Event recognizes individuals with disabilities who have excelled and companies that employ them
For Hub City Times
MARSHFIELD — Cory Latourell, general manager of Hotel Marshfield, attended Opportunity Development Centers’ (ODC’s) Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 10 to accept an Employer of the Year award, recognizing her business for hiring individuals with disabilities through ODC’s community employment program. What she walked away with, however, was more than an award.
“During the chaos of daily hotel operations, the business of making sure that everything is perfect for our guests, we sometimes take things for granted,” said Latourell. “The presentations that evening really allowed us to remember the effort and struggles that so many of the individuals we’ve hired have gone through just to get to our door. It is truly humbling and fills our hearts.”
The presentations to which she referred were stories of three Personal Achievement Award recipients honored that evening. The highlight of this event — the achievement award — is presented to individuals with disabilities who have overcome barriers to successful employment and demonstrate a positive, strong work ethic and good citizenship qualities. It also honors those who have shown real growth within and contributed to their workplace.
Eugene Choiniere, Wisconsin Rapids area Personal Achievement Award recipient, has been employed at Kwik Trip on Stanley Street in Stevens Point since December 2014. According to his nominator, ODC Transition Coordinator Raquel Szymanski, he came to ODC after working at a number of community jobs that just were not a good fit.
“At our facility,” said Szymanski, “Eugene received the training, guidance, and support he needed to build his confidence and increase his skills. He is now working five days per week at Kwik Trip, where he takes pride in his work and attains the level of quality that is so important to him.”
Stuart Mancil was presented with the Marshfield area Personal Achievement Award. Mancil was one of the first ODC workers to graduate from a convenience store training program developed as a partnership between ODC, Weiler Convenience Stores in Marshfield, and Mid-State Technical College. ODC and Weiler stores worked with Mid-State to develop a curriculum that included all the essential functions of a service industry position. ODC job coaches utilized this curriculum to provide Mancil with onsite training at Weiler stores. After graduating from the program with his certificate of competency, Mancil was hired by Weiler stores.
“Stuart is now working at a job that he loves, a job that he earned,” said Mancil’s nominator, ODC Special Services Director Chris Nemitz. “This is a job that, in his own words, he never thought he could do.”
Mancil ended his presentation at the awards dinner with the words, “I didn’t think I could do it, but I did it.”
Alan Steder was the first “northern region” Personal Achievement Award recipient, representing a fast-growing ODC service area that includes Marathon, Lincoln, Taylor, and Clark counties. Steder, who lives in Marathon County, has been employed at Walmart in Marshfield for over seven years with the assistance of Sandy Ewan, ODC employment coordinator, who has been working with Steder for 15 years.
“Alan is a dedicated and valued employee, caring volunteer, and active community member,” said Ewan. “He has proven that although the journey may be difficult, true success is possible.”
In addition to Hotel Marshfield, Church Mutual Insurance in Merrill and the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters baseball club were also honored as Employer of the Year in their respective geographical areas. Church Mutual has employed individuals with disabilities through ODC for four years. Throughout the six seasons that the Rafters have been in Wisconsin Rapids, they have provided work opportunities for over 30 individuals.
“I think there are two words that describe those we work with from ODC: attitude and enthusiasm,” said John Fanta, Wisconsin Rapids Rafters general manager. “ODC workers have always brought that to the table.”
Community Care Connections of Wisconsin (CCCW) was presented with ODC’s 2015 Partnership Award. CCCW is a funding source that pays ODC to provide specific programs and services for individuals with disabilities that need long-term support.
“Of course we both truly care about the people we serve,” said Pam Ross, ODC president. “But what makes our relationship unique is that we are both innovative, and we want to continually improve so that we can be the best at supporting the success of individuals who come to us for assistance.”
“Our partnership truly is about a shared vision and a shared sense of what is important,” said Mark Hilliker of CCCW. “Really it’s about people living equal lives, connected to their community.”