Veteran’s Salute – Vernon Alcorn

While working on an Idaho ranch as a young adult, Vernon Alcorn decided he wanted a larger purpose in life. In 1994, he and a friend both decided to apply to the Idaho National Guard.

“The training was mentally challenging,” said Vernon. “However, I adjusted well and was excited to make the military my career.” After two years in the National Guard, he enlisted in the US Army as part of the 46th Engineer Battalion.

Vernon served 21 years in the Army, advancing from a Private E1 to First Sergeant E8. In 1998, he was sent to his first overseas deployment to Nicaragua for a humanitarian mission. Fast forward to 2003 – Vernon was part of the first army troops sent over for Operation Iraqi Freedom. He later went again for combat operations in 2008 – 2009, as well as to South Korea in 2013 for an operations support position and to a final deployment in Afghanistan in 2014.

Serving in the military gave Vernon an opportunity to become a leader and an effective team builder. His dedication and bravery won him many awards, including two bronze stars. “My proudest moment serving was the day I became a First Sergeant in Afghanistan,” said Vernon. “With this position came the responsibility of commanding 294 soldiers – the height of my career.”

After returning home from Afghanistan, Vernon was on track to become a Sergeant Major but decided to retire in 2015 while stationed in Fort Polk, LA. “I enjoyed my time in the Army and the camaraderie I had with fellow soldiers. However, as my kids got older, I wanted to spend more time with my family.”

Starting a new career at any time presents challenges; this is often compounded when applying military skills to civilian positions. Like many veterans, Vernon struggled with making the career transition between soldier and civilian. “I applied to several jobs with very little luck. Most interviews went downhill after I had mentioned I was in the military. I went from a management position to an entry-level job to help support my family.”

Fortunately, Vernon kept searching for better opportunities and applied for a Quality Control Assistant Manager position at PRIDE Industries’ Fort Polk contract.

“From the start of my interview, I knew that this company was different. My prior work in the military was viewed as a positive aspect rather than something that I needed to hide,” said Vernon. He was hired in 2016 and shortly afterward was promoted to the Forward Operating Base/Range Facilities Manager.

“My job at PRIDE gives me purpose as a civilian,” says Vernon. “The Army never leaves you, and I enjoy being able to support the training on Fort Polk in a civilian capacity. It makes a positive impact on my life being able to work with people with disabilities and see their accomplishments. One of my children has a disability, and I know how important it is to have opportunities to enter meaningful careers with room for advancement.”

In his tenure at PRIDE, Vernon has become a valued team member. His advice for other veterans transitioning from the military is “Be prepared for change – I worked my way to the top and had to start all over again. Understand that a lot of companies won’t know what your job role is or your skills. Go in with an open mind.”

Veteran’s Salute – Kathryn Strawder

“After graduating high school, I had little experience but lots of ambition.” Kathryn (Kathy) Strawder enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 1995 to start a meaningful career with potential. “I enrolled as a Private, the lowest rank possible. The transition was rough; I felt like I made a huge mistake. However, the rigorous training was necessary to build us up.”

After Basic and Advanced Individual Training AIT training, Kathy joined the 17th Signal Battalion in Kitzingen, Germany. Throughout her career, she was stationed in Germany, Fort Hood, Korea, and Fort Bliss, including a deployment to Bosnia for a peacekeeping mission.

“In Bosnia, we dressed in full battle rattle (combat uniform). It was tough for my team, but we were always supportive and helped each other to get through the mission. I gratefully landed back in Germany after the deployment was over.”

With determination and drive, Kathy soon rose above the challenges. “When I was a young Specialist, I attended school to become a Non-Commissioned Officer. I received three awards, including the Commandant’s List (Honors Award), Iron Soldier, and Class A. After graduation, some female officers told me how proud they were of me for representing women in the force. I then went back to my unit and won Soldier of the Month.”

Kathy was promoted to Sergeant and enrolled in the Green to Gold Educational Program to attend St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, eventually rising to the rank of Captain. “I never forget that every contribution, no matter how small, contributed to the success of our team. The Army taught me important leadership skills including mentoring, resiliency, patience, and focus.”

“To this day, I’m proud to have served for over a decade in active duty and the Army Reserves. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!”

Kathy left the Army in 2009 to concentrate on her family. “The first six months after leaving were the most challenging – I felt like I had lost my identity. There were so many new things I had to get used to, including signing up for benefits and even picking out work clothes.”

