community who want to pursue a career in sign language interpretation, PRIDE’s Ft. Bliss Rehabilitation Department annually partners with El Paso Community College (EPCC) to host two sign language student interns in the spring. This opportunity allows future interpreters and communication support personnel to gain hands-on experience, learn vocational sign language and practice their counseling skills.

In November, EPCC invited PRIDE ASL Interpreter and Job Coach (and EPCC Alumna) Melissa Cruz to present a lecture on Specialized Vocabulary for the students attending EPCC’s Sign Language course. Before joining PRIDE, Melissa worked in many different interpreting settings including post-secondary education, medical, mental health, and vocational trades.  She shared her insights on how to interpret on unfamiliar topics and/or specialized vocabulary (including vocational terminology), using her experiences in translating between employees and our military customer at PRIDE’s Integrated Facilities Management contract at Ft. Bliss. She received the following letter of appreciation from EPCC:

Thank you for partnering with the El Paso Community College Sign Language Interpreter Preparation Program on November 14th, 2018. I appreciate you taking the time to come in and share your experiences and knowledge with the students, who all left feeling inspired and energized. You taught our students how to acquire specialized vocabulary as a Sign Language interpreter, and they learned a great deal that they could immediately apply to their practice. It is indeed a gift when working interpreters come in to share their experiences and advice.

Thank you again for your time and energy in presenting to the interpreting students. It was truly my pleasure.”

“Hopefully my insight will give these students some preparation for an ever-changing profession,” said Melissa. “I’m so proud of where I work.”

PRIDE Industries is also proud to provide scholarships to students with disabilities enrolled in colleges and universities in specific areas where we operate, including EPCC.

#GivingTuesday: Support Former Foster Youth

Today is #GivingTuesday, a global movement that connects diverse groups of individuals, communities, and organizations around the world for one common purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving. This year PRIDE Industries is raising funds to support former foster youth as they navigate an uncertain future.

Each year 20,000+ youths in the United States emancipate from foster care, with most lacking critical support as they transition to young adulthood. An estimated 30-50 percent of youth in the foster care system exit without a high school diploma or GED. Only about 8% of foster youth go on to post-secondary education, and 5% or less of those ultimately earn a degree. Within 18 months of exiting foster care 50% are homeless.

PRIDE proudly helps young adults in, and emancipating from, the foster care system develop independence and self-sufficiency skills. PRIDE’s Youth Services provide support and guidance to teens while connecting them to their community. This success is made possible by your generous donations to PRIDE Industries through our Development and Donor Services program, click here to donate now.

“Thanks to PRIDE’s assistance, I have been able to start saving up for a vehicle and build a foundation for when I am ready to start a trade program.” — Scott

 

Scott’s Story:
It has been an exciting year for Scott, a high school senior who is currently on track to graduate from high school and getting ready to start a new, independent adult life. Like many of his peers, Scott participates in a variety of activities, including martial arts and fixing cars, and plans on attending community college to study mechanics or a technical trade.

From a very young age, Scott has had to face many challenges. Due to a turbulent and unstable family home life, he was placed in foster care, twice – once as a small child and again when he was 15. To get through these rough times, Scott turned to his brother and sister for support.

“My siblings and I all banded together during our family’s rough periods. They also helped me navigate through school,” said Scott. “When I was young, I was bullied and often struggled to make friends due to other kids not understanding my disabilities. As I got older, it became easier to connect with others. My family and close friends have continued to help me get to where I am today.”

As he started nearing the end of high school, Scott began exploring career options with his guidance counselor. She recommended PRIDE’s Youth Services Program.

To help guide him through this process, Scott was first provided with a PRIDE Job Developer/ Transitional Coordinator, Chrystie Martin in 2017. “At first it felt a little uncomfortable getting help,” said Scott. “However, it became easier as we started meeting together on a regular basis to work on employment preparation, building my resume and filling out job applications.”

