In my previous blog post, I focused on the experience of three AbilityOne participants who work at a GSA retail store halfway around the world in Guam. I think it helps all of us when we have an opportunity to personalize an important program like AbilityOne®. As we approach the end of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), I thought I’d mention a few more AbilityOne participants who represent a small part of the thousands of disabled workers around the country.
Manuel Zavala, from the West Texas Lighthouse for the Blind in San Angelo, lost his eyesight seven years ago. With a wife and two children, he naturally worried about his potential to earn a living. He started work assembling pens but soon mastered those tasks and took on more responsibility, even taking business management classes through the Business Leaders Program offered by National Industries for the Blind (NIB), an AbilityOne authorized enterprise. He’s now equally comfortable on a production line or in the Lighthouse office putting those business classes to work.
Stephanie Davis works at the Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, along with her parents who are also blind and other blind long-time employees as well. Stephanie started as a sewing machine operator, making military uniforms. Like Manuel, she quickly gained confidence and sought out more challenging tasks. Today, she provides customer service, often to Veterans Affairs (VA) locations, and is an engaging public speaker, encouraging her audiences to live life to the fullest.
There are similar examples around the country.
Charles Ellis, from the Columbus Community Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, has overcome mental illness and depression, not to mention homelessness, to work full-time as a custodian at a Bureau of Land Management field location.
Steve Credle started work stocking shelves at a commissary in California, but quickly rose to order writer, supervisor and eventually his current role as a human resources manager with Job Options in San Diego.
Connie McClendon is a Material Expeditor working at Fort Meade, Md., on a contract for the Skookum Educational Programs. She served proudly in the Army for 17 years, but experienced seizures after a 2008 deployment to Iraq. After a referral from the VA, she’s found a place to put to use her Army logistics training and is now training junior supply personnel.
In these cases and many more, the key factor is often an opportunity to serve their employers and customers. GSA is pleased and proud to partner with the AbilityOne community to make it easy for federal buyers, military or civilian, to fulfill their mandate under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, which requires federal agencies purchase specified supplies and services from nonprofit agencies employing persons who are blind or have other significant disabilities. That pride was most evident earlier in October when my colleague Diana Leonardo, GSA’s liaison to AbilityOne, accepted an award recognizing the “outstanding partnership between GSA and NIB for exceptional contribution and support of the mission to create and sustain jobs for people who are blind.” The award was very meaningful for Diana.