Steve Suroviec, president and CEO and David Tinker, vice-president of Advancement of ACHIEVA.
December 4, 2018 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Joyce welcomes Steve Suroviec, president and CEO and David Tinker, vice-president of Advancement of ACHIEVA.  This non-profit organization was founded in 1951 by a group of family members who all desired the same thing, to ensure their children with disabilities had the same chances in life that all children should be given. Their commitment helped to establish a nationwide movement that changed the long history of isolation and segregation for both children and adults with disabilities.  ACHIEVA supports and empowers people with disabilities and their families.  Discussed in depth will be the mission of this organization.

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Transcript

BENDER CONSULTING SERVICES

DECEMBER 4, 2018

BENDER PROGRAM

1:00 PM CT

 

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>> Joyce bender:  And welcome to the show, everyone.  Thank you for joining us today.  It's always a pleasure to have you with us.  And before we begin this show, I want to send out a special thanks to my friends in Ireland.  Every show it seems like of all the 17 countries, you're rocking it.  Thank you so much for what you're doing.  You're real pioneers in Ireland for spreading news, quality of life for people with disabilities as are all of you.  I so appreciate every country that listens.  And Highmark.  Highmark, what a great company they are.  They have been the lead sponsor of this show for the past two years.  I just embody everything that's good about quality of life for people with disabilities.  Thank you so much. 

Earlier this year we had a sponsor AudioEye.  We appreciate, whether you sponsor year long; or for one quarter, thank you so much, AudioEye for being a sponsor this year.  And Yoshiko Dart, you know I won't forget about you.  A special, special shoutout to Yoshiko. 

This show today very important to me for several reasons.  First I think so highly of ACHIEVA and Steve Suroviec, I've known him for quite awhile.  He's a wonderful person.  And Dave Tinker is their advancement.  I was on the board of ACHIEVA located right here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  But today, before we go through everything about ACHIEVA, I'm sure if tuned in to the news nationally, that you did not miss sadly the massacre that occurred in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue only two weeks ago.  It seems like much longer ago. 

Is that right, Steve, was it about two weeks ago or was it longer than that? 

>> Steve Suroviec:  October 27th, so a few weeks ago, about a month.  

>> Joyce bender:  One month ago, like I want to remember this anniversary.  One month ago was the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue.  And you know, all of us in Pittsburgh will never forget it.  I want to say how proud I am to be a Pittsburgher.  This city really came together.  The what I'm referring to is the shooting and killing at the synagogue of people worshipping at that time.  Obviously a hate crime against people who are Jewish.  It was terrible.  And employees of mine and friends, new people that were lost, I'm going to tell you what.  Pittsburgh so came together as a community.  They're still not stopping.  You know I'm sure if you were watching CNN, you heard about the Islamic community that paid for the funerals.  That is what makes me so proud to be someone living in Pittsburgh.  But sadly, we are like everyone else that you see when a terrible tragedy happens in their city and they say, oh we never thought something like that would happen here.  You know, I'm one of the people that said that. 

So, please, it's a time for kindness.  It's a time for kindness.  But there was and were two members at the synagogue supported by ACHIEVA.  It was heart breaking.  They were two of the people that perished in this attack.  And that would be Cecil and David Rosenthal.  I know ACHIEVA supported both brothers.  And I am sure it was really, really heart breaking at ACHIEVA. 

So, Steve, we'll start with you.  Would you mind telling us about Cecil and David and how ACHIEVA supported them? 

>> STEVE SUROVIEC:  Sure.  Thanks, Joyce for the opportunity and thanks for asking about David and Cecil Rosenthal.  Yeah, on October 27th about a month ago Cecil and David were among the 11 who were killed during the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue.  Cecil and David were brothers.  They were both the kindest men you would ever want to meet.  Both received services and support from ACHIEVA.  Both received residential services and Cecil received services from our employment program. 

When the shooting took place, David and Cecil were doing what they enjoyed.  They were two men participating and enjoying their community.  The Tree of Life Synagogue welcomed David and Cecil as valued members of the community.  For that we're very grateful.  David and Cecil lived the kind of lives we should aspire to.  They embrace life and family and the community.  They were valued and impacted with everyone who came in contact with them and got to know them.  You were talking about the community response. 

