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.”

I Have Always known That I Was Capable

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Andrew (Andy) Emore joined the PRIDE Industries team at Joint Base McGuire–Dix–Lakehurst (JB-MDL), NJ, in March of 2013 as a Grounds Maintenance Laborer. Within his first year, his hard work was recognized and he earned a promotion to Tractor Operator.

Andy was born deaf to parents who are also deaf; he identifies with deaf culture.  In his early educational years, he was mainstreamed in a school that had a small group of children who were deaf.  Andy was with this group until third grade. Due to a lack of funding and budget cuts, he was forced to go to another school where he was the only deaf student. “It was very frustrating,” Andy said, “every day was more of a struggle to get the teachers to understand my deafness instead of me being able to learn from them and focus on my studies. Now looking back, schooling was a struggle due to misconceptions and a lack of awareness of my deafness and my disability. They didn’t think that I could actually do the same things as other students.”

“Because of a lot of my experiences and challenges growing up, I became dependent on alcohol. My deafness and dependency on alcohol impeded my ability to keep long-standing employment. Now I am a recovering alcoholic, five years sober, thanks to a strong core of support: my family and my close friend, who actively served this country for over 10 years. I also grew up in a military family. This instilled in me a great respect. Even though I cannot directly serve in the military, it is an honor to support the members of military and their family by maintaining the base. The job that I do is not comparable to the sacrifice that they make for us every day.”

PRIDE Industries Andy E 02“From the first day of my PRIDE orientation, I was welcomed wonderfully. I am grateful to have been hired at PRIDE Industries; I have received unlimited support. PRIDE doesn’t just hire people with disabilities; they really know how to support and accommodate. Job coaches. who are also interpreters, have always been there to help facilitate communication and even clarify training where needed. The rehabilitation staff supports, encourages and advocates for people with disabilities, and they help them succeed by overcoming challenges. Every day, I’m still amazed at the support I receive. Personally, I feel finally someone gets it. Those in my environment and company don’t just perceive it as their jobs, and they don’t just draw the line with advocacy, but they help us stomp out the stigma of what it means to be a person with a disability. PRIDE’s mission helps us feel like a person – not just a number.”

“I believe in myself a lot more, and know that it is okay to do well. I have always known that I was capable, but working for PRIDE Industries has given me the confidence to find success in potential and in failure. As a Tractor Operator, I now get to work with other operators and members of the Grounds department. Since winter is coming, I am also a member of the snow removal team. I like working with big machines because my dad was a mechanic for 40 years and I grew up around all the large equipment (I was the breaker, and he was the fixer).  My long term goal is to become a Heavy Equipment Operator.”

With the support of his Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, and the on-the-job training he has received at PRIDE, Andy is already taking steps towards this goal. He says, “I always wanted to be outside working on the big toys. It makes me happy to be able to work with others with challenges similar and different to my own. Owning my own home and the opportunity to make a good steady income until retirement is also in my plans.”

“One of the biggest misconceptions people have about deafness is that it affects intelligence. To anyone reading this; don’t doubt yourself- give yourself the chance you need to succeed. We were all born with different challenges for different reasons, and everyone has a purpose. I look forward to each and every day coming to work, to learn new things and be able to bring my abilities to the table.”

 

2014 Special Olympics USA Games

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via Special Olympics New Jersey

The 2014 National Summer Special Olympics are being held in the state of New Jersey June 14 – June 21 this summer. Approximately 3,500 athletes will gather from every state. Competitors will include PRIDE Industries’ very own Brian Beirne.

Brian is an employee on PRIDE’s contract at JB MDL. He began in 2012 and is currently a Grounds Maintenance Laborer. His long-term goal is to become a Maintenance Trades Helper in the Carpentry department.

When he isn’t working, rooting for his New Jersey Devils, or moshing at heavy metal concerts – Brian can be found lifting weights at the gym. Big weights.

It all started in middle school when his grandparents signed him up for the YMCA to follow his interest in Rugby. There, he was introduced to weight lifting. Powerlifting quickly became his new favorite sport.

In the last three years Brian has competed in the Special Olympics at the regional and state levels. In 2011, he won four gold medals in the regionals and four more in the state competition. In 2012, Brian again won four gold medals in the regionals and took three in the state competition including one silver. In 2013, he won four gold medals in the regional competition and two in the state – this time including two silver medals. Late last year, Brian was invited to try out for the New Jersey Special Olympic team. He was selected to be one of four power lifters from the state in the 2014 Special Olympics, and the only one in his weight division of 170-185 pounds.

In addition to the national competition, Brian will compete again at the regional and state levels this year. He currently squats around 240lbs, benches 250lbs, and dead lifts 340lbs. His personal goal is to beat the state record and reach over 350lbs.

Brian is very excited for the competition to begin. He says his motivation is being able to see steady improvement in his skills and feels a sense of accomplishment each time he is able to add more weight to his lifts. Brian is determined to beat his own record and set a new state one. He is grateful for his supportive family, and for his competition trainer, Riggy – Brian’s favorite and most inspiring trainer.

We are so proud to have Brian on our own PRIDE team and look forward to cheering him on this summer! Follow Brian’s journey by checking on his profile page at: http://teamnj.sonj.org/athlete/Brian-Beirne.

PRIDE Employees Provide Sandy Relief

When Superstorm Sandy struck the east coast last month, PRIDE employees at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB-MDL) did not run away from the ensuing disaster; they stepped into action.

