Spotlight Series: Vocational Foundations
Arkansas Support Network’s Vocational Foundations houses a number of programs, all of them offering supports for consumers to find employment that best suits their skills and interests. Our staff offers support for things like assistance with transportation, specialized training, assistive technology, and individually tailored supervision. We work with numerous companies to match individuals with disabilities to employment opportunities. One of our most successful corporate partnerships is with Bekaert, a global manufacturer of steel wire products with a plant in Rogers, Arkansas.
Chris is one of our consumers who has a past that often prohibits him from being hired. He worked for our team at Bekaert manufacturing for a long time and was one of the hardest workers we had. There came a point where he was just tired of doing the same thing. He left the job and was feeling uneasy about what was going to happen next. He feared his past and struggles with reading would mean he would never work again.
After applying for a job at Sonic, Chris got an interview. He was so nervous! The manager seemed reluctant. When it was over he was shaking hands and starting to walk away when he gave the manager a beautiful speech. He talked about how your past doesn’t have to be your future and that all he wanted was a chance to earn his own money and have a life of his own. He was hired on the spot. He is currently still employed there.
A few years ago, a manager at Bekaert noticed that some of the staff with disabilities were having issues understanding certain directions and things about the job. He came up with a plan to teach our team certain skills and ideas that would work with all the different learning styles that existed within the team. Since then production went up, complaints went down, and the manager was able to create a better work/personal life balance. The team continues to be successful through thoughtful leadership.
One member of the Bekaert team is named B.J. He has been part of our team for more than twenty years. Andrea Hampton, Director of Vocational Foundations, says, “Every time I see him he makes sure to tell me ‘I ain’t going anywhere. I love this job so don’t even try it.’ I always smile and say ‘Yes, sir!'” B. J. started working in our Workbridge program. After he completed that program he was hired by Bekaert. He doesn’t just love it. He works hard and contributes a lot. His supervisor Rick says, “B.J. sets the standard for some of these young 20-year-old guys. B.J. has been here since 1992 and he is an important part of our team.”
The individuals we serve aren’t the only ones who benefit from these partnerships. They are clear contributors and dedicated employees. These relationships are an excellent illustration of how support and education can provide quality opportunities for everyone in our community.