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.”

Strength, Prosperity, and Well-being

Labor Day is a tribute to the social and economic achievements of American workers that have contributed to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Though the unemployment rate has dropped to record lows in recent months, people with disabilities continue to struggle with high levels of unemployment or underemployment. In 2015, only 34% of people with disabilities (ages 18-64) were employed, compared to a 76% rate of employment for people without disabilities.

At PRIDE Industries, our goal is to create jobs for those who want and can work. Through PRIDE’s business enterprises and by partnering with others in the community, people with disabilities become contributing members of the community.

Since 1966, our mission has proven 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.

On Labor Day and year-round, together, we can celebrate the contributions of all American workers – with and without disabilities.

 

From all of us at PRIDE, have a happy and safe Labor Day!

An Untapped Labor Pool – The Benefits of Diversity in The Workplace

In today’s highly competitive business environment, companies are working harder to maintain profit margins while creating high standards and developing new strategies for growth. A workforce rich in diversity and varied backgrounds is often better equipped to create viable and creative solutions to the business challenges of a global market.

Diversity refers to variances among ethnicity, gender, age, and religion, including individuals’ attributes and experiences. One out of five people in America has a disability, making them the nation’s largest “minority.” The group represents all ages, genders, ethnicities and socioeconomic levels. Integrating people with disabilities in your business and the workforce can create a competitive advantage.

Businesses that employ individuals with disabilities appreciate their diverse experiences and perspectives, adding value to the workplace. Recruiting qualified people with disabilities brings benefits far beyond filling a job opening, including low turnover, reduced training and recruitment costs, and a loyal and committed workforce. A 2007 DePaul University study noted low absenteeism rates and long tenures for workers with disabilities; participating employers described their employees as “loyal, reliable, and hardworking.” This untapped labor pool can offer a source of skilled employees while contributing to lower business expenses.

In most cases, hiring people with disabilities is no different than hiring any other job candidate.  All new hires need to become familiar with an organization’s management style and workplace culture. Working with agencies serving people with disabilities brings the added benefit of comprehensive training and guidance to ensure success for employer, employee and new team members.

Ability Matters is a free resource guide created by PRIDE Industries for businesses interested in learning more about employing people with disabilities. The booklet was compiled with input from business leaders to help companies gain the competitive edge by achieving diversity in the workplace.

Ability Matters was developed by PRIDE Industries in collaboration with the following organizations; The ARC of California, ALTA California Regional Center, Work Training Center, Inc., California Disability Services Association, Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Unisource Worldwide, Inc. The guide addresses topics ranging from business advantages to recruitment and hiring, as well as support services, tax incentives, and realistic workplace accommodations.

To download your free copy of Ability Matters, click here.

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.

Career After The Military

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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.”

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

March is developmental disabilities awareness month image

Developmental disabilities can cause challenges in physical movement, learning, language and behavior. These disabilities are often diagnosed in early development and typically impact day-to-day activities and last throughout a person’s lifetime.


Who Is Affected

Developmental disabilities are found among all ages, genders, ethnicities and socioeconomic levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States about 15 percent of children between the ages of 3 – 17 years old have one or more developmental disabilities. Developmental disabilities include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, fragile x syndrome, hearing loss and intellectual disability. For information and resources, click here.


Living with a Developmental Disability

Individuals with developmental disabilities lead full active lives. Access to support services aid in the success and self-sufficiency of persons with disabilities. For more than 50 years, PRIDE Industries has created opportunities for those often excluded from the labor force – people with disabilities. Instead of disability – we see unique abilities.

Through assessments, career planning, training, placement, on-the-job support, follow-up, and case management provided by PRIDE, individuals with disabilities become contributing community members. More than 3,200 individuals with developmental, and other disabilities work at PRIDE. More than 500 individuals with disabilities have also been placed in community employment.


Help Others

We can all play a role in helping individuals with developmental and other disabilities join the workforce. Through employment, people with disabilities gain a sense of purpose, dignity, inclusion, and lead more self-sufficient lives.

How can you help? Consider ways in which opportunities can be created in your business or organization. Not sure how? Contact us. We’d be happy to help! Send an email to: info@prideindustries.com.