From my perspective as tragic as the situation is, the community response has been, I think, inspirational.  ACHIEVA has received numerous sympathy cards, notes of condolences, most from people we haven't ever met.  In addition to the notes and cards, we received an influx of donations made to ACHIEVA in Cecil and David's memory, well over, I think it's 450 individual donors have made a contribution totally nearly $50,000 so far. 

The board of trustees has created a fund in Cecil and David's name.  All donations received in their memory will be placed in that fund.  The fund will be used exclusively for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities to engage and participate in their community, whether it's getting a job or attending a faith‑based service or doing something recreational.  We've named it the Cecil and David Rosenthal memorial fund.  It will be available for people with disabilities live the kind of lives that David and Cecil enjoyed.  Details about the fund are still being worked out.  We're working with the family, David and Cecil's family to be able to give their thoughts on how the funds ought to be used.  That's in development. 

Our sympathies go out to the family.  They've been through such a terrible month.  We grieve with them.  We at ACHIEVA grieve with the family.  We want to be there for them.  Thanks for asking about David and Cecil.  The community response has really been inspirational. 

>> Joyce bender:  So these were two men.  They both had intellectual disabilities.  Just to make sure our listeners understand what ACHIEVA did for them.  What did you do for them?

>> Steve:  They both lived in a residential home which ACHIEVA operated.  They essentially risked their life in the community in one of the homes operated by ACHIEVA.  We helped them get into the community.  We helped Cecil with an employment program so that he had meaningful work every day.  It was really our mission was really to help David and Cecil live the life that they wanted to live.  And the impact to the community and the reaction of the community really, I think was a demonstration that David and Cecil's lives were the embodiment of our mission, because we want to help people live their lives the way they want to live them.  And the community really embraced David and Cecil. 

That's really, you know, what our services and supports are all about.  It's obviously tragic and, you know, we grieve with the family and the community about this tragic loss. 

>> Joyce bender:  You know, Dave, what I want is I want people, now that you've told me about this, to make a contribution.  Because once again, if you're listening to this show, you just can't imagine how everyone came together because we were heart broken.  I mean, I still remember ‑‑ I was in Whole Foods shopping and my assistant called the person with me where am I and wanted to tell me this.  At the same time I see people leaving the store, running around.  Someone that works there called me over, she was a cashier and she had the computer up showing me what was happening and we were all crying.  I mean, it just ‑‑ it still is.  It's not as if, okay, it's been a month, we're forgetting about it.  We'll never about it.  But with Mr. Rogers' whole philosophy of life, we are using this.  We will move forward and do something good. 

So, Dave, is this in operation now like someone listening to the show, would they be able to make a contribution to that fund? 

>> DAVID TINKER:  Absolutely.  All an individual would have to do is you can give online through our website it's www.ACHIEVA.info and click on donate and you can click on the donation form in honor or in memory of section add David and Cecil's name.  All the funds collected in that will go into the fund we created for them.  That's what everybody's done so far. 

Joyce, the board created this fund mainly because we did not anticipate or expect any donations really.  Obviously it was a tragic situation.  And all of a sudden we started receiving checks and Dave, you could account for, we've been receiving them from just about every state in the union, I think it was three or four different countries we were receiving them.  We did not anticipate this but because it was such a nice gesture by all these people, all of a sudden we had this money that had come in and the board decided because it was given in David and Cecil's memory, we needed to protect it and make sure that that money goes to support other people with disabilities to really them live the kind of lives that David and Cecil lived. 

>> Joyce bender:  Yeah.  That is wonderful. 

Once again, if you're listening, I know this impacted the world.  This was the most horrible, horrible massacre to impact the Jewish community ever, sadly, right here in Pittsburgh when this happened.  So once again, what is that website again?  If someone listening decides they want to make a contribution? 

>> DAVID TINKER:  Sure.  It's www.ACHIEVA ‑‑ which is A‑C‑H‑I‑E‑V‑A, dot, info. 

>> Joyce bender:  Do it if you're listening.  I hope you'll do it. 

>> DAVID TINKER:  I hope so too.  Thank you. 

>> Joyce bender:  Also, so you've received these wonderful things from the community, but you also received some not so good calls, am I right about that? 

