Illinois recognizes Eli’s Cheesecake and other companies who empower people with disabilities through employment!

For the past two years, I have been fortunate to serve as the master of ceremonies for the breakfast sponsored by the Division of Rehabilitation Services of the Illinois Department of Human Services to recognize Chicago area employers for their commitment to hiring people with disabilities through employment.

We have a long history of hiring great associates, a number of whom happen to be disabled. The Manager of the Employment Unit for the DHS is Tom Minta, who first came to see us over 13 years ago with Dan Rivera, a hearing impaired individual, who has become a key member of our packaging team. Since that date we have worked closely with Tom and have been creative in developing strategies to hire the disabled.

Today we were surprised to be honored with the Spotlight Award, which recognizes a company that has promoted and advocated for persons with disabilities by making the issue an important part of the company’s mission and public image. We were in great company as the other awards went to companies including Jewel Osco, Home Depot and the Doubletree Hotel in Skokie. Employer recognition awards were also to other Eli’s customers including IKEA, Sodexho, Walgreen’s, Meijer and White Hen Pantry in Crystal Lake. It is a fact that the best companies work hard to hire the best associates and many of those talented people with a passion for the career are disabled.

In my opening remarks, I shared the importance with the over 300 in attendance to work together to insure that the State and Federal Government continue to allocate significant funds for training and development. We are working with Vaughn High School right now to help more of their disabled students get experience in the work place through expanded internship opportunities. Breaking down the barriers between educational and other institutions and the disabled populations will mean better jobs, better lives and less cost to government in the long term.

I also shared a newspaper article that I read that past weekend in Providence, Rhode Island. It was sadly an obituary that caught my eye because it was about a 34 year old woman, Cara Dunne Yates. Her age caught my eye as did her accomplishments; BA in East Asian Studies from Harvard, a JD from UCLA and medals in biking and ski racing. Pretty impressive, but made much more so, when I read on to learn that she was blind from the age of 5. She did all that while enduring three bouts with cancer, which ultimately was fatal.

To achieve so much, in such a short time, while overcoming so much adversity says a great deal about the human spirit and passion. I felt very good at the end of my remarks when one of managers at DHS shared that she knew Cara’s parents. As it turns out, Cara was born in Illinois, and sets a standard for all of us to aspire to.

The key note speaker for the breakfast was James Hasse, the owner of Hasse Communications Counseling. Jim was born with cerebral palsy, which makes it difficult for him to communicate. That in no way stopped him for delivering the following speech with a great story of how ordinary people can become quite special by taking the extra step to help a disabled individual. There are many ways to make a difference and as you can see, the rewards are rich.

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