In addition to helping youth with job preparation and placement, Job Developers also work with program participants on building life skills and soft-skills. Funding for Job Development services is possible from generous donations to PRIDE Industries. To prepare Scott for adulthood and self-sufficiency, Chrystie worked with him on fundamentals such as budgeting, obtaining a bank account and navigating public transportation.  Once he overcame these hurdles and gained these essentials skills, Scott was on his way to getting a job.

With Chrystie’s assistance, Scott received a paid internship at a local drugstore. “It was a big learning process for me,” said Scott. “So many things were new, especially dealing with difficult customers. I realized that many were either frustrated or just having a bad day; the key to working with them was learning how to relate with patience.” Through the internship, Scott learned how to interact with customers and the importance of providing outstanding customer service – a skill he can apply at any future job.

After completing his internship, Scott landed a position at an event and party planning company. “The confidence I gained from my previous position helped me develop better communication skills with my new supervisors and coworkers, including active listening and asking follow-up questions when given a new task.”

In Fall 2018, Scott stepped down from his position to focus on finishing up his high school program and is currently working on-call in a custodial position. “Thanks to PRIDE’s assistance, I have been able to start saving up for a vehicle and build a foundation for when I am ready to start a trade program,” said Scott. “It’s been wonderful seeing Scott’s skills and confidence improving over the past years,” said Chrystie. “We wish him the best as he graduates from high school and applies for college programs.”

Scott was able to overcome challenges to employment and gain essential life skills thanks to generous donations made to PRIDE Industries through our Development and Donor Services program.

 

How can you make a difference for foster youth?

  • Donate now to help emancipated foster youth find purpose and independence through meaningful employment.
  • Spread the word – share this and many other success stories on PRIDE’s blog with your friends and family on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

 

Beyond Grateful

We have so much to be grateful for: To our customers, partners, supporters and our more than 5,600 employees throughout the nation – Thank you! We appreciate all you do to support and expand PRIDE Industries’ mission to create opportunities for people with disabilities or barriers to employment.

For more than 50 years PRIDE has worked to create jobs for people with disabilities. Every paycheck delivers dignity, self-esteem, and the pride of contributing to those most often excluded from employment.

Today and all year-round, we appreciate your dedication and commitment.

Happy Thanksgiving, from all of us at PRIDE Industries!

Veterans Salute – Braden Matejek

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“I joined the military in 2009 after graduating high school in South Dakota to help those around the world whose voices go unnoticed.”

Braden Matejek works as a Production Control Clerk at PRIDE Industries’ Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) contract. Located near Honolulu, HI, the MCBH hosts 9,517 people including Marine Corps members, sailors, military family members and civilian employees. In his job, Braden acts as a liaison between the Marines Corps and the PRIDE facilities team to make sure the overall condition of the buildings is in top shape – helping keep the barracks home-like for our country’s troops and their families.

Before joining PRIDE Industries, Braden served in the U.S. Army for 7 years, where he learned the leadership skills that have helped him succeed in his career today:

“I enrolled as a PV2 in the Dog Company, 1/503 BN, 173rd Airborne Brigade. Following completion of Basic and Advanced Infantry school, as well as the Airborne school in Ft. Benning, GA, I was sent to Vicenza, Italy. I was stationed there for three short months in 2010 before we were deployed to serve in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.”

“Serving in Afghanistan was a humbling experience; our mission was to fight against the Taliban insurgent forces. I experienced major culture shock while living in this hostile environment, but also gained a sense of gratitude for so many things that I had took for granted. During intense situations, I learned patience, and developed a tenacity for overcoming obstacles and challenging events. I became aware that I am capable of accomplishing anything and grew into that “never quit” mentality.”

