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Events shine light on the successes of the disabled

Oct. 05, 2012 @ 07:02 AM

HUNTINGTON -- In the beginning, Cara Romanowski was timid. She lacked self confidence and was uncomfortable working with new people.

She has Williams syndrome, which can cause development delays, but has not let that stop her.

Now, after a successful six months working in the receiving department at Elder-Beerman, much of that has melted away. And Jami Hess, Romanowski's employment services specialist with Mountain State Centers for Independent Living, thought she deserved some recognition for her willingness to try new things and for learning so quickly.

"I've been with her from the very start of this job process. ... After the first few weeks and getting to know everyone, I could see that she was really starting to blossom and overcome those insecurities," she said.

As it turned out, both Romanowski and Hess were honored with awards Thursday during a ceremony at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena, in recognition of Disability Employment Awareness Month. Romanowski was cited for success in the workplace, and Hess was honored for advocacy efforts in helping clients with disabilities find good jobs.

Also honored were local businesses that have a strong record of hiring and maintaining employees with disabilities, including River & Rail Bakery, Walgreens and Captain D's in Huntington; Griffth & Feil Drug Store and Soda Fountain in Kenova; and Sonic, Olive Garden and Kmart in Barboursville.

Georgetta Stevens of Mountain State Centers was also honored for her work with persons with disabilities.

Hiring persons with disabilities can work for the employer as well as it does for the employee, said Dee DeLancey, vice president of development and communications for Mountain State.

"It's about breaking down barriers," he said. "They can work and they want to work."

In conjunction with the event was the annual Walk and Roll Parade down 4th Avenue and the 2012 Fall Career Fair, which featured about 70 businesses and was open to those with and without disabilities. The career fair was sponsored by the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services and the Huntington Mayor's Committee for Persons with Disabilities. Local business people accepted resumes and talked with applicants during the event.

The guest speaker during the awards ceremony was David Sanders, a behavioral health specialist senior with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Community Outreach for the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities.

He said one in four people in West Virginia have some type of disability and that they have an 80 percent unemployment rate.

"We have to address this crisis and take steps toward ensuring West Virginia's workforce includes people with disabilities," Sanders said. "As people with disabilities, we have the right to be included in every aspect of our chosen community, including employment."

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