Written by Katy Han
Every once in a while, you are presented with an opportunity to make a difference. CentralReach’s CEO, Charlotte Fudge, had a vision of somehow getting individuals on the autism spectrum onto CentralReach’s payroll. Together, we began building what is now the ReachOut initiative. Not only was I inspired and excited to start but honestly a little nervous too. The plan was to hire three individuals on the spectrum and give them a great place to work. The idea of hiring not one, not two, but three individuals on the spectrum felt daunting to me, especially since I have never worked directly with someone on the spectrum. The decision to make the ReachOut initiative a reality was not only a changing point for me but also for CentralReach.
Before you can understand the impact of the ReachOut initiative, I want to give you some insight about my role at CentralReach. Aside from being the Director of Human Resources, I manage all data migration operations in the software. Making sure that new clients’ data is set up properly is not an easy task, and it usually happens in one of two ways. Manually keying the information via data entry is the most time consuming, or I can create an import file and have our developers upload it right into our database. Although tedious and time consuming, data migration is at the heart of getting new CentralReach clients started. Having someone to help with manual data entry would be a huge help. That’s where the ReachOut initiative comes in. To be clear that “someone” I just referenced, later turned into three employees, two who work with me in data migration and a third member who works in CentralReach’s client acquisition department.
We have a great idea and job positions figured out. Great! Now what? It’s now time to turn that idea into reality. Where do you start? How do you find candidates? I began working closely with an organization called Vocation Depot, which provides job coaches to individuals with disabilities who struggle to find their place in the job force. It was official; I found a great partner to help us, and the ReachOut initiative was for real.
Not All Glitz and Glamour
Working with Vocation Depot opened my eyes to a much bigger picture. A job coach I worked with shared a story about how he had been working with one candidate for months. Taking them from location to location to try to get an interview, mostly at retail chains for janitorial positions. Once they finally got an interview, they never heard back from any of the employers. I was saddened to hear this story, but I understood this was something a disabled person faces daily and was hopeful that the ReachOut initiative could be the first step in effecting change.
The Interviews Begin
Excitement was trumped by nerves as interview day finally approached. Working with multiple job coaches from Vocation Depot, I interviewed a total of four candidates. I expected the interview process to be long and strenuous, but to my surprise, I wanted to hire everyone I met. In the end, we hired three of the first four candidates. We were all so excited to begin, and I was happy that we could give them this opportunity.
The ReachOut Team
Our three new employees are collectively referred to as the ReachOut Team, but I affectionately see them as my Team. The best part about working with the Team is their willingness and desire to work. You never hear a groan or complaint about their workday or even about it being “Monday” again. They are so excited to come into work and do their best every day, and that excitement radiates throughout the Pompano Beach office. Every day is a Friday for the ReachOut team. Their attitudes on life, despite their struggles, are inspiring and always optimistic.
If the ReachOut Team’s only contribution were their impact on the office environment, the initiative would be a success, but it only gets better. When training the ReachOut Team, I learned that they pay incredible attention to detail, and training the team is a breeze. If any issue or mistake in a data entry project arises, they let me know. I would be lying if I said that the ReachOut Team doesn’t have weaknesses, but their strengths are unheralded. When I’m able to focus their strengths on specific tasks, the results are exactly what CentralReach needs.
Getting Your Company Involved
While the ReachOut Initiative is something we proudly call our own here at CentralReach, we’d also like to get other organizations involved. I strongly encourage you to get your company involved and start your own initiative. While I was unsure how this would start, I am telling you now my only regret is that we didn’t start sooner. The fears and doubts you have about hiring someone with disabilities are normal, but they will do their best to prove you wrong. What you’ll end up with are employees who want to be there, want to contribute, appreciate their opportunity, take their job seriously, and do whatever they can to be the best.
Getting Your Child Involved
The greatest reward from the ReachOut initiative is hearing from the families and guardians on how this has impacted them. They always held hope that their children, now young adults, would be able to get an intellectually stimulating position within a company and be immersed with daily interaction from their peers. Thanks to the ReachOut Initiative, these hopes were finally met. I urge you to continue the fight and to help your child find a position that is right for them and to never give up hope. I strongly recommend working with job placement agencies and job coaches. The individuals working at these organizations truly do care and continue to work with candidates well after placement.
Don’t Wait. Get Involved.
Rarely does change come without challenge. Challenge to change your ways, challenge for the people involved, and challenge to get started. Like many challenges, facing them head on is what has worked for CentralReach.