Employers show 'heart' for disabled workers

Local businesses are being honored for employing people with disabilities, a practice that Orangeburg County Disabilities and Special Needs Board officials say is much appreciated.

The Greater Orangeburg Area Mayors’ Committee on Employment for People with Disabilities held its annual awards breakfast on March 22 at Cornerstone Church. The Orangeburg Rotary Morning Club hosted the ninth annual event.

Among those honored at the breakfast were Hi Cotton Greenhouses, Small Employer of the Year; Orangeburg County, Medium Employer of the Year, and Husqvarna, Large Employer of the Year.

Eugene Peele Jr., a North Middle/High School senior, was named Student of the Year.

Voc Rehab tour impresses local pastors

Seneca Mayor Dan Alexander said he used to drive by the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department on Wells Highway numerous times without knowing the types of services provided.

“I lived here my whole life and had no clue,” Alexander said.

That all changed in 2014 when Alexander joined Voc Rehab as a business development specialist. After learning that the organization’s mission is to prepare and assist eligible South Carolinians with disabilities to achieve and maintain competitive employment, he has maintained a burning desire to get the word out to others.

Welding talent with employers

Jerald Grimes is a welder at Kobelco Construction Machinery in Moore, SC, where he helps to assemble the upper and lower frames of the 20 ton hydraulic excavators the company produces for worldwide distribution.

“I like welding, any kind of welding,” he says, excitedly. “I’ve been doing this for 31 years and love it.”

The components that Jerald welds fit together are big and require from three to six passes to weld.

“He’s one of my best welders,” says Jason Martel, Production Fabrication Supervisor at Kobelco.

The fabrication area where Jerald works currently produces one and a half frame assemblies per day and are ahead of their schedule.

“We ship one thing out of the plant and that’s a fully assembled excavator,” says Eric Holland, Human Resources Manager at Kobelco. Eventually, the company will produce eight different types of excavators ranging in size from 17 to 50 tons. “Right now, we’re producing one every two days. The next production goal is one a day. The capacity with one shift is 1,800 per year. That’s upwards of nine a day, or one an hour.”

Famed SC interpreter visits Whale Branch student praised by Obama

One has been called a “rock star.”

The other was recently praised by someone millions consider one.

On Thursday, certified deaf interpreter Jason Hurdich — who became a sensation around the country for the enthusiastic manner in which he signed for former Gov. Nikki Haley during her televised Hurricane Matthew news conferences — drove from Charleston to Seabrook on Thursday to visit Ambriance Lamar, a senior at Whale Branch Early College High School.

The 18-year-old student, who is not deaf but is unable to vocalize because of a medical condition, got a great deal of media attention after former president Barack Obama wrote her Jan. 9 in response to the letter Lamar had written him three months earlier.

Pilot program at Evaluation Center for Deaf clients

Fourteen Deaf and hard of hearing clients attended a two-week pilot program at VR’s Evaluation Center in West Columbia in January. The clients engaged in team-building exercises, practiced interviewing skills, learned about Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), participated in assessments and vocational evaluations.

“We started them off on the ropes course at Wil Lou Gray because we wanted to see what they were capable of,” says Shonna Magee, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Coordinator. The group quickly bonded as they worked together and encouraged each other while climbing the catwalk, balancing on platforms and zip lining.

Community involvement: Greenville

David Turnipseed, Greenville Area Supervisor, and Jim Carino, North American Rescue (NAR) Vice President of Operations, were guest speakers at the Greenville CAN / Greenville Society for Human Resource Management Disability Lunch & Learn Series at the Greenville Technical Center for Manufacturing Innovation on January 24.

Starbucks Inclusion Academy

Taylor Duckworth, Orenthal Keith and Mark Lowell are the first three graduations of the Starbucks Inclusion Academy. The three interns spent six weeks at Starbuck’s Sandy Run Roasting Plant in Gaston learning a variety of skills that are transferable across job settings.

“I've worked hard for this,” says Orenthal. “I learned I'm capable, and can do a lot more than I knew. It feels really good.”

“This experience provided the interns with a unique opportunity to learn valuable skills in a job setting, but without the pressure involved in a traditional hire,” says Jacob Chorey, VR Program Planning and Evaluation Coordinator. Chorey was also one of the job coaches for the interns.

The Inclusion Academy is a partnership between Starbucks, VR and The Arc of the Midlands. VR provided a job coach and classroom instructors, The Arc of the Midlands also provided a job coach, and Starbucks provided hard hats, ear plugs, hair and beard nets, safety vests and goggles, and gloves for the interns.