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#InclusionWorks: Stories of employees with disabilities

North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities is proud to recognize October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Reflecting the important role disability plays in workforce diversity, this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) theme is “#InclusionWorks.” Observed each October, NDEAM celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a diverse workforce inclusive of their skills and talents.

Jaimie Yahnker, hospital associate at Vidant Medical Center
Eric Chavis, administrative assistant at Choice Behavioral Health and Consulting Services
Chef Greg Hamm, founder of P.G.Werth's and employer of people with disabilities
Richard Smith, dining room attendant at McDonald's
Lisa Nickerson, feeding assistant at Sharon Towers

Picture1Meet Jaimie Yahnker:

Former North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities member Jaimie Yahnker is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. But that doesn’t stop him from directing patients and family members to the right location as a Hospitality Associate at Vidant Medical Center.

Indeed, many people see him as a role model to patients who have been injured in an accident, had a stroke or experienced some other traumatic event. “It gives them hope and realization life can go on despite the traumatic event,” Yahnker says.

Employed at the hospital for 32 years, Yahnker’s roles have included Visitor Control Receptionist, File Clerk, Insurance Clerk and his current position. “Working in general gives me the independence factor and just feeling needed and contributing to society and the workforce,” he reflected.

Yahnker also talked about the challenge of working part-time while pursuing two associate degrees and offered the following advice: “Don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to take help when it’s offered.”

Working at Vidant Medical Center has allowed Jaimie to plan for his future with a retirement package and a 401(k) package. He has also volunteered time leading the Support Team for Active Recreation (STAR) nonprofit organization assisting individuals with disabilities to find life through recreation.

Eric Chavis, NCCDD council member, shares what he loves about his job at Choice Behavioral Health and Consulting Services:

Thirty percent of Chef Greg Hamm's staff is made up of people with disabilities. Watch the story behind why Chef Hamm believes that it's good for businesses to hire people with disabilities:

RichardNDEAM Success Story: Richard Smith

Richard is a 24-year-old diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD. Richard sought assistance from the NC Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services to find an ideal employment opportunity and began working with Cape Fear Vocational Services (CFVS) in 2015. Richard worked with CFVS Employment Specialists in order to develop interview skills and other techniques that would help him find an independent and successful employment experience.

Richard was always enthusiastic about his search for employment and always willing to work with the Employment Specialists to reach his goals. Richard prepared a resume and trained with Employment Specialists to form effective interview responses. He was soon hired by Qdoba Mexican Grill, where he enjoyed his time and felt like a valued employee. When Richard learned that the restaurant would soon be closing, he remained positive and confident. Shortly after Qdoba closed, Richard obtained a job interview at McDonald’s in Burlington and was hired as a Dining Room Attendant.

In his new position, Richard has maintained the quality of the dining area and provided excellent customer service. As he has gained more experience, Richard has been given additional duties and responsibilities such as preparing food items and assuring the cleanliness of the store’s parking lot. Richard says that his favorite responsibility is baking fresh apple pies for customers. Another McDonald’s team member says that Richard is a highly appreciated employee that brings positivity to everyone in the workplace. Today Richard continues to work as an integral part of the McDonald’s team and enjoys the positive impact he has on his customers and co-workers. Richard stated that he loves his job!


NDEAM Success Story: Lisa Nickerson, Mecklenburg County

Lisa 2On December 18, 2015, Lisa Nickerson became one of the State’s first individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities (I/DD) to become an apprentice feeding assistant for Sharon Towers Continuing Care Retirement Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Lisa is one of three individuals to be selected for the Business Apprenticeship Career Training Service (Business ACTS©™) in partnership with InReach, a Community Rehabilitation Program in Mecklenburg County.

The Business ACTS Program is a registered pre-apprenticeship training program with NCWorks. Unlike unpaid internships, pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships offer paid training with employers like Sharon Towers, who host the year-long, on-the-job training for apprentices. While apprenticeships have historically served adults without disabilities, Business ACTS partners with agencies such as InReach to provide job coaches that assist Sharon Towers to access the largely untapped workforce of individuals with I/DD.

Feeding assistants such as Lisa and her two colleagues from InReach, provide non-medical assistance to residents of Sharon Towers who have dementia. Feeding assistants permit the nurses and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to focus their attention on providing clinical care without compromising on the human contact that is so important to senior care. At each meal, feeding assistants like Lisa help senior residents manage the tasks of eating and drinking while providing care and companionship to make each meal is an enjoyable experience for the residents.

“Every single resident has a story to tell,” Lisa states. “Some tell it verbally, others with their eyes. I have come to love each one as if they were my own grandparent and treat them as such, so each of their stories is special to me.”

Lisa and her fellow feeding assistants were trained by a registered nurse educator, Chanel Jenkins, of Sharon Towers using the North Carolina State approved Feeding Assistant Training Curriculum. In addition to training on the specific duties of feeding assistants, Lisa and her co-feeding assistants must pass a CPR/First Aid class and participate in a course on communication skills with seniors to earn their registered Feeding Assistant Certificate from NCWorks.

Prior to becoming an apprentice at Sharon Towers, Lisa was unemployed for five years. Her previous work experience included a series of entry-level jobs that did not provide a career ladder or stable employment. Today Lisa is able to save money for a car, and she plans to move from her mother’s home to her own apartment. If desired, apprentices like Lisa can pursue further training as CNAs or other in-home healthcare specialties as a result of their initial experience as feeding assistants.

Lisa’s goals for her future are much brighter now. Lisa explains, “I want to go back to college to major in history with a civil war specialty.” Lisa is also partnering with InReach and Business ACTS owner Patricia K. Keul on the development of a curriculum to train peer mentors with I/DD. “Now that I am working after so many years unemployed, I can realize my goals, and I want to help others do the same.”

Supported apprenticeships that offer paid work experience in high-demand industries such as health care are part of the new frontier in employment training for individuals with I/DD. Through apprenticeships, individuals like Lisa can now enter high-demand fields that offer careers, not just jobs.

*For more information about Business ACTS©™ or registered pre-apprenticeships for people with I/DD, please contact Pat Keul at: [email protected] or 704-621-7969.



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This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001NCSCDD-02, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

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