>> DAVID TINKER:  That's true.  We ‑‑ I don't like to focus on that.  But we did get a few phone calls after the initial media reports had gone out that we had supported them.  We, you know ‑‑ we had voicemails left kind of vile voicemails.  We alerted law enforcement.  They were very cooperative.  They made some visits and they took care of the situation.  We'll leave it at that. 

>> Joyce bender:  Thank goodness that was very small what happened.  But I'm going to tell you why I'm bringing it up.  We all have to be connected.  We all have to be connected.  And we all have to support a group like ACHIEVA because these things do happen.  There are some people out there that are ‑‑ have hatred in their heart toward specific groups.  So we all have to band together because love always, always overpowers hatred.  But that's why I wanted to bring that up in supporting ACHIEVA.  So now that we've talked about all this, Steve, what is ACHIEVA and could you share with our listeners some of the main programs? 

>> Steve Suroviec:  Sure.  Thank you for that.  ACHIEVA, I think at its core, is an advocacy organization.  We do provide services and supports.  But when we were founded close to 70 years ago, we were founded as an advocacy organization.  ACHIEVA started out as an arc chapter, ARC, arc of Allegheny and changed its name to ACHIEVA.  We're still affiliated with the ARC.  For those who are connected to the ARC, we are an ARC chapter.  We are we started out as an advocacy organization and remain an advocacy organization.  We develop services and supports that people need with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  We develop programs that they need to live their life.  For example, we run an early intervention program which helps infants and toddlers with developmental delays get services and supports and treatment to really get ahead of the delay in their disability so they can be on a good trajectory in life to embrace preschool and school aged programming and be included in regular education, typical education program, just like anybody else.  We run an early intervention program. 

We offer employment services.  What that means is we help people with disabilities get and keep jobs.  Our focus is in the community, getting competitive jobs, jobs that pay at least minimum wage or better that are integrated in the community with typical environments and other folks.  That's a really important program of ours.  We have something what we call community participation services.  So if working in the community is something you either don't want to do or for some reason more challenge than other people and you want to be able to get into the community and enjoy life and society like anybody else, we help you do that. 

We have residential services so we help people find homes.  Sometimes we're helping them find homes of their own.  We help them find a home, help them run the home.  We bring support services and personal care services into the home to help people live their life.  Maybe we help them cook their meals or help them do laundry and things like that.  Sometimes we have a home that ACHIEVA owns and people will live there and we'll operate the home and run it and make sure people are, you know, being able to live in a community in a healthy and safe environment. 

We also have something called the family trust, which is not every organization like ours has a family trust.  But basically that's an operation where people and loved ones can place their money and protect it and preserve it so that their loved one with a disability can take advantage of that money throughout their life for things that they need.  By virtue of it being in a trust, it makes it available to the person but it protects the person from being ‑‑ from becoming ineligible for public help such as home and community‑based services or healthcare. 

So we like to say that we provide lifelong services from the minute someone's born through every stage of their life.  And an umbrella over everything again, it is the foundation to everything to family and family support.  We believe in being there for people when they have questions when they're trying to navigate the public system and being very confused because it's not crystal clear what the system has to offer or perhaps their school wants to segregate the child into a segregated class.  They can call us and we can advocate on their behalf to make sure that the young person is included in public education as much as possible. 

So we're there for people with disabilities.  We're there for their families.  We like to consider ourselves as a community resource for everybody, for the disability population and really to include people with disabilities. 

>> Joyce bender:  And that is wonderful.  Again, you can go to the website and see so much that ACHIEVA does.  ACHIEVA is a force in this region.  This is not a small organization.  I hope that you will follow the great things they are doing.  So, Steve, I've known you for quite awhile here.  How did you first become involved in the disability community?  And also, because Steve is the president and CEO.  I want to make that clear, president and CEO of ACHIEVA. 

Also, if you could share with our listeners your role with the intellectual disability disabilities at rehabilitation and community providers association.  He could do so much more because he's done so much more but I'm highlighting on those two things.  First, how did you get involved in the disability community? 