“I still miss the Army, but I love the life that I have now. My advice to other veterans adjusting to civilian life is to have a plan, be open to new ideas and experiences and most importantly don’t give up.”

Kathy worked as a civilian within the military field until she was hired in 2014 at PRIDE Industries’ Fort Bliss  contract as Human Resources Director – helping manage employee relations for a small city of facilities experts that keep the base operational.

“It’s just a great opportunity to be part of this wonderful company,” says Kathy. “I can’t say enough how much I love my job. My son has Autism, and I can only imagine what the parents who started this company had in mind when they envisioned something better for their children. Just like the Army, I believe in PRIDE’s mission!”

Veteran’s Salute – David Daniel

“My dad served in the military for 30 years. He inspired me to join as well.” David Daniel served in the United States Air Force from 1984 to 2012, enlisting shortly after graduating high school.

“My transition to military life was slightly humorous. At basic training, you follow a strict regimen: when to get up, go to sleep, make your bed, fold your clothes and hang your uniforms,” said David. “Coming from a military family, I thought this was normal. I guess this helped me make squad leader!”

After his first overseas assignment to Guam, David was sent to Patrick AFB in Florida in 1990. Shortly afterward, he was sent to Kuwait for the Gulf War. “It was a surreal experience,” said David. “I packed up and said goodbye to my friends and family, and still couldn’t believe I was leaving.”

David served multiple tours throughout his time in the Air Force, including Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. “You realize that you are much more capable than you thought. I understood this especially during my deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan; when my team was attacked.”

Through his dedication and exemplary work, David moved from Airman Basic (E-1) in 1984 to Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) in 2012. The Air Force led him all over the world including the Middle East, South America, East Asia and Europe.

Throughout his career, David has completed many roles in civil engineering, helping keep various bases safely running through times of conflict and peace. His bravery also earned him several awards and decorations, including the Bronze Star.

“I went to 19 countries – and loved them all,” said David. “However, my most memorable moment was a 2010 humanitarian deployment to Suriname. I was asked to lead a RED HORSE team (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) to build medical clinics and schools. It was an incredible experience to create a positive impact.”

At the end of his career, David served as the Superintendent for the 87th Mission Support Group, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey – acting as the principal advisor to the Commander on all enlistment issues for 3,911 personnel.

Although he had enjoyed serving in the military, David looked forward to a new beginning. “I officially retired on November 1st, 2012, serving a total 28 years, ten months and 14 days,” said David.

“I enjoyed my career, but it was the right time to end. Thankfully, PRIDE Industries offered me a position as the Operations Manager at the Ft. Bliss contract.”

Working in a familiar environment helped make his military transition easier. “My transition went rather smoothly,” explained David. “I moved from Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB-MDL), NJ to Ft. Bliss, TX and took off the uniform. I was also fortunate to have my Dad’s advice to know what to expect.”

In 2015, David joined PRIDE’s Western Currency Facility contract as the General Manager. He currently manages a team of 50 people, including those with disabilities and veterans. “I love that PRIDE gives people opportunities and confidence through employment.”

“Working for PRIDE has positively impacted my life, and I enjoy the ability to build teams who accomplish more than they ever imagined.”

Building a Rewarding Life

Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and older every year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Cecilia “Cecy” Marquez, is a PRIDE Industries employee at our Fort Bliss contract site in Texas. Cecy was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as an adult. The late diagnosis and an unsupportive support system contributed to an unstable employment track record, low self-esteem and an overpowering feeling of unproductiveness. In 2010, Cecy’s disability was exacerbated due to a tragic car accident that resulted in a PTSD diagnosis.

Lack of accommodations at work and immense anxiety hindered Cecy’s employment tenures. Before joining PRIDE, she hid her disability, not disclosing it to employers or co-workers. When daily stressors would become too much to cope with, she would resign.

It is natural for a mood to change or anxiety level to rise when a stressful or difficult event occurs. However, individuals with bipolar disorder may experience mood swings that are so severe and overwhelming that they interfere with personal relationships, job responsibilities and daily functioning. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness. Fortunately, effective treatment plans are available which usually combine medication and therapy.

In January 2016, Cecy was hired as a Service Order Dispatcher with PRIDE. “My management team and counselor provide helpful resources that I find enlighten my workday,” says Cecy.

