10/18/09 — Agency not allowing disabilities to slow its clients down

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Agency not allowing disabilities to slow its clients down

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 18, 2009 2:00 AM

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Darryl Atkins sweeps the parking lot at the Kangaroo Express service station on Berkeley Boulevard in Goldsboro on Wednesday. Atkins was able to earn his job with the help of the Vocational Rehabilitation Services unit of the Department of Health and Human Services.

It has been about two months since Darryl Atkins started working at the Kangaroo Express on Berkeley Boulevard, and already his boss is bragging about him.

"He's been a positive influence. He's great with customers," store manager Beverly Fenech said.

Atkins is also enjoying his work as a maintenance staffer for the store, cleaning windows, taking out the trash, stocking shelves and sweeping the floors.

"My experiences have been real good, I like doing janitorial, maintenance work," he said.

But his experience is also somewhat unusual.

Atkins is one of millions of Americans working with disabilities, contributing to society and earning a living despite their personal challenges.

Atkins was able to get the job thanks to his own hard work, and the assistance of the Vocational Rehabilitation Services unit of the Department of Health and Human Services. The nonprofit state agency serves clients with disabilities in Wayne County and surrounding areas.

Coordinating with the Eastern Vocational Rehabilitation Center, the agency is able to offer classes, counseling, training and job placement services that help people with disabilities strengthen their skills and find employment in the community.

The organization has matched about 150 disabled clients with jobs in the past year, business relations representative Tammy Wade said.

"Our goal is for it to be a long-term placement, that they will be a permanent part of the work force and grow with the company," Mrs. Wade said.

The agency works largely as a liaison for clients and potential employers, facilitating conversation and educating employers about a work force that is often untapped.

"We think many times these people have been overlooked," Mrs. Wade said.

That was the service Mrs. Wade was able to provide for Atkins, and things have been going well for employee and employer ever since.

"It seems to be a good match. That's what we try to do," she said.

The process was an easy one for Mrs. Fenech, and she's been glad to have Atkins, she said.

"She (Mrs. Wade) walked in, explained the program," Mrs. Fenech said. "It's been great."

But the hiring procedures aren't waived or lowered for people with disabilities, Mrs. Wade pointed out.

"He went through the process like anybody else. We're not asking for special favors," she said.

October is Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, a time set aside to raise awareness about the contributions and skills of American workers living with disabilities. An estimated 54 million Americans have some form of disability, according to information from the U.S. Department of Labor.

In honor of the month, the Vocational Rehabilitation Services Unit will be holding an open house Oct. 23 from 8 to 11 a.m. at the office on Graves Drive in Goldsboro. Employers interested in connecting with potential employees are invited to attend.

In September, 22 percent of people with disabilities were employed in the labor force, compared with 70 percent for persons with no disability. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 16.2 percent, compared with 9.2 percent for persons with no disability.

Above all, it's important for people living with disabilities not to let their disability hold them back from being happy and productive, Atkins said.

"You're not ever supposed to give up your life because you have a disability," he said.