“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible.” –Audrey Hepburn
So many of us float through our day-to-day lives forgetting the inherent simplicity of possibility: add a space, an apostrophe, and a rightfully earned, capitalized “I” and impossible transforms into I’m possible.
Roxann Kehus, the Statewide Employment Services Manager for Easter Seals Hawaii, speaks of this truth as it relates to the groundbreaking work she and the Easter Seals team are undertaking. Through years of work with non-profit organizations, she has become quite familiar with the impossible-to-possible transformation. These exciting possibilities center around the vision of a new program that, after many years of intent, is now being implemented: employment services. This program aims to foster true community integration and support of self. Focusing on individual strengths, interests, gifts, and talents as opposed to weaknesses and deficits, Easter Seals Employment Services strives to make every individual an equally respected and independent member of society.
With the help of a practice known as Discovery, individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to experience, or discover, the workplace. They observe different jobs, speak to different people, and authentically establish an area of interest through experiment and/or experience to successfully facilitate job placement. Discovery is a valuable process, one in which Roxann believes in fully due to past experiences with it. As an employment consultant in Seattle, WA, Roxann worked with a high school graduate who had a Discovery meeting with family, friends, and neighbors. His interest in shredding papers caught the attention of one neighbor in particular, who turned out to be a local school principle. She offered him a job shredding old report cards and crafted a beneficial situation for everyone involved. The young man now had a job doing something he enjoyed, the school was getting rid of unnecessary documents, and the students were able to assist him, increasing their own awareness and interaction with people with disabilities. It eventually led to further work opportunities when the local city parks department requested his paper-shredding assistance as well. This epitomizes the beauty of the practice: one Discovery meeting can present unexpected and previously unimagined job opportunities, spawning chances for people with disabilities to actively contribute to and participate in society.
Through employment services (including the Discovery program) individuals not only expand their network of people and supporters – otherwise known as social capital – but also build character. They develop a greater sense of self, are better prepared to make decisions, and have a means by which to improve their current quality of life. A few job seekers on the Big Island are a testament to this. After working on pre-employment skill building (interview etiquette, question-response preparation, etc.), practice interviews exposed an air of confidence within each individual. They were able to communicate an answer, explain themselves, express their own thoughts, interests, and strengths, and appropriately partake in a conversational setting. This type of equality for all persons, in all environments, all of the time sets valuable precedence. And just as a bike tire need only an occasional flick to stay in motion, so too the employment services program need only a nudge to perpetuate its forward motion.
Roxann, therefore, sees herself in a supportive role – inspiring communication, teamwork, and learning throughout each of the programs on the various islands. She believes in possibilities: “We’re changing a system that’s been in place for many, many years but know that our vision is leading us in the right direction. I trust the process and know it’ll look and turn out in a way that’s greater than I even imagined in the first place.”