>> Steve Suroviec:  Sure.  I think like most people who get into this field get into it because of a family member.  I was the youngest of seven, grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania.  And my one sister had developed multiple sclerosis at a young age.  So she didn't have intellectual disability, but she started developing symptoms of MS in her teenage years.  And I was a couple years younger than her.  I went to school with her, high school with her and sort of grew up with her.  I watched how this condition worsened over time and how her disability manifested in different ways and how society had placed barriers in front of her. 

Of course, the disability presented challenges to her but the disability doesn't present barriers to her.  Things that society had built up such as sidewalks and stairwells and things like that made living life really challenging for my sister.  I guess I observed the changes that she went through.  My mother became her advocate.  And I guess I just sort of became an advocate after that watching the things that she went through and the things that she needed that were not available to her. 

This was back in the '80s before we had a lot of the home and community‑based waivers that the public system now pays for.  We didn't have curb cuts back then.  We didn't have the ADA back then, the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Everybody was sort of on their own.  I sort of became an advocate for her.  As I got in the professional world I gravitated towards public policy or government programs or non‑profit advocacy because that was really my interest.  I basically found myself doing a lot of things advocating for things that my sister needed.  But the benefit of that was that a lot of people needed the same things.  Even though you're working with one person and thinking about one person, you're really helping more people in sort of a macro level.  That was a springboard into getting into the disability world. 

My ‑‑ you asked about the Pennsylvania rehab and community providers association.  That was my job before I came to ACHIEVA.  There I basically was doing what I kind of described ‑‑ I was ‑‑ kind of like a government affairs public policy advocacy role where we would represent organizations with providing services to people with disabilities.  We would understand government regulations, government funding, we understand some of the issues that providers like ACHIEVA were going through in terms of finding qualified workers that would be able to do a good job and be able to stick around and work with people and do good work.  Those were kind of the challenges that providers like ACHIEVA were going.  My role at RPCA was to recognize those rules and represent them at clinically in Harrisburg or Washington and try to influence regulatory issues to make sure that the agency had to live by these regulations and live by the funding that the State was paying that they understand the needs of the provider community. 

That was, like you said, I could talk about some of the other things that I've done that lead up to that role.  But that helped prepare me for that role and helped me be prepared for the ACHIEVA role.  In terms of the RCPA, that really was my function. 

>> Joyce bender:  Well, not to mention that you ran VR for the entire state.  He has a very ‑‑ Steve has a very accomplished background.  So we're just really lucky to have you as the leader at ACHIEVA, Steve.  We're very fortunate to have you. 

>> Steve Suroviec:  Thank you. 

>> Joyce bender:  So, Dave, I'm looking at your background before this show.  Somehow you have a very impressive background and education.  So, first, I have to ask you, why did you pursue a career in fundraising; and how this chemical ‑‑ like you took chemistry or chemical somewhere in your education? 

>> DAVID TINKER:  Undergraduate degrees in chemistry and English.  How I got into it ‑‑ my freshman year in college, I was a chemistry major only.  And I enjoyed working in the chemistry lab and doing research.  But I got a summer internship working at a fundraising council here in Pittsburgh who the CEO was my youth group leader and Sunday school teacher growing up.  It was an opportunity for me to work in a professional environment and that's something my parents wanted me to experience.  Focusing on chemistry I thought I was going to medical school.  That was my career goal growing up.  I always wanted to be a doctor.  But I enjoyed fundraising so much that every summer I was off, I kept asking to work at the fundraising council.  And I enjoyed it so much instead of going to medical school, I went to graduate school for non‑profit management at Indiana University at a time when there was a handful of choice.  Now there are 250 undergraduate programs around the U.S. and around the world.  But at that time there was only a handful.  It's been almost 30 years I've been in fundraising.

>> Joyce bender:  Wow.  You picked you a tough field. 

>> DAVID TINKER:  It's very tough but it's very rewarding. 

>> Joyce bender:  That's why you're doing a good job.  I'm looking at this, where did chemistry factor into fundraising?  So now I know how those two things fit together. 

Well, my first question, this is extremely difficult for many, many not for profits because I'm on other boards.  You know, just when you talk to people in general, it's not easy to get funding when everyone else is competing at the same time. 

And I'm wondering, have you ever considered, you know, the small business community? 

