By Donna Thornton/News Editor
The Etowah and Marshall County Alabama Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, a program of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, recognized employers and others who have helped make successful employment of people with disabilities possible on Oct. 9.
The event, at The Chamber, Gadsden-Etowah boardroom, was one of 14 special events throughout the state as part of the October observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
The theme for this year’s event was “Because We are EQUAL to the Task.”
“Employers are looking for a competent workforce, and qualified people with disabilities are available,” said Peggy Anderson, ADRS administrator for business relations.
“Alabamians with disabilities are being trained for jobs in every sector of the business community, and employers are welcoming their skills as these workers prove they are equal to the task.”
Awards were presented in 11 different categories and honor contributions from community partners, youth, educators, the news media, and local professionals.
More than 110 awards were given throughout the state, with the local winners competing for statewide recognition at a special event at the Capitol later this year.
In Etowah County, the award for Small Employee of the Year (less than 50 employees) went to Physicians Home Health Superstore, for working with an employee and with the Retaining a Valued Employee program to enable a valued employee facing challenges to continue to work.
East Alabama Planning and Development and United Way were recognized as the Partnership of the Year.
When an employee who normally works fielding calls for assistance at 211 faced vision problems, the agencies worked with RAVE and were able to provide services to help him become more efficient at what he was doing and to continue to work.
Gadsden State Community College Dean of Financial and Administrative Services Dr. Jim Prucnal was honored as 2013 Advocate of the Year – an award given to an individual who has demonstrated exceptional devotion to promoting quality services which improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities.
“During his tenure at Gadsden State he is always an advocate for our consumers in their programs of study and he has long been our “voice on the hill” when making sure that the facilities utilized for rehabilitation purposes on the campus are well-maintained and accessible,” Connie Brechin, who presented the award, said.
Sardis High School Teacher Teresa Swindall was recognized as Educator of the Year.
Swindall is in her 21st year of working with students with disabilities. Presenter Brandy Mills said Swindall has worked to develop relationships with students and their families that go far beyond the classroom, to help students prepare for employment and to succeed after they obtain it.
Litchfield Middle School Special Education teacher Chip Rowan received a special recognition award for Beautiful Rainbow Catering Company, a self-run business operated by the students in his special education classes.
The students make baked goods, and this year, for the first time, planted a fall garden.
They should be selling salads by next month
The Alabama Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities was created by former Gov. Jim Folsom in the late 1940s as a response to veterans with disabilities who returned home to find no work available. Since that time, many individuals with disabilities – veterans as well as civilians – have received the benefit of Governor’s Committee activities.
The committee coordinates a network of local volunteer groups throughout the state and works closely with ADRS staff to develop employment opportunities and raise awareness of the needs and rights of Alabamians with disabilities.
The Career Center in Albertville was honored as Partnership of the Year in Marshall County and Dr. Mary Holley received the Small Business of the Year honors.
Dr. Holley employs a young woman with spina bifida, and when she remodeled a new building for her office, she made accommodations for her in the workplace.
The mission of ADRS is to enable Alabama’s children and adults with disabilities to achieve their maximum potential.
In fiscal year 2012, the department assisted 3,915 Alabamians with disabilities in becoming successfully employed.