“During my second deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, I earned a promotion to Sergeant (E5), which came with the responsibility of leading a squad of young men during an incredibly rough period. Through our time together, I watched them grow and develop throughout harsh conditions and ferocious firefights. When my team and I exited off the C17 aircraft in Ft. Bragg, NC, where our families were waiting to welcome us back with open arms, I felt incredibly proud that I had helped lead them back safely to home soil.”

“I unfortunately acquired a service-connected disability during this second tour in Afghanistan due to multiple IED strikes on my vehicle and was awarded two Purple Hearts. The hardest part of having a newly acquired disability was learning to accept myself as the same person, just with different traits.”

Braden Matajek receives the Purple Heart medal

Braden Matejek accepts his Purple Heart medals earned while serving in Afghanistan

“After reaching my last post in Hawaii in 2016, I decided it was time to pursue other avenues in life. I finished my tenure as an E5/Sergeant and was medically discharged from service. Transition to civilian life was difficult; the first few weeks were like the honeymoon phase of being married; then real life soon sets in. I missed the brotherhood of the Infantry and loyalty of those men and women that I served with.”

“Establishing a support system of friends and family, as well as finding a passion, is vital to any veteran’s success after military life. I started spending more time at the ocean, took up free-diving and surrounded myself with a great people of a common mind. My other piece of advice for transitioning to civilian life is to take things slow, remain flexible and resilient, and follow your plan to success. Remember your military training and become comfortable knowing that you hold the correct skill set to carry you forward. Much of my own self-reliance and perseverance was used to get me to where I am today.”

“Another challenging aspect of transitioning to civilian life was searching for a new career; I searched for positions through USA Jobs, but received no offers. I eventually googled “work for disabled veterans,” and PRIDE Industries came up. I was soon connected with the incredible Job Developer/AbilityOne Recruiter Sean Sullivan and was hired in 2016.”

“I love the opportunity to continue interacting with our young men and women in uniform and enjoy the chance to share my military expertise while managing the barracks on base. My experience with PRIDE has been excellent, and I am trusted to do my job correctly. The accommodations for employees with disabilities are wonderful, and everyone is given the opportunity to succeed in employment.”

“Working for PRIDE Industries has made my life in Hawaii more purposeful and has given me the ability to enjoy moments with my family more than any other company would.”

Veterans Salute – David

Soldier in the office

In search of an opportunity to make a difference, David (last name withheld) joined the U.S. Air Force fresh out of high school in 1983. “This was my first real job besides working at a local restaurant as a busboy, while growing in Temple City, CA. I saw joining the military as a chance to serve my country and to help keep people safe.”

After enlisting, David attended basic training at Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, TX and graduated as an Airman Basic (E-1). Then after completing 12 weeks of specialized training, he joined the 88th Strategic Air Command Missile Squadron as a Security Specialist. “It was a complete culture shock; I transitioned from a civilian with choices to a service member with a strict regimen and structure. They say you start as a rainbow, then become a green bean (once uniforms are issued) and finally get a haircut and now you are officially a canned green bean.”

David earned promotions throughout his service; from an Airman Basic (E-1), to Airman (E-2) and then Airman 1st Class (E-3). He served his remaining time at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming during the Cold War, providing security services and surveillance to Minuteman-3s nuclear warheads that were ready to launch in case of conflict.

In 1985, David was discharged honorably due to lack of war. “The transition back into civilian life was much easier than my development into an Airman. After being stationed on a remote base for so long, I enjoyed having more freedom. I also carried with me the discipline, time management and organizational skills learned from my time in the military.”

Despite his ease in transitioning to civilian life, David faced other challenges; he later received a dual diagnosis of both ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and Anxiety Disorder from the Veterans Administration (VA) in 2003. Nearly 40 million Americans (18%) experience Anxiety Disorder; ADHD affects around 4% of American adults. Both disorders cause lack of concentration and racing thoughts, which can impair everyday life.

“Before joining the service, I had never received any treatment for these conditions. Despite having these undiagnosed disabilities, I persevered and graduated from Tech school with a score of 98% when many of the course instructors doubted my ability to graduate.”