>> DAVID TINKER:  We have.  And I certainly do.  Just looking at some simple statistics of the small business community, more than half of the people work in a small business.  More than half of Americans do.  More than 90% of the businesses in America are small businesses.  So it makes perfect sense to look there as part of it.  Overall corporate giving is a very important part.  Yes, some people always look to the big companies that are in your region and that's fantastic and you typically have resources to give.  But at the same time many small businesses want to be involved.  Sometimes they might not realize they can be involved or how to be involved in the connections that they have. 

Because there are so many of them, it's important to consider them as a potential donor, as a potential constituent for your organization.  And they can be a great source of volunteers as well. 

>> Joyce bender:  Yeah.  I really think ‑‑ I'm glad to hear that.  Because I think a lot of organizations have missed this.  They think of all the large companies.  We know all the same ones that everyone goes to, and that's great.  Because you need that support.  However, there are so many mid‑sized to small companies that no one goes to.  Whether they donate $1,000 or $5,000, hey, that's really ‑‑ there are large companies that only donate that much.  I think many places miss out on that. 

So I'm really glad that you are focusing on that.  And you personally, how did you get to ACHIEVA? 

>> DAVID TINKER:  Well ‑‑
(OVERLAPPING SPEAKERS).

>> Joyce bender:  Maybe you should ‑‑
(OVERLAPPING SPEAKERS).

>> DAVID TINKER:  I had known my predecessors here, a couple women that have the position that I currently have, but I was ‑‑ when I first moved back to Pittsburgh back in 1997, I started working at the blind association here and fundraising in communications.  I really got to know the disability community fairly well.  My wife and I both have cousins with disabilities.  So that was an area that's very important to my family.  And, you know, when the opportunity ‑‑ I saw the opportunity open up with a position announcement and I really understood the mission and really believed in it.  So I applied and I was fortunate enough to be selected.  I've been here for 13 and a half years now.  A fundraiser usually stays on a fundraising job for 18 months before they move on to a new job.  The fact that I've been here 13 1/2 years is significant in that I really believe in the mission and the work that we're doing and I get to see firsthand how impactful it is.  But at the same time, I'm also very happy that I'm able to connect donors with their want to give, their need to give. 

So the beneficiaries, everybody that are served by the programs that ACHIEVA has. 

>> Joyce bender:  Yeah.  You're right.  That is a great testament to you that you've been there that long.  That is really awesome. 

What all do you do in your role, Dave? 

>> DAVID TINKER:  Well, I oversee all the fundraising and communications here.  Often I do a lot of prospect research to identify potential donors and I try to identify the needs.  The links and abilities and interests that they have potentially in our organization and the programs we have.  I work on planned giving.  When we did a big capital campaign that ended a few years ago I oversaw that as well.  That was a main focus for a few years for my position.  And we do a lot of different work on grants.  And obviously working with companies and foundations in the region.  So Pennsylvania is different in the fundraising community in that we have so many big communities here and small ones.  Because of that there's more focus on foundations than any other metropolitan area.  But at the same time I get to meet and work with donors and try to thank them and not just ask them for money but steward them and teach them about the different programs and opportunities to give but also demonstrate how the funds have been impacting the families and individuals that are being served. 

>> Joyce bender:  You know ‑‑ excuse me, when I talked ‑‑ I was on the board of ACHIEVA.  And one thing that I was always so impressed with is the trust fund.  And even when I talked to other people about ACHIEVA, many people know about the trust fund.  I wonder if you could explain that great program to our listeners. 

>> DAVID TINKER:  Well, people are able to give to the ACHIEVA family trust for individuals.  And it's not necessarily for the programs that we have, but Steve mentioned it's a way to protect assets for individuals with disabilities.  And we have families that start funds that's as small as $500 and some that are in the 7 figures.  People can donate toward the fund for the individual so that money can potentially grow and it can be there.  Because we have some that are families that have children with disabilities and they set up the fund now so that the money can grow as the child grows.  And they can donate into it each year.  But the money can be withdrawn and given out to others.  ‑‑ given out to the individuals with the different needs that they have. 

