A Step Forward

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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.

http://www.abc10.com/mobile/video/news/local/sacramento-man-with-non-verbal-autism-inspires-many-through-passion-for-running/103-2819052

A New Start

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A job means so much more than a paycheck – it provides meaning, self-esteem and a chance to learn skills. MaryHelen Ceballos is an employee at PRIDE’s Ft. Bliss TX contract. With support and accommodations, she is thriving in her job.

“My life has not been easy due to my disabilities,” says MaryHelen. “I became hard-of-hearing when I was five years old. During school, I unexpectedly lost about half of my hearing in my left ear and was left only with a loud buzz in my right ear. Despite multiple MRI’s, CAT scans, blood work – my doctors had no explanation for my hearing loss. It was devastating.”

Despite her hearing loss, MaryHelen’s mother continued to enroll her in a non-deaf school. Unfortunately, this was not always a welcome environment. “My teachers did not understand how to help a hard of hearing child,” says MaryHelen. “Many doubted I would even graduate high school. Since I was different than the other children, I struggled to make friends.”

Through perseverance, MaryHelen overcame many challenges and excelled academically, participating in speech pathology classes to improve her communication skills. “My proudest moment was when I graduated high school with several scholarships to college,” says MaryHelen. However, the poor treatment that she had received discouraged her so much that MaryHelen declined her college acceptance and found work as a grocery store cashier.

Unfortunately, disability can strike at any moment – MaryHelen was injured while working and needed back surgery. “My employer refused to accommodate my disabilities,” says MaryHelen. “Despite the fact that my doctor had not yet cleared me for work and that I needed to use a walker and attend physical therapy, I was immediately terminated after a week of leave.”After my dismissal, I applied for job after job. No employer would hire me due to my back injury and the accommodations needed for me to hear others on the job. I just felt lost and alone.”

To get back on a career path, MaryHelen went back to college to get her certificate in sign language while searching for new employment. Fortunately, a friend suggested that she apply for a job at PRIDE Industries. “I found out that most of my hard of hearing and deaf friends worked there. I wanted to be part of PRIDE’s mission to create jobs for people with disabilities,” says MaryHelen. After interviewing twice, she was hired in July 2016.

“I was happy for the first time in several years since my back injury. Working for PRIDE has changed my life drastically. For the first time in my life, I am not ashamed to be hard-of-hearing, and I get the help I need at work. I feel like I have been given a second chance.”

At Ft. Bliss, MaryHelen works as a clerk for the Electrical, Fire Alarms and Environmental shops in support of PRIDE’s military customer. To help her succeed at her job, she was provided a telephone with a volume booster, as well as a lift desk and lumbar chair. ASL interpreters and job coaches are available to help with translation when needed.

“Since starting at PRIDE, MaryHelen has done very well in the Service Order Desk department. She is a quick learner, very organized and follows all processes precisely,” says Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Ronda Davenport.

“Everyone is friendly here, I love my job and the people I work with,” says MaryHelen. “We truly function as a team and take care of each other. I couldn’t ask for more in a job position.”

Building a Successful Career

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“Working at PRIDE has helped me accomplish my goals and brought me professional success.”

Julio Hinojosa is a young adult with a borderline intellectual disability that has earned a successful career with PRIDE Industries. Approximately 6.5 million people in the United States have an intellectual disability, which occurs when a person experiences limitation in cognitive functioning and problem-solving. These individuals have a harder time finding employment options and participate in the labor force at about half the rate of typically developing adults. However, given the right environment and support, people with intellectual disabilities can fulfill needed career positions and make excellent employees.

Julio graduated from a high school transition program that assisted students with disabilities to help find employment and learn independent life skills. As part of the program, he completed vocational training in electrical work, expressing interest in working in a technical field. With this preference, Julio was referred by the Department of Rehabilitative Services in 2011 to PRIDE Industries’ Ft. Bliss, TX facilities and maintenance contract – starting his career working as a Grounds Maintenance Laborer in the Roads & Grounds department.

Adjusting to a new trade was not always easy. Due to his disability, Julio struggled with problem-solving on the job and had difficulty using the correct writing to explain the work he performed on service orders. With help from his supervisor, coworkers and job coach, he learned how to write down his orders with accuracy and worked on maintaining concentration to finish assigned tasks on time.

“Julio is very shy,” says Rehabilitation Manager Shannon Bloxham. “He required a lot of guidance, but has learned by observation and hands-on training – improving his confidence and skills.”

Within this supportive environment, Julio continued to advance in his career. He was promoted to Maintenance Trades Helper in the Electrical department in 2014 and later to General Maintenance Worker in 2016. Furthering his expertise, he entered the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) Apprenticeship program and is now a year shy of finishing the four-year program. With guidance and mentorship from his coworkers, Julio passed his State Journeyman Electrician’s exam in 2017 and was promoted to Electrician.

Working for PRIDE not only brought career success but also carried over in Julio’s personal life. He recently got married and purchased his first home. “I enjoy the hands-on-work of electrical work and perfecting my craft while working in the welcoming environment at PRIDE,” says Julio. “Julio is a very hard-working employee and has shown dedication and ambition to get to where he is today,” says Shannon Bloxham.

Shriver’s Shared Vision

Eunice Kennedy Shriver passed away August 11, 2009. Inspired by her own sister’s story, Shriver was a leader in opening minds and opening doors for people with developmental disabilities at a time when intellectual disabilities were hidden and not discussed.

A statement issued by her family states that she “set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more.”  In July, 1968, Eunice Kennedy Shriver convened the first Special Olympics Games only a few weeks after her younger brother, Robert, was assassinated in Los Angeles. That day she spoke before a crowd outnumbered by athletes representing only 26 states and Canada. Today, Special Olympics athletes from 181 countries compete in games highlighted around the globe.

“The right to play on any playing field? You have earned it.
The right to study in any school? You have earned it.
The right to hold a job? You have earned it.
The right to be anyone’s neighbor? You have earned it.”

-Eunice Kennedy Shriver – 1987 Special Olympics World Games

Shriver was awarded the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 in recognition of her work on behalf of those with developmental disabilities.  Hers was a  lifetime devoted to the service of others – a relentless and powerful advocate for the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.  Her legacy extends well beyond the  success of Special Olympics and the individual lives she touched.  Her passionate belief in the dignity and worth of every human life is our shared belief, and her struggle to highlight capabilities instead of disabilities is at the heart of our mission at PRIDE Industries.