“While looking for civilian work, I continued to struggle with my communication skills. When I could not manage my anxiety, this would lead to outbursts and growing frustration with coworkers and employers. I was eventually able to use the tools and resources acquired in the military to cover up my disabilities and find a variety of jobs, including work at a grocery chain, acting and selling real estate.”

After receiving foot surgery in 2017, David had an accident and obtained mobility-related disabilities. While looking for work that would be a good fit and that would accommodate his disabilities, David was referred by his VA Representative at the Jewish Vocational Services to PRIDE Industries in Spring 2018. After interviewing, he was hired as a Service Order Dispatcher at PRIDE’s LAAFB contract site in May 2018.

“This job is perfect for me,” said David. “I like the challenges that come with solving different work orders at the customer service desk. Working at LAAFB, I interact with a wide variety of customers – from civilians all the way up to the Secretary of the Air Force.”

“The comradery at PRIDE is strong; my team treats each other like family and are very accommodating, especially with allowing supports for my disabilities. Job Coach Brandon Whatley and Araceli Gutierrez helped me transition to my new role and taught me other skills to help me succeed at my job.”

“It’s different, but a pleasant and familiar experience being back on a military base, especially now that I am receiving treatment for my ADHD and Anxiety; I understand all the protocols and acronyms. It’s exciting to have a career with room for advancement and new possibilities where I do not need to hide my disabilities.”

“If there were one piece of advice I could give to today’s transitioning veterans, it would be to seek out help from veteran support groups and services. The benefits provided today are far better than those offered at my time of discharge; however, it saddens me to know that many veterans do not receive enough training on how to maximize their benefits; seeking adequate treatment can be life-changing.”

Veterans Salute – Billy Smith

 

Billy Smith

“As a young man, my life was going nowhere; I felt that something was missing. After leaving my turbulent home as a teenager, I found myself living on the street for a while. But I always wanted more for myself and to see the world.”

Billy Smith worked a series of short-term jobs as a construction worker, laborer, industrial painter, sandblaster, longshoreman, fish and shrimp loader, and gas station attendant before he received his high school GED from Tyler Junior College in Texas. After reaching this achievement, he decided to find his sense of purpose by joining the U.S. Navy in 1990.

“When I first took the military exam, I failed it. However, I retook it and aced it. I loved my life in the Navy. Training involved much hard work, and yep, it was harsh. Basic training involved a few men screaming at each one of us. After 8 or 36 weeks (depending on your test scores), you are off on your own to school and a duty station. It took many long hours of studying after final graduation until we were shipped off to serve on a fleet.”

“I started as an E1 Recruit/Deck Seaman and later attended Advanced C school (advanced Navy training) to study engineering. My final graduation test involved working for 24 hours on a broken jet engine to make it start by the morning. Throughout my service, I advanced to an E3 Fireman, and finished as a GSM1 Gas Turbine Systems Technician, Petty Officer First Class (Surface Warfare).”

Throughout his time in the Navy, Billy served on board of naval ships during multiple deployments, including for the Desert Storm (Gulf War), Operation Noble Eagle (in response to September 11th attack), Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Desert Shield (part of the Iraq War), and many more.

“My most extended term serving was for 10 months in Operation Desert Storm. On the ship, we launched missiles and examined passing vessels for contraband, human smuggling and bombs. We were working to protect our nation, as well as our allies that were there to help us.”

“Even when you come home, taking care of the ship always came first. One time, I slept in the engine room in a hammock all week, working all night. It hurt at times because I couldn’t see my family.”

“Despite the challenges of being deployed, I learned discipline and courage through serving. One of my most memorable moments occurred while being stationed in the Red Sea in 1991 when we escorted a group of our Egyptian allies. They gave us a tour of many cultural landmarks such as the Great Pyramids. It made such an impression on me, and I felt proud to protect people worldwide that need help.”

