Programs offer job hopes for people with disabilities

December 16, 2010 10:13:00 PM PST
We all know how tough this job market is right now, but imagine how difficult it is for those challenged by a disability. For more than 30 years, San Jose-based Project HIRED has been helping people find meaningful employment -- help that's particularly welcome in these economic times.

Sharon Milner answers calls at the VA Medical Center in Palo Alto.

"I feel like I need a purpose, I need to get up and go to work, I enjoy working with people," says Milner.

It's meaningful employment she found through Project HIRED, a South Bay non-profit specializing in helping people with disabilities find and keep jobs. Sharon has multiple sclerosis and when she moved back to California last year, she realized finding work wouldn't be easy.

"The opportunities I've been given thru Project HIRED, it's just been huge because I was so afraid to try to look for a job as a disabled person because I'm sorry, people are not supposed to discriminate, but they do," says Milner.

"And we try to hold their hand and guide them, and we're there for them. We'll pester them for about a year," says Gwen Ford, executive director of Project HIRED. "We take them on, not just as clients who come to look for a job, we actually take them on personally and follow them and make sure they're successful."

Jerry Nazareta manages Project HIRED's call center staff at the V.A.

"Once we hire them on, if we have the openings, we are what we consider a bridge to long term employment, many times with the V.A.," says Nazareta.

Project HIRED works closely with major companies throughout the Bay Area, including Google, Wells Fargo and NASA; offering not just job placement for clients, but support for employers as well.

The V.A. has partnered with Project HIRED since 1994, bringing people like Milner into the V.A. and helping veterans find work as well.

"We handle the holistic health care and take care of them in the hospital, but once they leave, then quality of life is so important, and part of that is finding a job," says Patricia Matthews.

Matthews is a veteran herself and as a public affairs officer with the V.A., she works closely with Project HIRED, getting the word out to vets about the program.

"I think a lot of people that have disabilities or who have challenges in seeking employment, they aren't aware that there's something out there for them," says Matthews.

For Milner, discovering Project HIRED has been life changing.

"You just feel like you're doing something that matters. So for me, that's important," says Milner.


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