The road is long and winding. I have always known I want to help people. In high school, I was part of a service learning program where I worked with people with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and with Head Start with various projects. In college, I worked with the Special Olympics where I was able to work with adaptive equipment that make it possible for people to participate. I also interned with a vocational rehab working with people and teaching them customer service and clerical skills.
When I moved to New York, I started working with AIM Services under the OPWDD (Office for People with Developmental Disabilities). I now work under ACCES-VR (Adult Career and Education Services and Vocation Rehabilitation under the NYS Department of Education) where the primary group of people I support are teenagers, transitioning from high school to college or into the workforce. We help these “transitional youth” with work readiness and career exploration. Working with youth in this capacity solidifies for me that the human experience involves the unknown and requires change and flexibility. I guide people to embrace change. Oftentimes, things falling through is necessary so we can discover the next thing that is waiting for us.
A core belief of the Employment Supports Services at AIM is that everyone can work. We develop and introduce work skills to each person as they discover what they can and want to do. It is such a cool thing to work with youth right at the beginning of their journey of learning about themselves and the direction in which they wish to go. I am teeing someone up for his or her adult life. Together with those I support, I have learned that college is not always the correct path. We have also learned that the road is not straight; we will move forward, take turns, and go backwards. Even more, no one’s path looks the same. That is the wonderful thing about life and not something to fear, or a fact to deter someone from trying something new.
My goal, and that of ACCES-VR, is to teach people how to discover their strengths, interests, and skills. Oftentimes, no one has been asked that question. They do not know what they are good at or what they are interested in pursuing. Until the moment we begin working with one another, people have had so much of their paths decided for them. This new way of navigating their lives allows people to speak up for what they want.
I personally had no idea that I was going to be here at AIM. This helps me guide people in understanding that directions change. This understanding helps eliminate that sense of panic when people graduate from student to employee or high school student to college student. Nothing has to be finite. People can do more than one thing. We do not have to give up on a dream for fear of it not being profitable. Instead, we can discover how to balance and incorporate all of our interests and needs.
I also work with adults who have never worked before. With this, I support businesses in hiring and supporting people of diverse abilities for the first time. Some of these people know what they want to do, but do not know how to go after it. Others have a strong interest in employment, but are unsure of what they want to do. I am able to step in and help people find transferrable skills so they can find work in their geographical area that is relevant to their interests.
For example, many people I support are interested in video game development. I assist them in finding work in IT or related work that is more available in the capital region. They are still gaining the skills that are transferrable to their dream job. We have realistic conversations of hopes and dreams while following the systems that are in place to reach those goals. We never shoot down a dream. We figure out someone’s employable skills and apply it on their path to bringing that dream to life.
The people I support bring me joy. Knowing I am introducing a sense of autonomy and personal decision making into many lives at a younger age is amazing. Even more, being able to provide employers the comfort and knowledge necessary for them to employ this next generation of employees, is so important. I am simultaneously helping employers see how the working world is changing, while also preparing youth with information on how to be successful in the workplace. It is also a goal to collaborate with more colleges teaching Human Resources courses. I would like them to build into their curriculum the nuances of hiring people of diverse abilities. This way, we will have more employers with the knowledge and understanding of what this type of employment looks like. As they do, they will find it refreshing how much easier it is than they thought. In fact, it benefits the business!
I have many dreams for the future. I hope ACCES-VR continues to provide more pre-employment opportunities to students so they know what it out there for them after high school. It is important to have opportunities to learn through experiences through shadowing or internships to get a glimpse into different employment opportunities. Getting someone started in an internship can often lead to a long-term job. I also want to help people be involved in every step of the process of their employment from applying, being hired, maintaining employment, and becoming independently employed without assistance from AIM. The biggest goal is working myself out of a job because someone works independently with an employer that can meet his or her needs.