This story was published online by The Journal newspaper on March 3, 2017. It is republished here with permission.
By Greg Oliver, The Journal
SENECA — 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.
Alexander’s latest effort includes the ministerial community. On Thursday, Voc Rehab hosted three pastors from the Seneca River Baptist Association, which features 30 churches in Oconee, Pickens, Anderson and Greenville counties. Alexander and other Voc Rehab officials conducted a tour for the Rev. Anthony Scott, pastor of New Promiseland Baptist Church in Westminster, the Rev. Yvonne Scott of St. Mark Baptist Church in Westminster and the Rev. William E. Cureton Sr., pastor of St. Peter Baptist Church in Seneca.
The three pastors learned how Voc Rehab works with the disabled through assessment, disability management, training and job searches.
“You’re helping people every day, we’re helping people every day,” Alexander said. “We have so much in common that I felt like the church would be a great group to help us.”
Alexander said he wanted to reach out to the local churches and community “so they can know what we offer, because they see the need every day.”
“As pastors, I know you know your congregation well and want to help and let them know we’re here to help,” he said.
Clients at Voc Rehab’s 24 work training centers are given demand-driven and soft-skills training in the way of job preparedness classes and hands-on readiness training, which comes with the assistance of more than 400 businesses statewide. Business or information technology training also prepares clients for computer-related fields such as programming, AutoCAD, networking, server support and business applications.
Voc Rehab also works with technical college partners to provide certifications that lead to stackable credentials for clients.
Alexander said Voc Rehab clients range in age from 16, the earliest they can start, to those in their 70’s and beyond.
“If someone is willing to get a job, we’ll work with them,” he said, adding that all of the services provided by Voc Rehab are free, but clients are screened before being accepted into the program. “We have to determine they have some type of disability.”
Following the presentation, the pastors toured the Voc Rehab floor, where anywhere from 30 to 50 clients work each day — typically from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. — on jobs contracted with business partners where they receive a stipend. What they witnessed made a huge impression.
“You’re actually preparing people out there for jobs they’re skilled in and working with people, too,” Anthony Scott said afterward. “If you can’t work with others, you can’t do the jobs.
“I didn’t know you did these services here. I passed by here a zillion times but didn’t know what was inside this building.”
Yvonne Scott said she appreciates the mission of Voc Rehab.
“I like the idea of reaching out to better serve the community,” she said.
Cureton said he, too, had no idea “this was behind these walls.”
“The whole thing is awesome,” Cureton said. “I can’t think of anything else with all of the different activities going on.”
As pastor at St. Peter Baptist Church for 38 years and past moderator of the Seneca River Baptist Association, Cureton said he has witnessed increased opportunities in the community that help those in need. He recalled the days of segregation when the only four-year colleges available to blacks in the state to receive an education were Benedict and Morris College, and Denmark Trade School was the only place to learn a job skill.
“We would have to cut wood to raise money — we didn’t have Tri-County Tech,” he said.
Cureton said he plans to share the information received from his Voc Rehab visit with his congregation, as well as the Seneca River Baptist Association.
“I’m going to talk to the pastors about what they need to know about what is going on behind these walls,” Cureton said. “We have 32 churches and churches with larger congregations that aren’t here, and they’re the ones who should be here. Those of us with smaller congregations are here. We’re going to get the word out.”
Alexander said he appreciated the ministers for taking time to visit the facility and for their plans to share what they learned with their congregations.
“I know by your being here, someone’s life is going to be changed,” Alexander said.
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