>> Steve Suroviec:  We were just thinking about that.  We're celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ACHIEVA family trust.  It started out with one beneficiary.  I think the amount of money that was deposited was $25,000.  And it has since grown.  I think now we have close to $120 million under management with over 2,000 beneficiaries.  It's ‑‑ again, that money is not ACHIEVA's money.  That money is put into an account and protected for the individual.  So when Dave talks about putting money into these accounts, the money is basically being put into an account for the loved one.  And we are the trustee.  We're protecting it.  And we are the ones who enable the money to come out when there's a legitimate need to support the person with the disability.  So it's not we're putting the money in.  It's being protected and the family's taking it out for whatever they want.  We're entrusted with those funds and it's our job to make sure that that money only goes out to support the person with the disability for legitimate needs.  Again, it's a good way to protect assets so that the individual can continue to be eligible for critically important supports and services that the public Medicaid program would support. 

Some people may say, well, if they have money, they shouldn't be eligible.  A lot of times this money would be spent very quickly if they didn't have access to home and community‑based supports and then you would be right back in line for public support.  So what this really does is it augment and supplement the sort of foundational services that the public support offers and enables the individual to tap into those resources for things they really need that the public system may not have otherwise covered. 

>> Joyce bender:  Such a great thing.  It really is.  I just think it's so awesome.  And, again, go to the website.  What is your website again, Steve?  What's the website? 

>> Steve Suroviec:  Www.ACHIEVA.info. 

>> Joyce bender:  ACHIEVA.info.org. 

>> The info is the org. 

>> Joyce bender:  One more time so I don't confuse people. 

>> Steve Suroviec:  Www.ACHIEVA.info. 

>> Joyce bender:  Okay.  Steve, something you and I have talked about before and especially with your background running the state VR in the past is the terribly high unemployment rate of people with disabilities.  But it is each worse for people living with intellectual disabilities.  As a matter of fact, so many times when I talk to people, they'll even say, do you have any jobs, do you have anything that you could find for someone with an intellectual disability?  Because we can't find anything anywhere.  People talk about this problem nationally. 

I wanted to ask you, do you have any ideas at all about a pathway forward? 

>> Steve Suroviec:  Yeah.  It's one of these things where it's just a challenge that doesn't seem to go away, but we need to keep chipping away at it.  Obviously you're a leader in this field.  And we applaud the work that you do at your organization.  We at ACHIEVA also try to support people to get and keep jobs. 

When I was at the Pennsylvania office of vocational rehabilitation, our sole mission was to help people with disabilities get and keep jobs.  And obviously I learned a lot while I was there.  And some of the things I learned was that you really need to kind of take a twofold approach.  One approach is really looking at the individual.  It's like anybody.  It's nothing really special about people with disabilities other than they have such a low employment rate and a low labor participation rate.  But in order to move the needle on it, I think we are looking at two approaches.  One approach is really looking at the individual and saying, do you want to work?  Most people do.  So check that box.  Then we start working with them and start saying, what is it that you're interested in?  What are the things that you're good at?  What may be some of the challenges that may prevent you from doing a good job in a particular occupation? 

Because we want people to succeed.  So it's very important to work with the individual a lot up front and really get a good sense of what they're interested in and what they're going to be good at.  I think it's true for everybody.  You get put into a job that you don't like or you're not going to be able to do well.  You're not going to do well and you're not going to like it and you're not going to like it and you're going to quit or get fired.  We want them to succeed and help figure out what they want to do and what their interests are and what they're good at.  Trying to figure out will help them find a job to help them be successful. 

The other thing we can do is something called customized employment.  The best way I describe that is typically you get a job off the rack like ‑‑ it's like buying a suit.  You go to the men's store or the clothing store and you buy a suit off the rack and you either like it or you don't.  You either buy it or you don't.  A customized approach is when you take the individual with the disability, you find out what they're good at and what the challenges may be.  You go to the employer and say what are your needs, employer, business, what kind of tasks do you need done.  We can find a person and tailor the job description to meet both the business' needs as well as make sure the person filling the job is going to be able to do it.  You craft job descriptions based on both the needs of the business and the skills and abilities of the person.  It's time intensive.  We believe that doing it one person at a time will increase the odds of succeeding.  Both the person wins and the business wins. 

