Businesses to mentor disabled

Staff report

November 3, 2013

LUMBERTON — The North Carolina Division of Health and Human Services, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation recently coordinated and sponsored Disability Mentoring Day in partnership with the Public Schools of Robeson County’s Occupational Course of Study Program.

This year’s theme was “Because We Are Equal to the Task.” The training was in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which is celebrated every October and is led by the American Association of Persons with Disabilities and the U.S. Department of Labor. The purpose is to educate businesses, organizations, public school officials, students, jobseekers and agencies about the varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.

Disability Mentoring Day began more than a decade ago and started with 36 students in the Washington, D.C. area. The program has since evolved to be included in all of the United States and in more than 20 countries.

Teresa Stone McNeill, business relations representative with the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, has been a coordinator for Robeson County since 2000, when she began with six high school students being mentored by local businesses. This year, the training has grown locally to include more than 60 participants, including Vocational Rehabilitation staff, high school Occupational Course of Study seniors and teachers and job coaches with the Exceptional Children’s Program.

Local employers presenting included Rhonda Shane Lovin of The Staffing Alliance and Tracy Rickel and Heather Craig of YS Companies. Also participating were Ashley Thomas and Ashley Fernandez of Bridge II Sports in Durham.

Jarrod Lowery, community liaison with the Governor’s Office, participated in the event and recited the Governor’s Proclamation announcing October 2013 as Disability Employment Awareness Month in North Carolina. A copy of the proclamation was awarded to Vocational Rehabilitation Staff in Lumberton, which is managed by Sandra Wilkins Britt.

McNeill and Betty Locklear conducted a Windmills Training Module. Windmills is a nationally recognized training program that was implemented by the California Governor’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities 27 years ago. The objective of the training program is to reduce the attitudinal barriers or stereotypes of persons with disabilities and to raise awareness of the limitations sometimes imposed in the area of employment.

McNeill used the training module “The Story” and told of her personal battles with an orthopedic and growth hormone disorder since childhood, and how she overcame obstacles and limitations that come with the disorder.

The state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation assisted 6,758 people statewide with disabilities to gain entry into the workforce in 2012. The division continues its mission to assist persons with physical, mental health, substance abuse, or learning disabilities by offering services geared toward a successful employment outcome.