By Kerry McGinley
Men and women from different backgrounds, career fields and parts of the country took to the stage May 9 to share their stories and celebrate their strengths. SourceAmerica honored its annual National Achievement Award winners as the high point of its annual conference at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis.
“All of us have been fighting for decades for people with disabilities to be welcomed, celebrated and included in the workforce,” said SourceAmerica President and CEO Steve Soroka. “We have been fighting for decades for more opportunities and choice. We have been fighting for decades to break down barriers and dispel stereotypes. We did all that by not accepting the status quo – by navigating uncharted territory in search of brighter and more fulfilling futures for people with disabilities. And that is what our shared purpose is all about.”
Honor Roll for Veterans with Disabilities Award:
Neil Colomac survived two IED attacks in Afghanistan that left him with a severe seizure disorder. Unable to handle weapons or heavy equipment, he medically retired from the Army. The young father of one infant son and husband to a pregnant wife, he sent out more than 200 resumes in search of a new career. He eventually found a low-paying job in the tools department of Sears, where he met a retired colonel who’d transitioned from the military to Skookum Contract Services in Bremerton, Washington. That chance meeting led to a second career in service to his first. Colomac was promoted to oversee quality systems for a contract to maintain vehicles in Oak Ridge, Tennessee for the Department of Energy. He brought the vehicle failure rate down from 17 percent to 2 percent.
Randy Russell has been a cheerfully familiar face at The Centers for Habilitation in Tempe, Arizona, for 28 years. He incorporates community outreach into his administrative assistant job to bring attention to stigmas and barriers people with disabilities face. He steps up as a leader on his organization’s Self-Advocacy Council, drawing from his experience as a self-advocate to help other members share their experiences with lawmakers to broaden their understanding of issues affecting people with disabilities. He earned Tempe’s Pride of the City award through his outreach for disability awareness to numerous local audiences, including medical and academic communities. Coworkers say they appreciate his exceptional character, positive attitude and willingness to fight for what he believes in.
Evelyne Villines Award:
Kelly Hahn won an award named for a groundbreaking activist for disability employment. The Evelyne Villines Award recognizes an employee with a significant disability working on a U.S. AbilityOne contract who advances into a leadership role. Villines, who had polio, was once told during a job interview that she should go home and give up on finding work because someone would always take care of her. Similarly, Hahn was told during an interview that she wasn’t going to be offered the job because the employer was concerned she’d get too tired due to her rheumatoid arthritis. When Hahn finally found work as a customer service representative through Job Options Inc., she excelled at her job and earned a significant promotion.
Tom Miller Advocacy Award:
Anthony Green fell on hard times following his diagnosis with bipolar disorder. At one point, homeless and unwilling to give up and call his mother for help, the Navy veteran struggled to find work. He found an entry-level food service job through Palmetto Goodwill at Joint Base Charleston. In just over four years, he’s earned multiple promotions. Now assistant project manager on Palmetto Goodwill’s biggest custodial services contract, Green is a committed self-advocate for disability employment issues on a local, state and national level.
William M. Usdane Award:
Barbara Moore takes tremendous pride in her job sewing uniform trousers for women in the Army and Marines. Legally blind, the self-taught seamstress struggled to find work that was fulfilling until she was hired at Vocational Guidance Services, Inc. in Cleveland. In addition to her role on the job, Moore is a dedicated self-advocate who connects with legislators to urge their support of disability employment issues. For her work on the job and on the Hill, she was honored as an AbilityOne Program employee with a significant disability who has exhibited outstanding achievement and exceptional character.
Milton Cohen Leadership Award:
Paul Atkinson, president and CEO of Eggleston in Norfolk, Virginia, has devoted his career to breaking down stereotypes and generating opportunities for people with disabilities. A former chairman of the SourceAmerica Board of Directors, Atkinson has also devoted his time and talents to the National Council of SourceAmerica Employers and the board’s Workforce Development Committee. During his 30-year tenure at Eggleston, the nonprofit has grown from serving 125 people on a budget of $500,000 to providing services to more than 1,000 people on a budget of $27 million.
Business Partnership Award:
Hawker Pacific Aerospace, a maintenance, repair and overhaul provider based in Sun Valley, Calif., began a pilot program with Exceptional Children’s Foundation four years ago to address an American crisis: nearly 80 percent of people with disabilities are left out of the workforce. ECF, a SourceAmerica network member, provides job training, support services and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Hawker Pacific Aerospace’s goal was to give these individuals marketable skills and pathways to employment within local industry.
Small Business Partnership Award:
Stone Candle, an artisanal candle manufacturer based in Los Angeles, also partnered with ECF to employ people with disabilities. Run by father and son duo Daniel and Michael Stone, they operate their business as a “blend of traditional values and innovation.” They signed a contract with ECF for light manufacturing. Now, more than 65 percent of Stone Candle’s workforce is composed of people with disabilities. Stone Candle took its partnership with ECF a step further, launching the Light4Life product line. Light4Life candles come with messaging about the unique abilities of people with disabilities.
Pitt County Government won the Customer award for its 20 years of work with Eastern Carolina Vocational Center. That local government employs 13 people with significant disabilities at its new Construction and Demolition Material Recovery facility. Five have been promoted or found other jobs stemming from that work. Another 49 work at its material recovery facility in Greenville. Because ECVC provides custodial services for all Pitt County office buildings, another 25 are employed at various locations.
Customer Federal, Civilian Award:
SourceAmerica member nonprofit Didlake nominated the Department of Energy based on the 20 years the organization has managed contract services for the department. What began with an administrative services contract in 1998 at two locations is now a contract employing 117 people. Didlake also provides custodial services at the agency’s headquarters, which added another 55 positions. The Department of Energy now actively publicizes the success of this long-term partnership with events and in its marketing materials.
Customer Federal Award, Military:
The NAVFAC Northwest Acquisition Team was recognized for creating about 40 jobs for people with disabilities employed by Skookum Contract Services in Bremerton, Washington. The team placed a $20 million base operating services contract serving Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, and Naval Station Everett, Washington, into the AbilityOne Program.
For more information, visit sourceamerica.org/awards.