“Through 20 years of serving, I built my career and one of my biggest passions: engineering. Whether it is working on an LM2500 or an ALISON 501 Jet engine, or a 1000-ton chiller plant, it is a wonderful job to have. Later, I worked as an Instructor at the Great Lakes Center of Naval Engineering to teach young recruits. I am often told that I never left the service, as when I am working on a job all is forgotten but the task at hand.”

“I retired honorably from the military in 2010 in San Diego, CA. My family, including my wife and two daughters, supported me throughout my career and transition to civilian life. It was difficult at first; civilians are not wired the same as military personnel. In my opinion, civilians have it tougher since military life is sheltered, and we have the patience to slow down and assess difficult situations. I’m still using military acronyms to this day!”

After relocating to Texas, Billy joined PRIDE’s Bureau of Engraving, Western Currency Facility site at Ft. Worth, TX as a Stationary Engineer in 2010. “In my position, I help run operations on the plant including the chillers, boilers, air compressors, and turbines,” said Billy. “This environment is very supportive and a perfect for veterans like me. Once I joined, PRIDE even helped me get my recovery license. I would like to thank General Manager David Daniel, Assistant General Manager Brian Judd, Facilities Supervisor Chuck Wedgeworth, and Facilities Supervisor Brandon Kast. I am honored to work for these people every day, and they trust me to do my job.”

“I especially enjoy working with my colleagues with disabilities. From my time in the military, I have a service-connected disability and have received surgeries to reconnect fingers; as a result, I lack strength in my right hand. When I first joined PRIDE, I didn’t know sign language; now I am starting to learn some ASL (American Sign Language) to communicate with my co-workers who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.

“I earned all of what I sought by joining the Navy. Being deployed overseas makes you gain courage, grounds your faith by knowing you’ll make it home, helps you stay true to yourself, and allows you to be part of something greater.”

Veterans Salute – Edward Arango

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“The military encompassed my entire life while growing up. When I finally joined, it was just as I expected it to be. I felt proud to be a part of a larger purpose.”

Edward Arango grew up in Medellin, Colombia. After graduating from high school in 1987, he enlisted in the Colombian Air Force Academy and became an Air Weapon Control Officer. During this period, he participated in joint operations between the U.S. Air Force and the Colombian Air Force to curb drug trafficking.

“My father was my inspiration for joining; he served in the Colombian Army for 20 years, including in the Korean War. He was a man of few words, but always demonstrated dedication, respect, a genuine love for serving and support of other veterans – including my own military career.”

In 1994, Edward decided to immigrate to the United States and separated from the Colombian Air Force as a Lieutenant. After three years of working as a civilian, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as an Airman First Class and started attending the Supply Technical School in Lackland, Texas.

“Even though I did not speak perfect English, I graduated technical school with honors,” said Edward. “Re-joining the military in a different country still felt very similar, except that I had to start over again at a lower level. However, I learned valuable lessons about how to follow, as well as how to lead. I felt proud to work as a team member with my colleagues.”

Edward served throughout the country and moved up the ranks, including at Hurlburt Field AFB in Florida, Offutt AFB in Omaha, Nebraska, and finally to JB-MDL (Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst), NJ as a Captain. “One of my proudest moments happened when I was promoted to Staff Sergeant after three years of service (which usually takes around ten years).”

After almost a decade of service, Edward’s military career came to an end in 2006 when he sustained a knee injury that required surgery; this unfortunately created a life-threatening pulmonary embolism and multiple complications. After going through this health ordeal, he decided to retire to enjoy more time with his family.

“Service left me with significant back and knee problems. There are many activities I’m no longer able to do that I once loved, such as playing soccer, but I’ve learned to adjust.” Besides recovering from surgery and the following complications, Edward’s transition to civilian life proved challenging. “Civilian life is much more laid back and flexible, and I had to learn to adjust my own expectations of others. In the military, discipline and integrity are highly ingrained – when you ask someone to do something, it gets done. Furthermore, because of my disabilities, many employers turned me down for opportunities.”

