Working a late afternoon shift, Brian is busy cleaning the area behind the Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. As part of the Walt Disney World custodial team for the past two years, the Bishop Grady Villas resident wears several hats.
“I clean,” he said. “I help with the parade. I help kids who are lost. I give directions. I do a lot of work, but I like it.”
Brian is one of the more than 25 Bishop Grady Villas residents who is gainfully employed. While he says he likes seeing the Disney characters and talking to the guests at the theme park during his three-day work week, he loves getting a paycheck.
“Employment is important to our residents for many reasons,” said Desiree Robles, employment specialist at Bishop Grady Villas. “Not only does it make them financially independent, but it gives them the opportunity to be part of the community, to be accepted by the community, to be seen as a peer. It also teaches them to build on their soft skills, such as socialization and working as a team, an opportunity they might not have otherwise.”
Bishop Grady Villas has been named a preferred provider in the Down Syndrome Foundation’s (DSF) newly initiated “iCan Work” program. The DSF recently partnered with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) to create a ‘path to success’ through the iCan Work initiative. The program allows individuals with Down syndrome, who are on the APD “wait-list” for support, to receive eligibility for vocational rehabilitation and funding for supported employment services in order to become successfully employed faster.
Kevin Johnson, executive director of Bishop Grady Villas, said his agency will work with the DSF to educate families about employment opportunities, by providing “discovery” services to best match an individual’s skills and talents with a job, and by offering ongoing job-skill training and support after placement. Its services will be funded equally by the DSF and APD.
“Most people are defined by their jobs,” Johnson said. “It is no different for those with a disability. Our goal is to help people with disabilities to find stable employment, to provide them with the opportunity to socialize and build friendships with those without disabilities, as well as the opportunity to enjoy a sense of pride and accomplishment. Everyone has a special gift to share with the world. When given the opportunity, it is a beautiful thing.”
The Down Syndrome Foundation chose to partner with Bishop Grady Villas because of their excellent reputation and faith-based values.
“Our mission is to improve the inclusion of people with Down syndrome in all facets of life – education, community and in the workforce,” said Christine Ebeltoft-Bancalari of the DSF. “We teamed up with Bishop Grady Villas because of the phenomenal job they do in placing those with disabilities in meaningful employment. We also love the fact that the Catholic Church shares our pro-life beliefs.”
Bishop Grady Villas’ employment program services are offered to residents and non-residents alike.
“Our program has been so successful that the vocational rehabilitation counselors from other agencies in Orange and Polk counties are reaching out to Bishop Grady Villas, asking us to serve their clients as well,” Robles said. “We have a very personal approach about how we do things, and I think that is what makes us different. We really like to get to the essence of who the person is, what drives them, what motivates them, and build a relationship with the family because they are their support.”
Editor’s Note: All are invited to the Bishop Grady Villas Ninth Annual Harvest Ball, a celebration of thanksgiving, on Saturday, October 27, 2012 at the Rosen Plaza Hotel, Orlando at 6:00 p.m. The gala, which is held in celebration of the many gifts of the residents who are adults diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is the organization’s largest fundraising event of the year. For more information call Phone: 407-892-6078 or go to www.bishopgradyvillas.org.