#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.

 

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.”

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.”

Making A Difference

Marylyn
“When I go to work, I smile because I’m truly happy to be there.”

Marylyn Jackson, a custodian at PRIDE Industries’ Environmental and Custodial Services contract at VSP Global, makes it her mission to provide excellent customer service with a friendly attitude. VSP Global is a vision care health insurance and retail eyewear company headquartered in Rancho Cordova, CA. In her position, Marylyn details offices, cleans baseboards, and dusts chairs and desks; creating a clean, healthy and welcoming atmosphere for their employees and guests.

Marylyn and PRIDE’s team of custodians play an essential role in providing LEED standard Environmental and Custodial services to VSP. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an environmental certification program for buildings focused on promoting sustainability. By following these standards, PRIDE protects the health of building occupants while keeping the local environment free from toxic chemical contamination.

Instrumental to PRIDE’s success in reaching these standards is training our custodians to utilize the PRIDEClean® Custodial Process, which involves using the EPA-recognized PRIDEClean® cleaning products and high-efficiency filtered and microfiber cleaning equipment, as well as focusing on reducing chemical usage while delivering high-quality service. According to Marylyn, “This training helped me to perfect my skills and gain more confidence in myself as a custodian.”

“Marylyn’s high level of job performance shows in our building audits,” said Custodial Manager Brenda Sanchez. “The buildings that she is responsible for always score extremely high. Marylyn constantly receives great feedback from our customers, and her enthusiasm is contagious. We are very fortunate to have her on our team.”

“The customers I serve are my biggest motivation,” said Marylyn. “I aim to be courteous and polite to make the workplace feel hospitable so that they feel more motivated to do well in their jobs…. that’s what I’m here for! It’s always great to interact with my customers and colleagues.”

Before becoming employed at PRIDE Industries, Marylyn worked seasonally for over a decade. When she decided to look for a permanent position, she turned to PRIDE Industries’ Employment Services office in Fair Oaks, CA. After observing her great attitude and excellent work ethic, PRIDE’s staff placed Marylyn at VSP in February 2017.

“I’m so grateful and proud to have full-time employment,” said Marylyn. “PRIDE treats me like family. Working here, I realize how many other people also have disabilities. Some are visible, some are not (like my learning disability) – but with support, we all can get the job done together and make a difference.”

What I Can Achieve

Things are looking up for Justin Igama as he gets closer to reaching his dream of becoming a physical therapist; he is currently earning his degree in kinesiology while working as an associate at Amazon, Inc. “What inspires and motivates me to enter this career field is that these professionals helped me navigate through my own mobility issues. I will be able to relate to patients since I have experienced all of the related challenges and breakthroughs.”

Justin has cerebral palsy (CP), a neurological disorder that affects muscle coordination and mobility. Individuals with cerebral palsy experience symptoms differently, which can include paralysis, inability to walk or to communicate verbally. According to the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, one in three people affected by cerebral palsy are unable to walk, and one in five cannot talk.

“I received my diagnosis of CP when I was three years old,” said Justin. “It feels like my brain doesn’t communicate well with my muscles. Having this disability used to make me insecure and doubt my abilities; however, it made me develop resilience and determination. My involvement in sports such as wrestling and boxing has also helped me realize that I can achieve what I set my mind to, including working in a competitive environment.”

While starting his college studies in 2016, Justin attempted to find work to support himself. After several months of struggling to find a position, he was referred to PRIDE Industries’ Employment Services Office in Sacramento, CA. With help from Job Coach John Edwards, he practiced interviewing and fine-tuned his resume.

“I learned that a positive first impression is key to engaging employers,” says Justin. “I made special efforts to speak properly and to dress well. However, after multiple interviews, I noticed that my disability and use of a cane to walk might have convinced many that I could not do a job involving lifting and walking around. It proved very frustrating.”

Despite the wait of almost a year, timing proved perfect when PRIDE placed Justin into an associate trainee position at Amazon’s Sacramento Fulfillment Center in late 2016. In this job, he was responsible for sorting items that were delivered to PRIME Now customers. “There were many challenges at first, including learning the variety of new instructions and rules,” said Justin. “I had to work really hard to prove myself.”

Applying skills that he learned from his training with PRIDE, Justin reached out to his supervisor to learn where he could improve. He took the advice and continued to receive consistent positive ratings. PRIDE Job Coach John Edwards was there to help Justin with encouragement and advice.

As Justin grew more skilled and confident, management took notice; Amazon offered him a permanent position in November 2017. “It felt great to finally obtain permanent employment and to prove that I am capable of working in competitive employment with people without disabilities,” said Justin. “They treat me as an important part of the team. With this job, I have earned independence and can support myself financially while I complete my studies.”

“I hope that my story helps others with cerebral palsy to show that they can also achieve successful employment. There may be challenges along the way, but with hard work, perseverance and a support team, they can accomplish their dreams.”