After he became physically ready to rejoin the workforce, Edward turned to the Veteran’s Administration’s Vocational Rehabilitation Department for assistance; they referred him to PRIDE Industries. Since 2010, he has worked as a Grounds Maintenance Supervisor at PRIDE’s JB-MDL contract – managing a team that keeps the JB-MDL cantonment, ranges and training areas in prime condition.

“PRIDE Industries gave me the opportunity to be part of a team with the same objective to help our military customer. Through our work, we help ensure their success at home and abroad. I especially enjoy creating opportunities for our employees with disabilities and veterans to succeed in their careers and to overcome expectations.”

“I was genuinely proud to serve my whole career. My experience was the path in life I was destined for.”

Inclusion: National Disability Employment Awareness Month

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is an annual campaign that takes place each October. The purpose of NDEAM is to increase awareness about disability employment challenges and to celebrate the many and varied contributions of workers with disabilities. This year’s theme is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All.”

People with disabilities often face significant barriers to employment, resulting in lower rates of participation in the labor force and higher unemployment rates compared to non-disabled workers.

With a history spanning over 50-years, PRIDE Industries (PRIDE) is one of the largest employers of people with disabilities, nationwide. At PRIDE we focus on abilities rather than disabilities and our programs and services help individuals overcome obstacles to employment. Individuals from all walks of life come to PRIDE. We provide opportunities at all skill levels with a ladder of opportunity to help individuals achieve their definition of success and self-sufficiency.

Employment is essential to an individual’s sense of purpose, dignity, inclusion and economic growth, ultimately resulting in a happier life.

By partnering with PRIDE Industries, businesses can leverage its person-centered services including assessments, job skills development, training, placement, transportation, and on-going support to ensure long-term employment success. PRIDE places people in its business lines and provides support to individuals in community-based opportunities.

Won’t you join PRIDE Industries in creating jobs for people with disabilities? Speak to our expert staff by contacting us at info@prideindustries.com.

On The Road With Pride

Year after year wildfires are becoming more frequent and more extensive, especially in the West Coast. August and September were particularly busy months for PRIDE Industries Transit department due to their involvement in the community.

On average, PRIDE Transit provides more than 1,200 daily shuttle rides to individuals with disabilities – working at PRIDE Industries or in the community. Often, for people with disabilities, access to transportation is a barrier to employment, for more on barriers to employment click here. Transportation provides an essential lifeline for people with disabilities to connect with employment opportunities, skills development, vocational related services, and the community.

PRIDE Industries Transit has a fleet of 60 vehicles covering 52 routes each morning and afternoon. Three buses are based and operate in Yuba and Sutter Counties, 20 are based in Auburn that operate in the foothills of both Nevada and Placer Counties, the remainder are based in Roseville at PRIDE headquarters and operate in Placer and Sacramento Counties.

Accessible vehicles are not only essential for providing transportation for people with a wide range of disabilities but also senior citizens and those with mobility restrictions. As it was the case in early September when a wildfire threatened the safety of an elderly community in the Foresthill area in Placer County, CA. “A call came into transit dispatch from the Placer County Public Health Department, requesting buses for the possible evacuation of a senior citizen mobile home park in the area,” says Jeff Murray, PRIDE’s Transportation Manager. “PRIDE Industries Transit responded by dispatching seven drivers and vehicles to the command center staging area.”

PRIDE Transit vehicles are small enough to maneuver in rural areas and are equipped with mobility lifts. The vehicles allow for ease of loading and transporting individuals requiring mobility aid. During this evacuation effort, four of the seven shuttles along with their driver spent the night at the staging area ready for immediate emergency evacuation scenario. Luckily, no one had to be evacuated, and all the residents of the senior living community were safe.

