SPRINGFIELD — Oct. 17 was Disability Mentoring Day, a national effort coordinated by the American Assoc. of People with Disabilities to promote career development for students and job seekers with disabilities through hands-on career exploration and mentoring relationships. The event was launched in 1999 through a White House initiative and is organized each year in October, which is also National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
As a local, nonprofit provider of residential and support services, MHA works with people who are impacted by mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance use, and homelessness. For those whose disabilities are not severe and who are not medically challenged, MHA does its part, often utilizing community partners, to ensure that participants who want to work are ready and able to work. Among those community partners are individuals such as state Rep. Aaron Vega, vice chair of the Committee on Children and Families and Persons with Disabilities, and Joe Lepper, relationship manager with MassMutual Community Responsibility.
Last Wednesday, at MHA’s corporate offices at 995 Worthington St., Springfield, both Vega and Lepper joined Havier Connors, a 21-year-old program participant in MHA’s Youth Adolescent Program, for a personal conversation detailing their own individual career choices, career paths, and life experiences. During the meet and greet, Havier discussed his own personal goals and aspirations for employment.
Connors, who is 21 years old, was adopted into a new family as the second-youngest of 10 children when he was four years old. He has a biological sister whom he has never met in person, but with whom he has corresponded via letters. He struggled with bullying and issues related to anger management growing up, due in part to his physical appearance, the result of alcohol fetal syndrome. Connors, who is diagnosed with autism and is challenged by a mental-health diagnosis, grew up in the local therapeutic system attending most of the major therapeutic schools and programs in Western Mass. He enjoys listening to rock music, playing the guitar (which he is still learning), roller skating, and playing video games. He wants to work, and is applying with a local nonprofit for his first job.
During the meet and greet with Connors, Vega also presented a citation to MHA in recognition of Disability Mentoring Day, as well as the nonprofit’s work to support those experiencing both physical and mental-health disabilities.
“Workplaces that welcome the talents of all people, including people with disabilities, are a critical component in efforts to build an inclusive community and a strong economy,” said Cheryl Fasano, president and CEO of MHA. “We have witnessed firsthand the impact that doing meaningful work can have on those we serve, and we are grateful to Rep. Vega and Joe Lepper for their commitment to sharing in our work to remove barriers for those with disabilities who are ready to work.”