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MVCAA among employers statewide hailed for hiring efforts during National Disability Employment Awareness month

Posted 10/14/22

For those with disabilities, a job can turn into more than just a paycheck.

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MVCAA among employers statewide hailed for hiring efforts during National Disability Employment Awareness month

Posted

UTICA — For those with disabilities, a job can turn into more than just a paycheck.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and the State Education Department honored 75 businesses across the state that worked to further equity and create a workspace welcome to all.

Among those honored was the Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency in Utica, which employs multiple individuals with disabilities.

Melissa Wines took the role of workforce development coordinator at MVCAA in 2020 after starting with MVCAA in 2014 as a head start teacher.

Her job is to recruit new staff members, and she has been charged to diversify MVCAA’s workforce.

“My goal is to have a leadership team that also mirrors the population we serve,” she said. “Companies, businesses, and agencies — big or small — are more productive, make more money, and are more resilient the more diverse they are. Diversity is not only morally appropriate, but it will make your company stronger.”

One employee with MVCAA is Makka Djouma, a Sudanese immigrant refugee who came to Utica with her family in 2009.

She’s completely blind and has been working as a telephone operator and receptionist with MVCAA since 2021, officials said.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I was first employed,” Djouma said. “Before, I worked at Mohawk Valley Community College at the help desk and disabilities office while obtaining my associate degree.”

Initially, Djouma applied for a different position with MVCAA but wasn’t selected for an interview. At that time, Djouma’s vocational counselor reached out to Wines and worked out what Djouma could do and what would be the best fit.

“From then on, I have worked with the vocational counselor with an on-the-job training contract,” Wines said. “We then brought a second person on from her caseload. We met often, especially in the beginning.”

Considerations needed to be taken into account, such as adaptive equipment, safety, additional support services, and more. HR needed to adapt its orientation as someone needed to help Djouma learn how to move throughout the building.

“It takes work, but we now have a valuable employee who has really become an essential component in our work family,” Wines said.

“I am very comfortable here, my environment is good, and I like my coworkers. They’re great to work with,” Djouma said. When asked what she’d be missing if she didn’t have this job with MVCAA, Djouma said she wouldn’t have the kind of support and social interaction she wouldn’t normally get in her daily life.

“Everyone deserves a productive life where they meet their goals, feel valued, and have a sense of true belonging,” Wines said. “Because you may think, feel, or look different doesn’t negate someone’s desire to be an active member of the community. These differences are what makes us stronger.”

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