The other approach I mentioned earlier ‑‑ this the individual approach.  The other approach is looking at the business as a customer.  I think that's an approach that has been not really done well or done aggressively.  I think it requires sort of a philosophical shift in the minds of a lot of the human service people that are in our field.  Instead of going to a business and saying, please hire this guy, sometimes that comes across as charity and this is not about charity.  This is about meeting a business's needs and providing a service. 

So if you go to a business and say in a macro sense, hey we have access to a large group of people who is largely an untapped labor pool and we can meet your business needs, we can meet your labor needs.  How can we help you do that?  If the business is open minded enough to maybe think a little differently and go on a new path to find able qualified workers to fill labor needs, they might be able to work with you and they embrace the idea.  In exchange you work with them, what co do you need?  I can give you ten people.  I can give you 20 people.  It's sort of the opposite of the individualized approach.  But it's an approach that can be very effective. 

So, for example, we at ACHIEVA have worked with Giant Eagle, for example, which is a supermarket chain in this area.  They have been very open minded and very open and willing to embrace people with disabilities as a valued component of their workforce.  We go to them and we say, how many people you need?  What kind of job do you need?  We can deliver and we can find prescreened applicants with disabilities to fill those jobs.  We can help train them.  We can help onboard them.  We can make sure that they have job coaches to better understand the job and make sure they understand what they're doing so they succeed.  And then if we are fortunate enough where the person is in the job and doesn't need us anymore, great.  Maybe in a couple years that person has an issue, something happens in their life.  Maybe their disability manifests in a new way.  We come back.  That company wants to protect their investment.  They just invested in a worker for several years.  They've trained them.  They understand the job and all of a sudden maybe something's going wrong.  Rather than getting rid of that person, they call us or the VocRehab program and say we need help.  We can go in there and meet the company's needs.  There are so many things we can do differently if we would just treat the business as a primary customer. 

Some people say we have to do one or the other.  You treat the business as a customer or the individual as a customer.  I say you need to do both.  Both will help people get jobs.  Both approaches will help people keep jobs.  You mentioned the unemployment rate being really high.  The unemployment rate in the disability community is really high but what I also say is the labor participation rate is really low.  I think on average all people in the workforce there's about 70% labor participation which really means you either have a job or you want a job.  That's labor participation.  In the disability community it tends to be 20%, maybe 30% at most.  Which means only 20 to 30% of people with disabilities have a job or even want a job.  That means 70 to 75% of people with disabilities don't have a job or people believe they don't want a job or they were never asked or they gave up. 

I think part of getting the unemployment rate down, the first step I think is to get the participation rate up.  We have to get more people with disabilities in the workforce.  We have to get them motivated and interested in the workforce.  And some of that is a chicken or the egg thing.  If businesses were more willing to hire and wanted to hire and tap into this labor pool, I think you would get more interest and you would get people who were more interested in working and that labor participation rate would go up. 

There's lots of things that can still be done.  I would be the first to admit we at ACHIEVA have not mastered all of them.  But we are willing to try new things.  We're willing to work with any business who wants to tap into this untapped labor pool.  And we will work with them to meet their business needs. 

>> Joyce bender:  Well, you know, you mentioned about ‑‑ everything you said, right on target, Steve.  You mentioned about Giant Eagle.  David Shapiro was hiring people with disabilities really before anyone and certainly people with intellectual disabilities.  I've heard him tell that story so many times that he didn't want to.  He thought it was a bad idea and then he did and he realized how wrong he was and how great the employees are.  But, yeah, you're right about that incredibly high ‑‑ low participation.  70% not being part of the workforce is terrible.  It really is. 

So, Steve, what are your plans for 2019 at ACHIEVA? 

>> Steve Suroviec:  Well, right now this may sound boring to your audience.  We're going through a strategic planning process.  We're coming up at the end ‑‑ every good organization has a strategic plan.  We have one and we're coming up on the end of it.  We've been embarking on a new plan.  We're doing a lot of outreach and talk to people with disabilities and their families and businesses and community groups, stakeholders.  We're saying, what's going on out there?  What should we be doing more of?  What should we be doing less of?  What unmet needs are there that ACHIEVA could get into to help people with disabilities live better lives and live everyday lives like everybody else.  So we're going through that process.  If I had a crystal ball and I wanted to look forward, I would say a couple things.  Probably three things I would say. 

