State College

Separating the dis- from ability: Skills aims to get disabled back in workforce

Skills of Central Pennsylvania client Vicki Holder, right, talks with State College borough employees Centrice Mulfinger, left, and Courtney Hayden during a national job shadow day Monday.
Skills of Central Pennsylvania client Vicki Holder, right, talks with State College borough employees Centrice Mulfinger, left, and Courtney Hayden during a national job shadow day Monday. CDT photo

When Vicki Holder’s sight was taken from her about 10 years ago in a car accident, she was sure she would become a hermit.

It was a difficult transition, she said. It was challenging.

Her previous work as a certified nursing assistant was no longer a fit for her, she said. She had worked in personal care homes, nursing homes and group homes with all sorts of people.

She was paired with Taylor, a golden retriever and Irish setter guide dog eight years ago, she said, enabling her “to become part of the community again.”

Holder wants to be part of the workforce again as well, and thanks to Skills of Central Pennsylvania, she’s able to make steps toward that goal.

On Monday, Skills held a national job shadow day to promote hiring people with disabilities. Three individuals in Centre, Blair and Cambria counties were paired with different organizations to spend a few hours getting a sense of what these groups do.

Holder spent the afternoon with State College Borough Manager Tom Fountaine, touring the municipal building and its departments and gaining some understanding of the work that takes place there.

With a degree focusing on administrative work, she said, she is looking for the type of job that would likely put her in an office.

Skills employment consultant Nicole Kressler, who accompanied Holder, said that when the organization meets with new referrals, they begin the job process, which includes resume building, interview practice and job applications.

The shadowing Monday was similar to the community-based work assessments done through Skills, she said. Counselors will refer clients to an assessment, which is like a job trial or mini-internship, to help clients get to know people and where their interests lie.

“Once through that process,” Kressler said, “we’ll decide if they’re ready to start hunting for a job.”

Sometimes Skills requests the assessments as part of the job interview, she said, which gives a potential employer the chance to see how a client works out rather than judging the person from across a table.

“It’s challenging finding work,” Holder told Fountaine. “Employers don’t want to give me a chance. They think taking on a dog and a visually impaired person is hard.”

According to Skills, only 18 percent of individuals with disabilities are employed.

Fountaine said Holder is a good example of someone who wants to work and to be a productive and participating member of the community.

“It’s very important to find ways to help those individuals with special needs to find ways to be in the workforce,” he said.

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