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Celebrating a milestone and hoping for more: Why hiring people with disabilities counts

Armando Camacho

As October winds to a close, I want to share with you an important milestone.

Steve Lengyel, 35, is celebrating seven years of employment this month at Matthew's Family Restaurant in Circle Pines, where he washes dishes and performs light food prep. Steve receives support through Opportunity Partners, a nonprofit organization that helps nearly 2,000 people with disabilities each year.

“I’m super proud of him,” says restaurant owner Amy Salo. “He’s important to this place.”

Not only is Steve filling an essential role, his reliability on the job means the owners can focus on other duties. Imagine the time, money and headaches saved in not having to repeatedly recruit, hire and train for this key position.

“Monday through Friday I know he’s going to show up,” Amy says. “It takes a lot of stress off you.”

In any given year, our team at Opportunity Partners helps about 1,500 people with various types of disabilities find, retain and achieve at employment. We support another 400 people through residential and community living programs.

During October – because it is Steve’s work anniversary and because it also happens to be National Disability Employment Awareness Month – I want to take this opportunity to make sure everyone knows about great employees like Steve.

Like Steve, many of the people we work with at Opportunity Partners excel at repetitive tasks and appreciate jobs others may not stick with. Generally speaking, they often thrive with routine and don’t tend to job hop. They are reliable, dedicated and grateful for the opportunity.

Take it from Steve himself. When asked what he likes about his job, he provided a hand-written list of 13 reasons. Here are a few:

  • I like working with everyone.
  • They have good food.
  • Everyone tells me I’m the best dishwasher at work.
  • My boss and I work great as a team together.

And perhaps most significant of all:

  • They treat me like everyone else.

Our experience shows that most of the people with disabilities whom we serve just want an opportunity to prove they can do the job, and they want to be treated like everyone else.

Unfortunately, studies show that for every Steve who is out working, there are many, many more individuals waiting for their opportunity.

A recent National Core Indicators survey of Minnesotans receiving services from disability agencies found that just one in four has a paid job in the community. Of those without a paid job in the community, more than half said they would like to work.

With one in 10 Minnesotans having a disability and the clear underemployment of people with disabilities, this population can play a key role in bolstering our state’s labor force and the economy as a whole. Organizations like Opportunity Partners and many others exist to bridge the gap between high unemployment for people with disabilities and the growing labor force crisis many companies face.

While making a direct hire is a great fit for many businesses that we work with, others partner with us by contracting for a supervised team of workers at their location or by relying on us for light packaging and assembly work done in one of our facilities. Both options provide solid training opportunities for people with disabilities, often leading to more independent jobs in the future.

If you are a business owner or human resources manager, we can help you meet your corporate and diversity goals, and you can help advance the careers of individuals who will be matched with jobs that fit their unique skills and abilities.

Sound like a winning combination? Let us help you get started.

Armando Camacho is president & CEO of Opportunity Partners, a Twin Cities nonprofit organization working to advance the quality of life for people with disabilities. Learn more at opportunities.org.

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