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October recognizes national disability employment as well

By Staff | Oct 16, 2009

While October is commonly known as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is also National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
“It’s a little known designation,” said Kirsten Britt O’Donnell, director of public relations and marketing at Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida Inc.
“At Goodwill we employ and train people with disabilities. We’ve been doing that in Southwest Florida for 42 years,” she said. “Last year we provided either vocational or other social services to more than 1,800 people with disabilities in Southwest Florida.”
Services are not only related to employment.
“It may also be barriers for someone seeking employment such as helping someone find a car or get to work, education and training or housing,” O’Donnell said.
“Hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense,” said Tom Feurig, president and chief executive officer of Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida, in a prepared statement.
“Goodwill is an agency which was founded in order to help people with disabilities find valuable employment,” he said. “Their commitment to the job, high attendance record and desire to do good work can help any business compete better in today’s environment.”
One of Goodwill’s entities that employs the disabled is Secure Shred.
Pat Smith is the business manager and director of development for the North Fort Myers based organization, which shreds documents for companies.
“When we started, it wasn’t a business — we started from ground zero,” Smith said. “We started with a federal contract under the National Institute for the Severely Handicapped, called NISH. We expanded the business through commercial accounts to generate revenue so we can create jobs and pay these individuals or employees.”
The staff at Secure Shred includes Jeremy Heisler, shift supervisor Ed Hanf, Monica Stanley and Trevor LaFoe.
“They all have excellent work ethics,” Smith said.
LaFoe said he likes his job, and his paycheck allows him to save for an upcoming vacation.
“I like to get here early,” he said. “I feel I am more focused when I do.”
LaFoe is a Cape Coral resident.
“He’s been with us from day one when we started the business in November of 2008,” Smith said.
“Once these individuals become 22 and can’t find employment, they are staying home doing nothing,” Smith said. “This allows them to have a safe place to work and learn work skills through responsibility, following direction and interacting with other individuals.
“They also earn a paycheck for the work they do, the Florida contract rate,” Smith added.
Flexibility is part of the philosophy of how Secure Shred is run.
“We also do compete with larger companies, and we are very thankful for companies like Lynx Services, Lee County Electric Coop, Lee County Memorial Health System, the city of Cape Coral, city of Fort Myers, UVS Financial and The Shell Factory, who all use our services,” Smith said. “Some have been with us since the beginning and some have just come on.”
LaFoe is a success story, said officials, along with Anthony Acovski.
“Anthony Acovski is another success story we like to share,” O’Donnell said. “He is our newest employment. He just graduated from the L.I.F.E. Academy and is learning what to do, all the necessary things to do his job.
“Acovski is 22 years old and has a developmental disability,” she said. “As a student at Goodwill’s L.I.F.E. Academy charter school, Anthony was invited to participate in the school’s transition program, which helps students acquire the skills they need to hold down a job.”
Goodwill L.I.F.E. Academy is a school for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
In June, Acovski was one of the proud graduates of the Class of 2009.
“When he was 3 years old, I thought he’d never even walk or talk,” said Acovski’s mother, Sylvia Acovik. “I’m the happiest mom in the world.”
Three days a week, Acovski wakes up early, puts on a uniform and rides the bus to North Fort Myers, where he is employed as a sorter at Secure Shred.
For Sylvia Acovik, just seeing her son leave for work every morning brings a tear to her eyes.
“Anthony finally has something to be proud of,” she said.
The Lee County School Board designated the first, full two weeks of October as Disability History and Awareness Weeks.
As part of the proclamation, L.I.F.E. Academy students were invited to perform the Pledge of Allegiance at a school board meeting. Before the students performed, L.I.F.E. Academy Principal Lynn Pottorf thanked the board for allowing the students to attend.
“The Pledge refers to liberty, justice and respect for all,” Pottorf said, adding that the purpose of the two-week celebration is to inspire respect for those with disabilities.
For more information about the Goodwill L.I.F.E. Academy, visit: goodwilllifeacademy.org or contact Pottorf at 334-4434.
For details on Goodwill, visit: goodwillswfl.org or call 995-2106.