Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM)

By: Autum Meyers Last Updated: October 18, 2023

October is Disability Employment Awareness Month. Many people may not realize it, but individuals with disabilities are some of the most hardworking and dedicated employees a business could ever ask for. Programs like Paladin’s Employment Services Program help prepare people with disabilities for the workforce, connect them with local businesses in which they can build rewarding careers, and ensure their continued success long after they’re hired. These incredible programs are a huge win for both them and their communities.

“This program helped me find a job and become independent. Everyone needs independence,” said Jeff Olds, a participant in the Employment Services Program.

Paladin’s Employment Services Program is designed to set people with disabilities up for success in a variety of ways. The biggest way is through preparation. When Olds first joined the program, he had a hard time feeling confident during interviews. His job coach helped him strengthen his interviewing skills by teaching him how to maintain eye contact while talking and how to speak professionally and politely. They even taught him how to write a resume.

“The program was a good experience. It made a lot of changes in my life,” said Olds.

After his preparation, Olds began working at Buffalo Wild Wings in Michigan City. An Employment Consultant worked alongside him for a couple of weeks to help him with his training, but it didn’t take long for him to get the hang of things. He started out cleaning and, after training several people on his own, earned the title of maintenance manager. Olds has now worked at Buffalo Wild Wings for eight years and absolutely loves it.

“I love to work. I like the job that I do. I like my bosses and coworkers – they all treat me how I like to be treated. I also like meeting people and making friends. I never call off and I’m always on time,” said Olds.

In the Employment Services Program, participants gain more than just important life skills; they discover their passions and what kind of work brings them fulfillment. Nate Jenner, another program participant, is the perfect example of how discovery works within the program.

Paladin took Jenner to several different workplaces to help him get an idea of what kind of work he’d like to do and where he would feel most at home. He spent time working at both McDonalds and Burger King before realizing Popeyes was the perfect fit. After a quick interview, Popeyes hired Jenner right on the spot – he was overjoyed.

“I love seeing how excited these individuals are when they get a job. It’s exciting for everyone to get a new job and have the chance to do and learn new things, but for these guys it means so much more knowing that someone wants to hire them and trusts them to do a good job. This is probably the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” said Diane Downs, employment manager and consultant within the Employment Services Program.

Jenner has now been at Popeyes for just over a year. He was originally hired to clean, but like Olds, has managed to move up. He now cooks and enjoys helping out his coworkers in any way he possibly can. Working has helped Jenner gain social freedom. He likes to use the money that he earns to go bowling with his friends on Thursdays.

“It makes me feel good about myself,” said Jenner.

Another wonderful aspect of the Employment Services Program is that it is ongoing. The employment consultants continue to work with each program participant long after they’re hired. They do weekly check-ins to make sure everything is going okay and are always willing to help them out if something changes in the workplace.

Lastly, the program helps participants overcome barriers that may keep them from working. The biggest concern many people with disabilities have is how they’ll get to work every day. The Employment Services Program team has solved this problem by creating a Dial-a-Ride bus system that goes door to door, picks everyone up, and takes them to and from work.

Ultimately, Paladin couldn’t have found a better way to empower individuals with disabilities. Paladin hopes to keep spreading the word about the Employment Services Program so that more people can find fulfillment in their lives.

“At Paladin, we have day services for many of our clients, and they rely on that to have a meaningful day, but many people may not realize that a meaningful day could also include working out in the community and contributing,” said Downs.

Jenner and Olds encourage anyone who is nervous about joining the program to just give it a chance. The program has completely changed their lives, and they want everyone to have the same opportunities that they’ve been given.

“We need to get the word out. Everyone should just give this a try. You’ll never know if you like it until you try, and if you don’t like something, there are so many other things you can do,” said Olds.

Everyone at Paladin can’t wait to see how the Employment Services Program continues to grow and develop in the future. The Paladin team has already discussed adding a volunteer component to the program to help participants discover what kind of work they’d like to do even quicker.

“We’re looking to expand our program and make it even bigger so we can take on more clients and help them find jobs in the community because that’s extremely important to everyone. If someone wants a job, we’re going to find a way to make it happen,” said Downs.

To learn more about Paladin and its life changing programs, visit paladin.care.