Cecy is an asset to her team and department, as she continues to overcome roadblocks while providing great customer service. “Cecy enjoys taking calls and receives them with a smile,” Corina E Huerta-Coronado, Cecy’s Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at PRIDE, says. “She believes that smiles carry through the phone lines and provides great service to the soldiers, techs and other personnel.”

Life is much different now for Cecy; she is gainfully employed, has a wonderful support system both at home and at work, and feels proud to be contributing to the community and soldiers at Fort Bliss.

“I love my job and that includes being a part of the Fort Bliss community,” says Cecy. “When I enter onto the base, I feel a sense of pride.”

Having a job is about more than a paycheck; it improves confidence, self-esteem, creates greater self-sufficiency and aids in building a rewarding life. For Cecy, her job has contributed to a once in a lifetime experience. “Because I am employed, I had the privilege of traveling on a pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land – Israel, last fall,” Cecy shares.

For individuals like Cecy, a job means much more than income. She is contributing to the community while continuing to grow and live her life. We are proud to have Cecy on our team and are grateful she found a place with PRIDE Industries.

Inclusion Drives Innovation – NDEAM

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The theme of this year’s month-long celebration is “Inclusion Drives Innovation.”

“Inclusion Drives Innovation,” is at the heart of PRIDE Industries’ mission – to create jobs for people with disabilities. In 1966, a group of parents met in the basement of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Auburn, California, determined to create employment opportunities for their adult children with disabilities.

For more than 50 years, PRIDE has had to be innovative to drive inclusion and grow our mission. With more than 5,600 people, including more than 3,300 people with disabilities and operating in 14 states and the nation’s capital. At PRIDE, we know that disability does not mean inability and that through employment, individuals with disabilities gain a sense of purpose, dignity, inclusion, and lead more self-sufficient lives.

pride industries employee at fort bliss going up ladder, HVAC tech

“For the first time, I did not have to hide my disability.” Meet Michael, click here.

 


“It really means a lot to have a job because I am on a regular schedule and making money with consistent hours.” Meet Sam, click here.

 

“My work gives meaning to my life.” Meet Richard, click here.

Through PRIDE’s innovative roots and by harnessing the ‘power of purpose’, people with disabilities gain opportunities to become contributing members of the community.

Grit, Determination and Motivation

“People have underestimated me my whole life,” Mario Garcia, a former PRIDE Industries employee says. “When I came to PRIDE, I was treated with respect.”

Since December 2015, Mario Garcia worked at PRIDE’s South Sacramento site, as a production associate. At an early age, Mario was diagnosed with an intellectual disability and received special education classes until graduating from high school.

Once at PRIDE Industries, Mario’s work ethic, dedication and positive attitude earned him a position within an off-site work group, a critical component of PRIDE’s Supported Employment Program.

Our Supported Employment Program partners with local businesses to meet their contracted workforce needs while creating community-based jobs for people with disabilities. PRIDE’s structured approach provides a support system that includes job trainers, case manager/counselors, and supervisors who understand each person’s disability to help these individuals overcome day-to-day challenges.

“My case manager did not think of me as a client with a disability,” Mario says. “He always believed in me and made me feel like I could do anything.”

Working in a small group providing support to Visions Paint Recycling in Sacramento, Mario’s efforts were recognized. Earlier this year, the company offered Mario a full-time position as a staff member.

At Visions, Mario’s daily tasks include unloading trailers, organizing shipping and receiving of products, sorting recycled paint and more. Mario has taken the skills he learned at PRIDE and applied them to his current job. His supervisors have noted that he is very respectful, dresses appropriately and is one of their hardest workers.

The road to full-time community inclusion has not been easy. Each morning is a challenge for Mario since he lacks a driver’s license and must depend on public transportation. Monday thru Friday, he catches the light rail at 5 am, connects to a regional transit bus, and then walks the remainder of the way. This long commute has not deterred Mario from maintaining almost perfect attendance.

With grit, determination and motivated by his 13-year-old son, Mario, a single father, provides for his family and overcomes challenges he may face due to his disability. His next goal is to become a supervisor at Visions.

Access to Advance in The Workplace

 

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”  ~~ Nelson Mandela

Jose “Rogelio” Ibanez is an employee at PRIDE Industries’ Fort Bliss contract. In the multicultural city of El Paso, TX, he can communicate in four different languages: English, American Sign Language (ASL), Spanish and Lengua Senas Mexicanas (LSM – or Mexican Sign Language). Not only has this ability helped him build a strong career in the carpentry shop at PRIDE, but it has also opened a new door into the education field.

