When career corrections officer Rudolph Nisbett contracted an illness in 2004 that paralyzed his legs, he could have done what many would do if faced with a formidable disability: retreat from the work world.
But with help from the territory’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program, Nisbett blazed a new professional path as a computer-savvy classified officer with the V.I. Corrections Bureau.
“I want to thank Corrections for seeing my capability,” said Nisbett, who was one of 31 workers from St. Thomas and St. John who were honored Thursday at Sugar Bay Resort.
This marks the 10th year the V.I. Human Services Department hosted the luncheon, which coincides with October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month. On Nov. 10, Human Services will honor the program’s clients on St. Croix.
The Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program creates competitive employment opportunities for clients with physical or cognitive disabilities, Director Felecia Blyden said. Across the territory, close to 55 clients have jobs through the program, team member Josette Pascal-George said. Many of the employers report that these hires are among their most devoted, focused and dependable, both women said.
Thursday’s event honored their determination to work and the employers who gave them a chance.
After lunch and remarks from Stephanie Barnes, the territory’s Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, the honorees were called to the front of the room to accept their awards before the crowd of nearly 100.
Many of them took the microphone to tell how the program had positively impacted their lives.
Loretto Kraft, who works at Captain’s Corner, said the program’s counselors had helped her find a job after she broke her hip two years ago.
Elizabeth Creque Cruse, who works at Leonard Dober Elementary School, said she was “really grateful” for their help. “They show genuine concern about your well-being and health,” Cruse said.
Theresa Farray, who works on the administrative support team at Human Services, choked up when she recalled how the program’s counselors visited her in the hospital after she had knee surgery. “They were there for me,” she said.
One of the crowd highlights was when honoree William Payne presented a slide show portfolio of his drawings, photographs, and designs. The crowd cheered when his photo-quality pencil portrait of President Barack Obama flashed onto the screen.
Payne, who attended Kean High School, Rochester Institute of Technology, and a college in Illinois, also restores tattered and faded photographs to their former glory.
The crowd clapped and cheered when he showed before-and-after examples of this work, which prompted Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis to say he wants to hire Payne to remove all signs of silver hair in his photographs.
The entire event’s mood was familial and joyous – and no moment was more so than when the crowd stood up to applaud Payne, who is hearing impaired.
As Payne walked back to his table where his proud mother sat, Director Blyden stepped back up to the podium.
Just because someone lives with disability, she said, “Why should we expect them to have any less talent or capability?”
To hire Payne for design, photography or other creative projects, contact him at email@example.com, or his mother, Laurel, by voice or text at 344-9181.
Disabled residents who want to find work, as well as employers who would like to learn more about employing this program’s clients, should contact Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program staff. On St. Thomas or St. John, call Josette Pascal-George at 774-0930, ext. 4192. On St. Croix, contact Sarah James at 773-2323, ext. 2139, or stop by the Human Services building on your island.