Everyone is born uniquely. Some have brown hair while others have blue eyes. Some have the knack for creativity while others are geniuses when it comes to numbers. The abilities a person is able to bring to the table are different from anyone else’s.
As October is Disability Employment Awareness Month, The Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities (Knox DD) is celebrating their individuals by giving recognition to their unique traits and skills they can provide to the Knox community.
Knox DD works with many different provider agencies in Knox County to help provide employment supports to people with disabilities that would like to work in community-based jobs. The provider agencies can help with work assessments, writing resumes, interview skills, and on-the-job training so people with disabilities can be successful in their employment journey.
One of the provider agencies in Knox County is New Hope Industries (NHI), a non-profit agency that serves individuals with disabilities and provides a wide range of services including their Adult-Based Service Program, Homemaker Personal Care Program and Transportation Services.
“I can tell you from experience from working for other agencies across several counties that NHI is head and shoulders above as far as being a family and mission focused organization,” Community Employment Services Manager at NHI, Angela Sichel said.
The Employment Supports Program at NHI solely focuses on finding employment for individuals within the community. 21-year-old Kiteley McCluskey came to the program with a goal of finding a job in childcare.
Kiteley had previously worked for a child care program at a technical center, but when she moved in with her father in Mount Vernon, she was eager to start a new job in the same field. “I like working with children, they have always been drawn to me, I have always felt connected with them,” she said.
NHI was able to help Kiteley with the process of applying and interviewing for potential places of employment. With help in the job development area from her job coach Angie Ward, she was able to apply for childcare positions within the area and learn interview skills.
“She was a little quiet and reserved, but as we worked together on interview skills and looking for jobs, she began to blossom and her personality started to come through. I really saw her evolve in the beginning of that process,” Sichel said.
According to Sichel, Kiteley was chosen fairly quickly to fulfill a position at Absolute Love Learning Center in Mount Vernon. “It was a very thorough process. It helped us a lot that NHI was able to actively participate,” Kiteley’s father, Sean McCluskey said.
After beginning her new job, NHI was able to help Kiteley adapt to the position. The program first started with intensive job coaching where they would help Kiteley learn new job tasks and skills to allow her to gain comfortability in her new role.
Once she grew more confident and Absolute Love Learning Center was happy with her progress, coaching became less needed, according to Sichel. Currently, Ward and Kiteley meet twice a month to discuss her job and help her with anything she may need. Whenever Ward is needed, she steps in and provides assistance and direction for Kiteley.
Despite her learning disability, Kiteley has been able to excel with the support of her family as well as NHI. Both her father and job coach have seen Kiteley’s confidence grow in and out of the workplace. According to her employer advisor, she has created personal relationships with some of the children and her coworkers.
“Kiteley is amazing. She has a positive attitude, she comes in and she is ready to work," Ward said. “She wasn’t sure how to fulfill her role at the beginning, but stepped in and read a book to the children on her third day at her job even though she wasn't quite comfortable yet.”
Absolute Love Learning Center is helping Kiteley expand her knowledge and skills in the field by actively working towards her receiving her Child Development Associate credential to help increase further opportunities in the future. She is also in the process of getting her driver’s license.
“Kiteley seems to be able to know it’s okay to ask questions when she needs help. It’s been good for self-advocacy for her. She is able to learn how to speak more for herself more than what she used to,” Mr. McCluskey said.
NHI is able to provide services for those in the community that can help them prosper in their everyday lives. According to Mr. McCluskey, he believes it is important for people with mild or severe disabilities to know these kinds of services do exist and can get help if they need or want it, especially employment services.
During Disability Awareness Month, NHI has celebrated in a plethora of ways including Mayor Matt Star coming to their location to make a proclamation, submitting press releases to help raise awareness in the community, hanging a banner in the square of Mount Vernon and distributing treats to employers who work with their individuals, according to Sichel.
“It helps to speak about awareness so that people who don’t have a [disability], can help people that do,” Kiteley said.
New Hope Industries wants to show the Knox County community that having a disability does not mean having no ability through their individuals.
“It’s important we focus on ability and not disability. We show the community and local employers that our individuals bring a lot of great qualities, skills and abilities that they may not normally see because they can’t see past the disability," Sichel said. "It’s our job as employment specialists to focus on those abilities with the employer and highlight those skills and traits that would be beneficial to those positions employers are looking to fulfill."
For more information about Knox DD and the services they provide, visit their website.