Rogelio has had a remarkable journey to PRIDE. He was born deaf in Durango, Mexico to hearing parents. This difference created a language barrier early in his life, and Rogelio struggled with communication until he attended a deaf educational morning program to learn LSM. He also gradually acquired Spanish by learning to lip-read on his own. This was no easy accomplishment, as LSM differs from Spanish on verb inflections, structure and word order.

When he was a teenager, Rogelio moved to Texas with his family for a better life in the United States. Although he found a better economic environment, moving to a new country presented many new cultural and lingual challenges.

Rogelio landed a job in the construction industry and learned to weld, but had difficulty communicating with colleagues who did not know LSM and he struggled with finding steady employment. After becoming acquainted with local members of the deaf community, Rogelio gradually learned both ASL and English.

Seeking employment that would provide a steadier and more supportive environment for his disability, Rogelio was referred to PRIDE Industries by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) in 2011; he was then hired as a Grounds Maintenance Laborer (GML). In this position, he maintained Fort Bliss parks and streets – making them look their best for our nation’s soldiers. For his excellent work, he was promoted to a General Maintenance Worker (GMW) in 2015. As a GMW in the Between Occupancy Maintenance (BOM) department, Rogelio maintains soldier barracks between deployments.

“I am very fortunate to work for a company that hires and embraces people with disabilities like myself,” says Rogelio. “There needs to be more access and fewer barriers for people with disabilities to advance in the workplace.”

When communication help is needed, PRIDE’s job coaches at Fort Bliss are there to facilitate; they are also fluent in English, American Sign Language, Spanish and Mexican Sign Language. Rogelio’s smartphone is also configured with assistive technology (Purple Communications) that provides on-site translation. With a supportive network, Rogelio has thrived, and he has been recognized for his contributions to the base upkeep.

Aside from his attentiveness and dedication to his work, Rogelio is always willing to help translate and teach LSM to interpreters at Fort Bliss. Recently, an instructor from the El Paso Community College asked Rogelio to help teach an LSM workshop in April 2017. The class was a success; he had a full group of students ranging from advanced interpreters to Interpreter Training Program students. Rogelio now plans on becoming a Deaf Certified Interpreter (CDI) to improve his ability as a language mediator between LSM and ASL.

In addition to his teaching aspirations, Rogelio plans to earn his GED and attend a technical training school to become a certified welder and aspires to own a business in automotive body welding.

 

National Foster Care Month

May is National Foster Care Month, an opportunity to create awareness and encourage individuals to get involved in the lives of these youth – through mentorship, employment, volunteering and other ways.

Growing up always presents a unique set of challenges, especially when making the transition to adulthood. For the more than 400,000 youths in the U.S. foster care system, the following obstacles can seem insurmountable, such as getting that first job, a driver’s license and learning money management skills without a good support network.

PRIDE Industries is proud to help young adults in, and emancipating from the foster care system develop independence and self-sufficiency skills. PRIDE’s Youth Services and Internship Programs provide support and guidance to teens, connecting them to internships and jobs in the community while helping them overcome other obstacles to employment. This success is made possible by generous donations to PRIDE Industries Foundation.

Nellie’s Story:

Nellie is a participant in PRIDE Industries Youth Services and Internship Program. With PRIDE’s help, Nellie has successfully held a job, and has made many positive changes despite the great challenges she faced. She graciously shared her story with us.

Growing up in a dysfunctional family, Nellie lacked support and positive role models. This environment led her to engage in an unhealthy lifestyle; as a young teen, she got involved with gangs and drugs. To help turn her life around, she was admitted to a group home specializing in rehabilitation in the Sacramento, CA region, at the age of 14.

Despite her efforts to maintain sobriety and get her life back on track, Nellie’s attempts failed, twice. “Even though it was a different location, it was the same story,” says Nellie. “I got involved with the wrong crowd and drugs, again. Both times, I just wasn’t ready to change.”

“I never thought I would ever finish high school, let alone make it to age 16.”

Fortunately, Nellie connected with Koinonia Home for Teens, a highly structured group home that provides clinical treatment to chemically dependent youth ages 13-18. Often, Koinonia is the last hope for teens. The group home ended up being just what she needed; at age 15, Nellie made significant strides toward a brighter future. “Having the proper structure and discipline at Koinonia helped me change habits and start living a healthier and positive life,” says Nellie.