Photo credit: BillyJean Vollman, a PRIDE Industries Transit Driver

Later the team received a heartfelt note from the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, “You don’t know what a relief it is having you here. We didn’t know how we were going to get all those people out of there until you showed up.”

PRIDE’s Transit team is committed to providing outstanding service to the community and participates in the Placer County Mass Evacuation training. In recent years, the team has assisted in other evacuation efforts along with participating in community events such as the 1st Annual Association of the US Army (AUSA) Veterans Business Forum.

 

Veterans Salute – Joan O’Connor

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“I grew up on a farm in Walnut Ridge, AR. While attending college at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, I joined the ROTC and decided to fully embrace the Army, as I enjoyed the comradery of the unit and the feeling that I worked for a worthwhile cause.”

Joan O’Connor is the HR Manager for PRIDE’s Little Rock, AR office. In her job, she manages a team of job coaches and admin staff for PRIDE Industries’ Little Rock Custodial, Little Rock AFB and Ft. Campbell, KY contracts to recruit and support employees with disabilities. Joan’s excellent leadership helped PRIDE to earn the 2017 Employer of the Year recognition by the Arkansas Rehabilitation Association.

Before joining PRIDE, Joan served in the US Army from 1978 – 1984, where she rose up the ranks and learned the skills which carry over to her role today. Below is her story, in her own words:

Joan’s Story:

“I was commissioned into the “Women’s Army Corps” in May 1978, which had just fully integrated into the Army by the time I went on Active Duty that August as a Chemical Officer (NBC). My first unit was the 75th Field Artillery Group at Fort Sill, OK where I was their first female officer. I was later assigned to the 8th DIVARTY in Baumholder, Germany, and ended my service as the Officer in charge of the Personnel Processing Center there.

I earned my commission as a second lieutenant (2LT/O-1) and was then promoted to first lieutenant (1LT/O-2) in 1980 and to Captain (CPT/O-3) in 1982.

My transition from a civilian to a military member felt incremental. The hardest (but most comical) adjustment I had to make was adjusting my southern manners – I only addressed people as sir and ma’am. I was always getting corrected for calling NCOs “sir!”

The most significant skill that I learned in the military was adapting my leadership style to a wide variety of learning techniques. I grew up in a small town that had a close-minded atmosphere. After joining the Army, I quickly learned how to work in a fast-paced work environment with a greater diversity of individual backgrounds to work together as a team.

I was fortunate to learn from excellent NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and officers who impressed on me the value of experience as well as education. Learn from those who know -that lesson still helps me today. This advice also guided me through different situations such as entering a live nerve gas chamber for training.

I left the Army in 1984 after six years of active service in both the US and Germany to  raise a growing family. Again, my transition to civilian life felt incremental, as I was still a military spouse. My advice to veterans transitioning to civilian life is not to go cold turkey. Keep in touch with your military friends and try to find a similar job if you enjoyed your past role. Take advantage of the educational and other benefits and use your experience to the benefit of others. 

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Joan O’Connor accepts the 2017 Employer of the Year recognition by the Arkansas Rehabilitation Association

I made my way to PRIDE Industries by chance, and I am so glad I did. After being laid off in 2008, I saw an HR job opening at PRIDE’s Little Rock, AR office and thought it was a perfect fit. I relate well to PRIDE’s mission, as I have a significant hearing loss (which became worse by my time serving in the Army Field Artillery) and have a child with learning disabilities. I also previously worked with the ARC and with an organization that advocated for the adoption of children in state care, many of whom had disabilities.

After nine years of joining PRIDE, I still feel the same way!

The most enjoyable part of my job is the wide variety of people that I work with to achieve the same mission, including nonprofits, community organizations, and governmental agencies. It feels wonderful to help people who might otherwise never have an opportunity to work for a “real” paycheck and contribute with their talents. I also appreciate the opportunity to show our community what people with disabilities can achieve if given a chance.”