Personifies National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Romel Powell had worked at New York-Presbyterian Queens for less than a year when the COVID-19 pandemic struck New York City.

A graduate of AHRC New York City’s Project SEARCH at the hospital, a one-year, school-to-work transition program based entirely in the workplace for students with intellectual and/or other developmental disabilities (I/DD), he had the support of his supervisor, his job coach, and other employees.

Powell’s heart also guided him.

“Every day I’d see many people who couldn’t see their families and loved ones,” Powell told Sabina Yasmin, his AHRC NYC job coach, referring to government visitation restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “I am working really hard so I can look after their families in the hospital.”

75 Years of NDEAM

Powell personifies the spirit of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which this month marks 75 years of promoting access and opportunity to the workplace, and the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the landmark civil rights legislation promoting inclusion in all aspects of society.

“Romel is just one of many people we support who are more than capable of working,” said Marco Damiani, CEO of AHRC NYC. “We need to educate more employers that we have people who are ready and eager to work. Unfortunately, people with I/DD are typically unemployed or underemployed despite their desire to work.”

‘He Stepped Up His Game’

Working in the emergency department and inpatient rooms, Powell works hard and follows instructions, according to his Environmental Services Supervisor, Ralston Archer.

“During the height of the pandemic, he stepped up his game,” Archer said. “He was great and I could always call upon him.”

Powell knew he had a job to do and didn’t want to let anyone down. He was the first person to be hired from Project SEARCH at New York Presbyterian-Queens, which began in 2018. Project SEARCH’s total workplace immersion at a host employer facilitates classroom instruction, career exploration, and relevant job skills training through strategically designed internships. The program is available for up to 12 students with I/DD.

The goal of the program is to teach students competitive, marketable and transferable employment skills in a work-based learning program. Project SEARCH at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens is a collaboration with the hospital, AHRC NYC as the service provider, an NYC Department of Education high school, the student and their family, with the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities and ACCES-VR as funders

“Through Project SEARCH, our students acquire work skills that lead to life-changing employment opportunities,” said Michele Shapiro, Assistant Director of AHRC NYC Employment and Business Services who oversees Project SEARCH. “We are fortunate to have such a wonderful partner.”

Today, AHRC NYC partners with five other Project SEARCH host-sites throughout New York City.

“I like this job,” Powell said. “I take my work very seriously. I work really hard and focus.”