Spotlight On: PRIDE’s Woodland, CA Employment Services

Smiling Asian businessman shaking partners hand

HELPING OTHERS

Our Woodland Employment Services Center is a small office with one Job Developer and three Job Coaches that services Yolo County, CA. Despite their small size, the team has created a huge impact in the community; for the last two years they have served more than 90 job development clients, provided 500 hours of job coaching and placed more than 50 people in employment. With funding made possible by generous donations to PRIDE Industries Foundation, they also create opportunities by offering paid internships to qualified individuals with disabilities looking to start their careers. Below are two stories of successful job placement:

JOHN CURTIS:

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“Employment has changed my life for the better. The opportunity to help my clients with disabilities succeed in employment motivates me every day.”

As a PRIDE Industries Job Coach, John Curtis helps clients with disabilities by providing coaching and training. John works very closely with each client to ensure they are successfully placed, starting with the intake process through their first weeks of employment preparation and following along after assisting the client in securing employment. He also maintains accurate case notes, reports throughout the process, and provides offsite job coaching, external situational assessments, vocational assessments and PVSA services.

What helps make John so successful at his job is his ability to relate to his clients’ experience – navigating a job search while having a disability. In 2016, John experienced a back injury; this disability and a lack of work experience (after recently obtaining his high school diploma) created obstacles to finding work. Seeking help, he contacted the Department of Rehabilitation, which referred him to PRIDE Industries.

After completing an ESA (External Situational Assessment) in 2017, to determine his job skills and interests, John started a paid internship at PRIDE’s Woodland, CA Employment Services Office. “John is a wonderful addition to our Woodland team,” says Job Developer Tara Vittone. “He learned so much in such a short period of time and occasionally helps solve our computer problems!” Just three months later, John was offered a permanent position with PRIDE.

In less than two years, John accomplished two major goals: completing his high school education and obtaining a full-time, meaningful job at PRIDE Industries. He plans to attend college to grow his career and aims to purchase his own home.

AREN SCARDACI: 

Aren

Aren struggled to find a full-time job that utilized his educational background. To jump start his career, he was referred to PRIDE Industries in late 2016.

With the extra help, Aren was able to extend his job search. “PRIDE’s staff was very supportive, and they helped me refine my employment soft skills while accommodating for my disability,” says Aren. “PRIDE works very hard to find their clients a job that fits their skills and background.”

To strengthen his resume, Aren was offered an internship with the Woodland Office in 2017. As an intern, he assisted with facilitating Job Club and working one-on-one with other PRIDE clients seeking employment. “Coaching other individuals allowed me to gain communication and practical skills that continue to help me today,” says Aren. His Job Developer also helped place Aren in a clerical volunteer position at the local United Way to continue to diversify his skills.

All the hard work finally paid off; in October 2017, Aren interviewed and was hired as a Computer Learning Center Coordinator job at Yolo County Housing. In this position, he helps youth residents use the computer lab, assists with homework and class material and leads educational activities. “

“This job is a perfect fit for me,” says Aren. “I enjoy sharing my outdoor education background with the residents. We recently conducted a scavenger hunt of California state parks using Google Maps.”

“I’m thankful for all the care and support from PRIDE’s staff. Employment has given me greater independence, and I am enjoying my new career. I also hope that my story can be used to encourage others with disabilities who are struggling to find employment.”

A Step Forward

For Blog

With drive and determination, John Almeda works to accomplish his goals; he is thriving at a job that he enjoys and is training towards his dream of competing in the Boston Marathon. John has completed half marathons, 20-mile races and most recently the 2017 California International Marathon (CIM). Despite an injury, he persevered and finished in 4 hours and 27 minutes!

These achievements have not come without challenges; John is on the Autism Spectrum (ASD) and is non-verbal. Around 30 percent of people diagnosed with ASD are considered “non-verbal” according to a study by Boston University; however, some non-verbal individuals can communicate with written or typed language. Furthermore, young adults with autism are less likely to be employed or to be enrolled in higher education than other young adults without autism.

Fortunately, after finishing his high school transition program in 2017, John was referred to PRIDE Industries’ Autism Employment Program. The program trains and places individuals with Autism in the Sacramento, CA region senior care services jobs at Eskaton (a nonprofit community-based senior care organization). Employees serve as companions and aides to residents of long-term care facilities and assist the nursing, dining hall and maintenance staff while receiving support from PRIDE Job Coaches. This is made possible through a collaboration between the California Conservation Corps and the PRIDE Industries Foundation.

John started his job at Eskaton in August 2017. To help him learn job tasks and overcome communication barriers, John was provided training and job support by his mother, Vanessa Bieker and a PRIDE Job Coach, Sandra Ogawa. Soon, he was working independently with little support, serving his customers with his enthusiasm and friendly smile. John is also able to independently take ridesharing services to work.

“John takes great pride in his work and has been given additional responsibilities as his skills have progressed,” says Rehabilitation Services Manager Michelle Anderson.

“With the money that he earns from his job, John is starting to support himself, including purchasing all the specialized clothing and shoes needed for running,” says Vanessa Bieker. “He enjoys his independence and the ability to socialize with his friends at work and is grateful for the opportunity.” We look forward to seeing John grow in his career and eventually reaching his Boston dream. Congratulations!

To learn more about John and his passion for running, watch this video.

https://media.abc10.com/embeds/video/2819052/iframe