Ana Talavera: Illuminating the Fog
Cobb County, Georgia Customized Employment Project
Program: Project Exceed
"Derive happiness in oneself from a good day's work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us."-
Non-stereotypical. I can't escape the wonder of this idea. If you are interested in non-stereotypical employment for an individual with a developmental disability, then I would like to introduce you to Ana Talavera. Labeled as moderately mentally retarded and diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, the typical job market open to Ana might begin with wiping down tables at a fast food restaurant and end with bagging groceries at a local market. Not Ana. Ana is on the cusp of becoming a professional Translator. How's that for non-stereotypical?
A participant in the Workforce Action Grant under the Department of Labor/Office of Disability Employment Policy, Ana has used this opportunity to pursue her employment dreams. She is a customer of the Cobb and Douglas Counties Community Services Boards. The Workforce Action Grant paired Ana with Lizzie Prioleau, a seasoned job coach who is no stranger to creative thinking.
Through vocational profiling, and simply getting to know Ana outside the walls of a day program, Liz found out about her dreams of working with children, that she possesses good computer skills, and is bilingual. When asked what her dream job is, Ana responds, "I love to work with children."
Born in Puerto Rico, Ana currently lives with her mother in the Atlanta area. By getting to know Ana outside of a segregated setting, Ana's job coach discovered that Ana's mother speaks limited English, and that Ana uses Spanish exclusively while at home.
A woman with good computer skills, who wants to work with children, and who is bilingual. Between Ana and Liz, an idea was born.
Liz quickly put out feelers for an unmet need in the community. An unmet need that Ana could fulfill. Her cold calls, emails, and foot pedaling led Liz to Refugee/Immigrant Parent Outreach Services - located in Ana's community. Liz and Ana met with Verdi N. Avila, a Coordinator there. Mr. Avila bonded with Ana and recognized her value. It also became apparent that the early stage of natural support was sparked as a result of this connection.
Mr. Avila explained that with the Atlanta area's booming Hispanic community, preschool and primary grade teachers were encountering students who could speak only Spanish. The language barrier was frustrating teachers and denying students an education. In other words, they desperately needed what Ana had to offer. Verdi explained what requirements were needed, and Liz and Ana tackled each one (such as obtaining a background check.) Avila also had contacts at many local schools and soon arranged an interview with the principal of one of these. He even went so far as to meet with Ana and Liz to coach them for the interview.
The interview went well. The principal of the school envisions Ana not only as a translator, but also as an education facilitator, and a parent/teacher liaison.
An obstacle that has cropped up is how to pay Ana's salary. The school budget will not be adequate. (Remember Ana's position did not exist until she and Liz identified this unmet need). In July, Ana and Liz will meet with the school's Partners in Education – corporate sponsors who fund Special Projects.
Part of what Ana will bring with her to the job is a state-of-the-art computer system. Just as an executive might bring a college degree to the bargaining table, or a mechanic might brings along tools and expertise to a potential employer; Ana brings this computer set-up. Referred to as "resource ownership", these resources that Ana has to offer a potential employer belong to her and were made possible through the funding of the Workforce Action Grant (Griffin & Hammis, 2003). These resources belong to Ana. Just as the mechanic keeps his tools, or the executive retains her degree, Ana's computer will remain hers if she and her employer part ways. She plans on using her computer to teach technology and language skills to children.
Looking to the future, Ana has applied to Vocational Rehabilitation for additional funding. Transportation is also an issue that will have to be addressed, but Ana has a supportive family, and makes friends quickly. Job coaching will be available for as long as Ana requires it, with the goal of this paid support fading away as natural supports (family, friends, co-workers) take its place.
Looking back at the Henri Matisse quote, about how a good day's work will illuminate the fog that surrounds us, I can't help but be struck by the fact that Ana's career path takes this idea a step further. Through her unique skills, she will help children communicate and connect with their community - and illuminate the fog that might otherwise surround them.
Griffin, C. & Hammis, D. (2003). Making Self Employment Work for People with Disabilities. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing.
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