Focus on Abilities: Macular Degeneration and the Workplace

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

In the U.S., more than 7 million Americans are affected by a visual disability, including more than 600,000 in Texas. As a result of developing Macular Degeneration, Michael Prieto became one of these individuals.  The disease first caused vision loss in his right eye in 2003, following with the left in 2011.

Macular Degeneration is a condition that causes the center of the retina (the macula) to deteriorate. This area of the eye is responsible for the central vision needed for reading, driving, recognizing colors and other daily life activities. Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans – more than cataracts and glaucoma combined. At present, there is no cure and is considered an incurable eye disease.

Because of his disability, Michael became unemployed. He did the best he could to handle his vision loss and continued to look for employment. Despite his efforts to continue life as a productive member of society, his eyesight increasingly became a concern and an obstacle to employment.

During interviews, Michael would do his best to hide and never mentioned his disability for fear of not being hired. Eventually, he landed a position with a heating and air conditioning company at Fort Bliss. In 2012, Michael was hired by PRIDE Industries as a general maintenance worker at PRIDE’s Fort Bliss contract in Texas where PRIDE provides base-wide facilities support to the Army installation.

“For the first time, I did not have to hide my disability,” says Michael. “I also received additional tools from PRIDE’s Assistive Technology resources.”

To help him succeed on the job, PRIDE provided Michael with an oversize cell phone, a Ruby Handheld Magnifier and access to other assistive devices as needed. As a general maintenance worker, Michael helps maintain HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) units throughout Fort Bliss. Michael along with his team, provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality for the more than 8,000 individuals on the base.

individual with visual disability using a Ruby MagnifierIt is the smallest things on the job that create obstacles for Michael, such as reading small text. Fortunately, the Ruby Magnifier allows Michael to amplify any tiny impediments. Learn more about PRIDE’s Assistive Tech. program, click here.

Since 1966, PRIDE has provided support services and opportunities for those most often excluded from employment: people with disabilities like Michael. “PRIDE has given me a second chance to continue my job skills due to my eyesight disability.”

 

To learn more about Macular Degeneration, view the video below:

An Opportunity for Advancement

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Alberto Hernandez has everything going for him, he is smart, motivated, a hard worker with an upbeat attitude and a remarkably talented artist. After moving to the U.S. when he was nine, Alberto completed high school and earned his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from the University of Texas at El Paso. His college degree and incredible talent were not enough to overcome the career obstacles caused by his disability – Alberto was born deaf.

Most people do not know that being deaf makes writing difficult. English is a listening-based language that is constructed quite differently than visually based American Sign Language (ASL). People who cannot hear English – no matter how intelligent they are – have a hard time passing written tests without assistance. All graduate schools and professional certifications require applicants to pass complex written tests.

Unable to find a job that matched his skills and education, Alberto was referred to the PRIDE Industries’ newest program offering – PRIDE Ascend in El Paso, TX. PRIDE Ascend enables people with disabilities to gain technical skills and attain industry-based certifications to help meet the growing demand for skilled labor. To learn more about PRIDE Ascend, click here.

True to his nature, Alberto excelled, this time earning a National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certificate in carpentry. After graduation, Alberto applied to a job at PRIDE’s Fort Bliss contract in Texas where PRIDE provides base-wide facilities support to the Army installation.

Alberto was hired as a maintenance trades helper in the carpentry shop at Fort Bliss. This new position allows Alberto to use his new certification while applying his creative talents in a job he truly enjoys. “Working at PRIDE has helped me mentally and physically,” says Alberto. “I am happy to have something positive to focus on.” Recently, Alberto earned a promotion to General Maintenance Worker.

Working at PRIDE has improved his confidence, self-esteem and has helped Alberto to be more self-sufficient. Most importantly, he is optimistic about the future. “I am excited about the experience I am gaining and the opportunity for advancement,” says Alberto. At PRIDE, he receives job skills development and accommodations, along with the support of his fellow PRIDE colleagues. “I look forward to the opportunity to showcase my skills and I feel motivated to come to work every day.”

Outside of work, Alberto is a talented artist with more than 25 years of experience, visit his online gallery, click here.

Individuals like Alberto remind us that we all have the ability to take control of our destiny despite the challenges we may face. “Never limit yourself to the expectations of others, always chase your own dreams,” says Alberto.