It was at Koinonia where Nellie connected with PRIDE Industries. PRIDE’s Youth Services job developers act as mentors to teens in the recovery program. Job developers help youth bridge skills from adolescence to adulthood.

Recovery happens in phases at Koinonia. During phase two, teens are allowed to seek community employment. Nellie’s commitment to her recovery and good standing in the program, gained her a recommendation to PRIDE’s Youth Internship program, in 2016.

The internship placement proved to be successful, Nellie currently works alongside colleagues with disabilities on PRIDE’s contract manufacturing and fulfillment division, packaging items for customers such as packing tea and toys. “I’m proud of my accomplishments at my job,” says Nellie. “This has taught me patience and teamwork, and I have learned skills needed for my future.” As a result of excellent work ethic, Nellie was able to extend the duration her internship.

The transformation has also been beneficial in other parts of Nellie’s life. Once far behind in school, she is now a high school junior who enjoys studying English and is set to graduate early. Nellie also credits sports with helping her stay on a positive track. Her favorites are football, soccer, and basketball – sports where she can apply the teamwork skills learned on the job.

“Nellie has made remarkable progress, and I am proud of how far she has come,” says Kenneth Avila, a Youth Services Job Developer. “She has learned a lot about how to communicate and positively connect with others.”

Nellie is a smart and strong young woman. Once she graduates from high school, she plans on exploring different career options, including the marketing field. For now, we are proud to have her as an intern at PRIDE and look forward to seeing her future accomplishments.

The Journey is Only the Beginning

“Without PRIDE, I would be at home playing video games.”

Getting your first job as a young adult is usually a challenge, especially with a lack of experience and a college degree. This essential task becomes even more daunting when you have a disability. Brandon Alexander is a young adult with both Autism Spectrum Disorder and A.D.H.D. After graduating high school, he encountered many obstacles while searching for his first job. Brandon had sought help but still did not find employment after several years. Fortunately, this changed when he was referred to PRIDE Industries’ Employment Services in July 2016.

“Brandon had been heavily discouraged, but I knew that we could help him,” says PRIDE Job Developer Twila Overton. “His disabilities presented challenges for interviewing for a job position, such as sitting still, and giving direct eye contact and clear communication.” Twila worked with Brandon to help him develop employment soft skills and practice interviewing.

Practice soon made perfect, and in October both of their efforts paid off; Brandon was hired at PRIDE Industries’ contract at Beale AFB, CA as a cafeteria attendant. “This has been a wonderful opportunity,” says Brandon “I’m so happy to have a job. PRIDE has given me a chance to participate in the community and to earn a paycheck.”

As a cafeteria worker, Brandon helps contribute to the well-being of the soldiers at Beale AFB. “It feels good to have a daily routine and to work in a team,” says Brandon. Besides his coworkers, Brandon is supported by his job coach and Twila, who are available to help with any questions or challenges on his job. This support ended up being just what Brandon needed, and he was promoted to full-time after his first three months. “Brandon is wonderful with customers and has made great progress in his position,” says Food Service Manager Evergene Avent.

A job is accompanied by many more milestones to an independent life. With the funds earned from his job, Brandon opened up his first savings account. He eventually aims to find a residence of his own with the money he’s saved. “Having this position has also improved my confidence and ability to advocate for myself,” says Brandon.

Brandon wants to continue to work for PRIDE and become a lead cafeteria worker at Beale. We are proud to support him in his first job and his career aspirations.

Career After The Military

pride-industries-_-richard-02

Richard H. Reddy served 20 years (1970-1990) in the United States Air Force as a Technical Sergeant. His exemplary service earned him a commendation medal, the bronze star in Vietnam and the good conduct medal. After retiring from the military, Richard searched for a job that would provide for his family.

While looking for a position, a friend referred him to PRIDE Industries. A simple referral ended up leading to a long-lasting career – Richard has been employed with PRIDE for more than 20 years. He started in food service at Beale AFB in Marysville, CA, and later transferred to Travis AFB in Fairfield, CA as a custodian, where he works today.

Though no longer in active duty, Richard passionately supports our military members by helping to keep the base in pristine condition.

pride-industries-_-richard“Working on base gives me a sense that I’m still at home. That’s important to me,” says Richard. As a PRIDE employee, he receives job skills development and accommodations, along with the support of his fellow PRIDE colleagues.

“My job has given me stability and has helped towards my goal of buying a home,” says Richard. “PRIDE has become my comfort zone after the military. My work gives meaning to my life.”