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Since 2010, PRIDE Industries has provided base wide facilities support services to Fort Dix, part of the key JB-MDL military installation in New Jersey.  PRIDE is a nonprofit organization, providing manufacturing and facilities services to business and government agencies nationwide, while creating meaningful jobs for people with disabilities.  PRIDE provides base wide facilities support services to JB-MDL,  including building maintenance, roads and grounds, electrical systems and water treatment systems at Fort Dix.

In the wake of this disaster, 35 employees with, and without disabilities, worked together in shifts around the clock for four consecutive days to ensure that the base facilities remained operationally stable.  At Fort Dix, PRIDE employees maintained the emergency generators for the military’s critical facilities to keep the power flowing.  Others cleared roads from downed trees and debris, and alleviated flooding in low lying areas by clearing obstructions from storm drains.  A big thank you goes out to all PRIDE employees who made sacrifices to help out during this disaster and exceeded expectations along the way.

A quote from our customer at Fort Dix sums up their performance:  “I am taking this moment to express my gratitude to PRIDE Industries for the quick response and actions during Tropical Storm Sandy.  They showed professionalism and courtesy in those trying times.  Without PRIDE employees working so diligently we would not have been able to function.”

Carlo Parra, PRIDE Electrician; Samantha Gralla, PRIDE Counselor; Cathi Talbot, PRIDE Service Order Clerk; and Michael Bencivenga, PRIDE JBMDL General Manager present $10,000 in support to Cammi Trinidad, Donations Manager for the American Red Cross at the Burlington-Camden office.

PRIDE also supports the communities in which our customers and employees live and work.  Our mission – creating jobs for people with disabilities – requires strong community support and, in turn, strengthens the communities that we share.  As such, PRIDE’s JB-MDL employees were proud to deliver a $10,000 donation to the American Red Cross Burlington-Camden office to provide emergency disaster relief assistance in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, assisting those in greatest need.

 

PRIDE Employee Danny Guzman

Danny Guzman, PRIDE Employee at JB MDL

Danny Guzman was born deaf and lost his mother after delivery. Growing up deaf in a hearing world can be isolating, but Danny was blessed with a great personality, a positive attitude, and a determination to face life’s obstacles head on.  Thanks to a scholarship from JEVS Human Services, a nonprofit organization committed to enhancing the employability, independence, and quality of life of individuals with a broad range of barriers, Danny attended Orleans Technical School in Philadelphia. There he received training in air conditioning, refrigeration and heating, and learned invaluable work and interpersonal skills

With the aid of a translator and a job coach, Guzman excelled in both the classroom and his career. Since 2010, Danny has been employed as a HVAC maintenance trades helper with PRIDE Industries, which provides  base wide facility support services to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. PRIDE meets the manufacturing and facilities services needs of business and government agencies nationwide while fulfilling its nonprofit mission of creating jobs for people with disabilities.  As an employee who is deaf, Danny serves as a mentor to other employees with disabilities, and role model to the entire workforce.

Danny was recently awarded the Inspiration Award by JEVS for his many accomplishments. Danny is the only student to have ever won both the scholarship and the Inspiration Award. Inspiration Award winners are recognized for overcoming barriers that blocked their path to self-sufficiency while serving as an inspiration to staff, clients and peers.

Danny was honored by JEVS at a recent ceremony, and featured in a short video that we think you will find inspirational.  Danny is an inspiration to all of us at PRIDE and to other individuals with disabilities pursuing advanced education and employment, on a path to self-sufficiency. Congratulations, Danny!

A Veteran’s New Path with PRIDE Industries

PRIDE Employee

Michael Stone, PRIDE Industries Carpenter Technician, JB MDL, NJ

Michael Stone served 4 years active duty in the Marine Corps and an additional 4 years in the Reserves, completing a tour of Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. He enlisted shortly after high school graduation, wanting to serve his country and accomplish life goals utilizing skills he knew he would gain in service.  After leaving the military, he encountered challenges related to his new-found disabilities, and difficulties adjusting to civilian life.

An attempt at self-employment was unsuccessful; he remained unemployed for several frustrating years. In 2008 he was injured, with no health insurance, no job, and little hope. VA case management personnel connected him to the VA system and services. Soon after, he attended a job fair where he was connected to PRIDE Industries, providing base facilities support services at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL) under the AbilityOne program.

Michael began working with PRIDE Industries at JB MDL in June of 2010 as a General Maintenance Worker.  After six months, he was promoted to a Carpenter Technician position. Michael is grateful for the chance to return to the work he once was able to do, and to have to ability to support his family again. He utilizes the resources of the on-site PRIDE Rehabilitation office, continuing to work closely with a Counselor and the Job Coach.

For Michael, working on the military base “provides a sense of normalcy.” Adjusting to life outside of the military continues to be a “work in progress,” but Michael believes his work with PRIDE helps him. He is participating in successful work experiences every day, and even helping to support others in learning the carpentry trade.

Through his experiences at PRIDE Industries, Michael has regained confidence in his own abilities. Michael feels that PRIDE helps us all to “recognize our compassionate side, as we learn to recognize our differences and respect our abilities, not see people’s disabilities.” Working at PRIDE at JB MDL, an AbilityOne contract, helps Michael to support his family, continue to focus on his abilities, and to be a part of a team who values his skills.

Michael is planning the next steps in his career, considering returning to school to learn more about counseling and social work. He has a strong desire to share his experience and utilize what he has learned to help other veterans. He is currently working to establish a volunteer position with Tip of the Arrow, a volunteer organization focused on helping veterans successfully transition to civilian work life. Michael would like to serve as a support person to Veterans returning from active duty, who are rejoining the civilian job force.