Central Oregon Employment First Employer Recognition Workforce Inclusion: Supporting Excellence Awards

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Twelve employers in Central Oregon were recently honored for their contributions to hiring individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

The Central Oregon Employment First Team started the awards three years ago as a way to recognize and honor local employers and businesses contributing to the community. It started with a group from Deschutes County, but this year expanded to include Jefferson and Crook counties as well.

Cortney Gibson, a vocational rehabilitation counselor from Bend and planning committee member said this year about 125 people attended the awards, nearly all representing the various award nominees.

“The goal is to have employers get excited about hiring people with intellectual or developmental disabilities and tell other employers and their friends in the community,” she said. “This is a tight knit community, so we recognized that an event like this that brings people together is really important.”

Many community sponsors contributed to the success of the evening, which was held at the Eagle Crest Resort in Redmond in October. Seth Johnson, executive director of the Opportunity Foundation, was the master of ceremonies. He was assisted in presenting the awards by Tim Johnson, executive director of Abilitree, Gary Daniele, local branch manager for Vocational Rehabilitation and Heather Hopkins-Slechta, assistant director of Full Access.

Keynote addresses were Mike Maley, statewide Employment First coordinator and Joe Miller, field services manager for Vocational Rehabilitation.

A video showcasing employers in Central Oregon and employees with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities helped set the tone for the evening, which was built around the theme of this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month which is celebrated each year in October: Expect. Employ. Empower.

The Central Oregon Employment First team helped pick the award winners. More than 40 businesses were nominated and 12 employers won awards.

The recipients were:

• Best Individual Placement: One Street Down Café, Redmond
Runner-Up: The Center, Bend.
• Outstanding Commitment to Multiple Placements: Madras Cinema 5,
Runner-Up: Cold Stone Creamery, Redmond
• Supportive Local/Small Business: Ruffwear, Bend
Runner-Up: Local Ledgers, Bend.
• Supportive Large Business: St. Charles Health System, Bend
Runner-Up: Redmond Area Park and Recreation District
• Best New Placement: Triumph Fitness, Redmond
Runner-Up: Newport Avenue Market, Bend
• Outstanding Commitment to Sustainable Employment: Bend Broadband
Runner-Up: Comfort Inn, Bend.

Other local businesses receiving nominations included Consolidated Towing, Stiletto Salon, Industrial Concepts, Inn at the 7th Mountain, Mission Linen, Paper Jazz, Pappy’s Pizzeria, Bend Humane Society, Bend Athletic Club, Safeway, Bend LaPine School District, Regal Cinemas, Bend Broadband, Albertson’s, Stop and Go Shell Station, Central Oregon Breeze, Baja Fresh, Open Arms Adult Day Care Service, The Phoenix Restaurant, US Allegiance, Jakes Diner and Eastside Gardens.

Employment establishes community connections that allow people to become contributing and valued members of their communities. As with all other citizens, for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), employment has many positive impacts. These impacts include increasing self-worth, building relationships, and access to community resources. Employment improves economic well-being as well as physical and mental health.

Employment First is a national initiative based on the presumption that working age adults and youth with I/DD can work in jobs fully integrated in the community. Integrated employment includes typical workplace settings where there are regular opportunities for meaningful interaction with co-workers without disabilities and/or customers or the general public. The employment of individuals with I/DD adds to the diversity of the workforce and general enrichment of communities.

Oregon was one of the first states to formally adopt an Employment First Policy. Adoption of the Employment First policy in 2008 was one result of Oregon advocates’ efforts to bring more employment opportunities for Oregon’s citizens experiencing intellectual and developmental disabilities. Since that time, approximately half the states have adopted Employment First policies or legislation and another 14 have actions related to an Employment First initiative.

“These employer recognition awards are a great example of how local leadership groups are important to achieving success in moving the Employment First initiative forward,” Maley said. “It’s great to see local communities support inclusive hiring. It really is a ‘win-win’ for everybody.”

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