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Employees with disabilities are making an impact

Guest commentary

Albany ARC and South Georgia Easter Seals are widely known agencies working for the betterment of persons with disabilities. They have made their presence known in Southwest Georgia for more than 50 years, and have improved the quality of life for so many of their clients. Thus, it is heartening to see that these two agencies also have a sizeable percent of individuals in their employ who have disabilities.

Within the nationally recognized Albany ARC, 30 percent of the workers have disabilities. According to the executive director of that facility, Annette Bowling, this pool of employees rivals any other group of nondisabled workers there. Regarding Easter Seals, according to Beth English, director of the facility, 10 percent of the employees there have disabilities, and are all employed in the vocational program.

Albany ARC's division with the most direct employment focus is the EmployAbility program. This program is an example of a commitment to hire persons with disabilities that present significant vocational barriers. EmployAbility currently employs 15 individuals -- eight full-time and seven part-time. Among the full-time employees, four individuals, or 50 percent, have disabilities ranging from developmental to physical. Among the part-time employees, 100 percent have disabilities ranging from an intellectual to emotional to substance abuse to a variety of physical conditions, including visual and hearing loss. All employees with disabilities work at a competitive level with adaptations as needed, and work side-by-side with non-disabled co-workers.

The EmployAbility work enterprises include lawn maintenance and landscaping services; moving services; janitorial services; general housecleaning services; stripping, waxing and buffing of hardwood floors; carpet cleaning, and pickup of donated furniture, appliances and other household items. Employees perform job duties in the above areas as members of a work crew, supervised by a full-time crew leader. The job duties are commensurate with similar positions found in the community.

Some of the outstanding employees at this facility, located at 901 Pine Ave., are Murphy Golden, Denise Lockett and Nakuma Childs. Murphy, at EmployAbility since its inception in 2006, works full-time on all of the work crews. Because he is knowledgeable of the duties entailed, he many times mentors the newer, less-experienced laborers. For instance, he demonstrates the finer art of mowing grass, trimming hedges, waxing floors, many other jobs in this field. Murphy is an easily recognized figure in this area, known for his Western-style clothes, including the blue jeans with the big shiny belt buckles, boots, and cowboy hats.

Ms. Lockett is a relative newcomer who distinguished herself from the beginning as a hard worker who took pride in the quality of her work. Denise did so well as a trainee that she was offered a part-time position as a work crew member in June. She currently works an average of 25 hours per week and is also highly valued for her ability to work as a member of a team and assume the role of assistant to the crew leader when needed.

Nakuma Childs has progressed from a quiet trainee in March 2010 to a highly valued employee in the ARC Thrift Store at 901 Pine Ave., known by many as Pick and Choose. Nakuma works 29 hours a week, performing a variety of job duties in the store ranging from janitorial to unloading and sorting donated items, setting up product displays, relocating merchandise, plus a variety of other duties as assigned. Nakuma also can be depended upon to help new trainees to learn operations and how they fit into the big picture.

At other ARC offices in the Good Life City are more employees who have disabilities. Two individuals in particular stand out. One is Carol Pierzchajlo, an office assistant in the office on Old Dawson Road. She serves as receptionist and collects documentation. Ms. Pierzchajlo has worked in this position for three years, and at Albany ARC for five years. She has also been a member of DLDI and Leadership Albany. For the latter group, she was the 2012 winner of the Ellen Raulerson award. Ms. Pierzchajlo is also a member of Albany's 40 Under 40 class for the year 2012.

The other person, Heather Fulton, serves as preschool instructor at the ARC office in Brooks Shopping Center. The lead teacher over her class, Ms. Fulton has worked for Albany ARC for four years. Before working at her present position, Ms. Fulton worked in the adult day independent living section. She is a Fort Valley State University graduate.

At Easter Seals, where Beth English is the executive director, three employees in this category stand out. They are Thomas Wimberly, Rashadd White and Jimmie Hasty. Mr. Wimberly serves as a secretary for Easter Seals workshop. His duties include managing the timeclock and collecting information regarding clients. Mr. Wimberly also faxes materials and files documents. He has worked for Easter Seals for four years. Mr. Wimberly has won a number of awards, including the Working Wonders Award and the Mildred Huie Leadership Award. The latter is given to an individual with a disability who has provided leadership. Mr. Wimberly also served as the adult ambassador for Easter Seals.

Mr. White works in production. He is on the Mastersfoods and Protocol's assembly lines. He also is involved in picking up and washing laundry from Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and Albany Pulmonary. Before working in his present capacity, Mr. White worked in the production line. This young man has won the ABCD (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty) Award and the Working Wonders Award at this facility.

Mr. Hasty works on the Masterfoods and Protocol contracts. He also assists with the Phoebe Putney laundry contract. He has worked for SWGA Easter Seals for four years and currently serves as its adult ambassador.

Tom Connelly, MS, CRC, has lived in Albany for more than 20 years. He is a member of the AARC Advisory Board.