Awareness, Awards, and Affirmation: A Look Back at October

As we go head first into November, we are looking back to a very special October at PossAbilities.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month across the nation. This year’s theme and tagline was “The Right Talent, Right Now”. The campaign celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents. An article titled “Why Hiring People with Disabilities Will Improve Your Bottom Line” in the Star Tribune was one of many across the nation that highlighted those skills and talents.

The celebration, of course, was in full force at PossAbilities as well, particularly at our 24th Annual Employment Awards Banquet. The use of the phrase “full force” is literal in this sense as well, “The excitement in the air is hard to miss,” explained Katie Mahaffey, PossAbilities Program Without Walls (PWoW) Program Director. “This 2021 was the largest crowd…It’s positive to see the participants supporting each other and the businesses supporting the participants.”

Four awards were handed out during the event. The John Ellingson Summit Award for a business PossAbilities works with, the Joseph Explorer Guide Award for a co-worker of a participant who’s gone above and beyond, and the Judy and Jim Sloan Explorer Award to two employment participants.

Following a meal provided by the event center and Powers Ventures, Jesse Schreiber spoke of his positive experience as a PossAbilities Follow Along participant, including the impact the organization has had on his life, and his goal of continuing to help his employer, Kwik Trip, grow and succeed. Kwik Trip also happened to be named this year’s Summit Award winner.

“Their managers take time to get to know the individuals they employ,” Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce President Kathleen Harrington said of Kwik Trip as she presented them the award. “They support a culture of fairness and one of inclusiveness.”

After giving thanks for the award, Kwik Trip District Leader Joe Stortz said “The last line of our mission statement is ‘to make a difference in someone’s life. I believe, through our retail helper program, we are able to accomplish this. We are honored to be a part of helping others in the community.”

The Joseph Fitzpatrick Guide Award was then presented to Tina Williams of Walmart. “She’s an advocate for individuals with disabilities and has been helpful to PossAbilities and participants we serve with whatever needs present themselves,” said PossAbilities Employment Services Division Director Joel Pralle, who presented the award.

The final two awards given out were the Explorer Awards. These awards are given to participants who have made significant positive strides, not only in their employment and time at PossAbilities, but in life in general.

After recognizing all of the nominees, Nathan Bell, PossAbilities Employment Services Program Coordinator, announced Aaron Reyes as the first winner. “He has a positive attitude, willingness to help, and his improvement is noticed by everyone at PossAbilities,” Bell said of Aaron. Aaron proceeded to tell the crowd he didn’t have a favorite job, he just loved them all.

For the final presentation of the day, Mahaffey invited Walmart’s Chad Bundy up to present. Bundy presented the award to Follow Along participant Chelsey Cummings, his friend and colleague at Walmart. “She is always willing to take on new challenges and she’s someone we can always trust.”

Chelsey later said she’s proud of her nine years and Walmart and always enjoys working with friends and learning new things.

This year’s Employment Awards Banquet was supported by 15 sponsors, including platinum sponsors United Heating and Cooling and Gail and Allen Bishop. A full list of sponsors can be found on the Employment Awards Banquet page.