I just talked about the business approach to employment for people with disabilities.  I really want to get more into helping businesses meet their labor needs with people with disabilities and being that go to resource for them.  That's something we probably will be developing over time. 

Another thing that I think that's really important.  We talk a lot about employment and community participation.  But if you can't get there, if you don't have a ride to get there when you want to go, I'm not going to knock the public system, but when you have to call a system and say I need to get to the store and they say, well, we'll be there in this two hour window.  It feels like the cable guy.  Maybe I need to be there now and not in two hours.  So I really think we need to be developing and working on solving the transportation issue and making sure that people with disabilities have the ability to get from point A to point B when they want to, not when the system, quote, unquote, will get them there. 

I think you're going to increase the employment numbers for people if they can get to their job on time every day.  I think the labor participation rate would go up if you had that transportation service.  So I think business as a customer, transportation needs and I think just in general, we're likely to be looking at sort of a philosophical shift, not so much in terms of theory but in terms of practice and outcome when it comes to person‑centered planning. 

I really think if we're going to be a service agency that really wants to meet the needs of people with disabilities and their families, we need to do a better job of really paying attention.  What is it that you want?  What is it that you want to be?  What is it that you want to do?  What are your needs?  What are the challenges you face?  We will work with you to figure out a way to, you know, get around it or get through it or find an alternative approach. 

I think people really want to be listened to more and really have an individualized approach to the service needs that they have as opposed to saying, here's what we do.  If you don't like it, go down the road and find someone else.  I'm not saying that's what we do now.  I'm saying any good organization really has to constantly be looking towards fine‑tuning and improving its customer service and finding new ways to meet people's needs.  I think 2019 is really an opportunity for us.  I really do see it as an opportunity to really look at our service system that we currently have, look for better ways of doing things and look for new ways of doing things so that we can be even better next year and the years after.

>> Joyce bender:  And I know you will.  I know you will.  Dave in your area of work at ACHIEVA, what are you proudest of over the past year? 

>> DAVID TINKER:  Over the past year I would definitely say building up the team that we have in advancement and making our materials more donor‑centric.  What I mean by that is that we make the information that we share, whether it's newsletters or emails more about the person on the other end.  It's about the donor.  It's about the constituent and not necessarily about the organization.  That's been a way to bring more people into the organization, both as donors to be more connected with the work that we're doing.  We continue to build on that.  I'm very excited for the next year as we continue to utilize that in addition to additional tools that we hope to use to continue the communications that we are doing. 

>> Joyce bender:  That's awesome.  That is awesome.  Well, Steve, what message do you have for our listeners today? 

>> Steve Suroviec:  You know, it's an interesting question.  I am just so proud and happy to be at ACHIEVA.  I joined ACHIEVA about a year ago.  So I'm coming up on my one year anniversary after Marcia Blanco had been in this job for 39 years.  It was difficult to come in the job after an icon like Marcia, big shoes to fill.  A year later I'm really, really happy that I came to ACHIEVA.  The organization is strong.  The executive team is strong.  Our values are solid.  We really ‑‑ some of the things that some of your listeners may not think about in terms of mission, vision, values.  They are so critically important to an organization.  What I've found after being here a year is that the organization has been developed and strengthened over the last several decades to the point where we really have a good, good, strong organization.  You really need a strong foundation to move forward.  My message to people is if you have a disability or if you have a loved one with a disability and you don't know where to turn, we have advocates that can help you.  Even if you don't want to use our services, that's fine.  Our advocates will help you.  That's what their job is.  We are there for people with disabilities.  We're there for the families.  If you have any questions, if you have any need whatsoever, please feel free to give us a call, give us an email.  We'll try to help you.  If you decide to go somewhere else, we completely understand and appreciate that.  We want people to make their own choices.  We're here as a community resource to help as many people as we can. 

>> Joyce bender:  Well, thank you so much.  And thank you for both being with us today.  I end every show with a quote and today that quote is, character, not circumstances, makes the man, said Booker T Washington.  This is Joyce Bender, America's voice where disability matters at voiceamerica.com.  Talk to you next week with pastor Scott Stevens. 

 

 

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