Employment Services – Nalu’s Story

Nalu Kauwe-Simeona began working for Pizza Hut Hawaii (Puainako Shopping Center location), in Hilo, Hawaii on March 31, 2016. Nalu’s journey towards seeking competitive employment began with Discovery – a comprehensive process that focuses on identifying the job seeker’s abilities, strengths, values, hobbies and interests towards employment. Through Discovery, Nalu’s love for Pizza inspired him to someday work for Pizza Hut Hawaii.

In support of Nalu’s career goals, Easter Seals Hawaii Employment Services partnered with Restaurant General Manager Michelle Moku to coordinate a situational assessment – with intentions to match Nalu’s vocational abilities to the employers’ specific needs. Nalu’s positive work ethic was the perfect fit for cleaning the dining area after lunch operations. A customized position was created and Nalu was soon hired as an official crew member of Pizza Hut Hawaii. His responsibilities include filling the ice dispenser machine, wiping tables and windows, scrubbing the window sills, cleaning the buffet line and sneeze guards and sweeping the floors.Pizzahut1.jpg

Through employment, Nalu’s independence has sky-rocketed. Since his official hiring date in March, Nalu needed just two months of hands-on job coaching services to maximize his independence at work, with emphasis on building relationships with his co-workers. Today, he works independently, without the need of an outside job coach and enjoys the natural support he receives from his supervisor and co-workers. “We enjoy having Nalu as part of the team; he arrives to work with a great attitude and looks forward to working every day,” said co-worker Cassi Kaneda, who monitors Nalu’s job performance.

In addition, Nalu learned how to independently catch a taxi to work from our ADH program, walk safely home after work, budget his earnings, and spend his hard earned money. Nalu’s dream is to someday save enough money to purchase his very own Ford Mustang GT.

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Nalu’s success story continues to inspire many. “This is just the beginning,” said Lahaina Olsen-Kuroda, Senior Employment Associate, who worked closely with Nalu throughout the entire employment process. “Everyone, regardless of the disability, has a unique set of skills that can benefit a business.   The key is finding the right fit for both the job seeker and the employer.” Nalu’s employment success opens the door for the next job seeker and helps educate businesses on the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. Michelle Moku, said it best when initially approached on the idea of hiring people with disabilities, “Everybody deserves an opportunity to work!”

Special thanks to Pizza Hut Hawaii for their partnership and commitment in building a better community!

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Michelle Moku, Nalu Kauwe-Simeona, & Cassi Kaneda

Dennis Maher’s Unbreakable Commitment

Dennis C. Maher has spent an entire lifetime living with a family member with an intellectual disability. His brother, now 41, has Down syndrome, cannot speak, and is legally deaf and blind. His son, 12, has autism. Many people would find a reason to complain, but what truly sets Dennis apart is his unbreakable commitment to his family, his community, and everyone with a disability.

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Dennis is the director of facilities and security at Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk, and one of his responsibilities is looking for ways to improve and streamline the day-to-day operations. The hotel has a green program focused on recycling, and he realized that finding a charity to benefit from the 5c recyclables would be a win-win for both the hotel and the charity – it would save the hotel valuable resources if another entity took over the program, and the charity would benefit from the regular revenue stream. Since his brother had been engaged with Easter Seals Hawaii for many years he made one phone call which, as it turned out, was all he needed to do to start the program which now provides many recipients the opportunity to be employed and engaged with the community.

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Working closely with representatives from Easter Seals Hawaii he has grown the program to extend far beyond the Trump Hotel and include other condos in the area. For Dennis, his passion and devotion to assisting people with intellectual disabilities has been a lifelong commitment. When he was in high school he worked in a summer camp for people with disabilities. Now, in addition to being engaged with Easter Seals Hawaii, he was a coach for several sports through Special Olympics and is also on the board of Autism Hawaii. As with many true heroes he sees the best in others, and is the first to give the credit to other people he has known who also give their time freely. He noted, “I have a child with a disability, I have a brother with a disability. I have a reason to do this. That is where it comes from. I give a lot more credit to those without a family member with a disability, those are the real heroes. The real heroes are the people that do not have a reason other than a big heart. I give them a heck of a lot more credit than I give myself.”

Roxann Kehus: Employment Services

“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible.” –Audrey Hepburn

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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.

Discovery Process
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.”