New Hori­zons helps carve path for those with dis­abil­i­ties

Or­ga­ni­za­tion opens new of­fice in Wal­dorf

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By SARA NEW­MAN snew­man@somd­ Twit­ter: @INDY_COMMUNITY

When Shelley Mitchell be­gan hav­ing health prob­lems at age 13, she was liv­ing in Eng­land while her mother was in the air force.

“The last two weeks we were sta­tioned there, I was put in the hospi­tal and I lost 80 pounds of water weight,” Mitchell, of Brandy­wine, said. “Af­ter that, my ill­ness came and left for about 20 years.”

At 33, Mitchell was di­ag­nosed with kid­ney fail­ure at Johns Hop­kins Hospi­tal and be­gan the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and medi­care process.

“They say it’s some­thing ge­netic but no­body on my mother’s side or fa­ther’s side has a prob­lem with it,” Mitchell said. “It’s frus­trat­ing be­cause you’re like, why? If you knew where it stemmed from it would be eas­ier to deal with.”

Mitchell be­gan re­ceiv­ing dial­y­sis treat­ment, which helps per­form the func­tions of healthy kid­neys by re­mov­ing waste and pre­vent­ing build up in the body, three days a week which cut into her tra­di­tional 40-hour work week.

“I used to work for a law firm and they were stick­lers about at­ten­dance and time you can take,” Mitchell said. “They were not sen­si­tive or emo­tional to my health con­cerns.” That’s when she de­cided to put in her two-weeks notice and con­tact the Mary­land Divi­sion of Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Ser­vices, DORS. That’s when Mitchell was con­nected with New Hori­zons, a con­tracted non-profit DORS part­ner, and found an em­ployer that was will­ing to work with her.

“By the grace of God I was sent here and Cyn­thia talked to me and she said they would be able to work with me,” Mitchell said. “They grasped it with open arms.”

Cyn­thia Swift-King, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of em­ploy­ment ser­vices for New Hori­zons, over­sees a team who work to sup­port and em­power in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties in gain­ing and main­tain­ing the skills and re­sources need to ob­tain and keep a job.

The non-profit re­cently opened a Wal­dorf lo­ca­tion, through a grant awarded by Charles County govern­ment, to bet­ter man­age its case load and pro­vide ser­vices to in­di­vid­u­als closer in South­ern Mary­land. The or­ga­ni­za­tion works with adults with dis­abil­i­ties of all kinds, in­clud­ing phys­i­cal, emo­tional and de­vel­op­men­tal. Since open­ing the new of­fice this month, Swift-King says the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been able to triple the amount of peo­ple it can as­sist.

“It makes me feel like I’m help­ing some­one,” Swift-King said of her job. “The whole con­cept of help­ing some­one find em­ploy­ment, peo­ple who have given up and have now found work, we cel­e­brate those op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

New Hori­zons opened its first Charles County of­fice, a 750 square foot room, in July 2001. There, the or­ga­ni­za­tion was able to serve 71 adults. Last month, Swift-King said they were able to serve 130 clients and placed 11 peo­ple in po­si­tions which is an above-av­er­age mark, she said.

“In this econ­omy, for us to find 11 jobs in one month is pretty great,” Swift-King said, adding that she is con­stantly look­ing for job op­por­tu­ni­ties for clients.

Ser­vices like mock in­ter­views, how to dress for suc­cess, time and stress man­age­ment are of­fered to clients in ad­di­tion to con­nect­ing them with po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers look­ing for their clients’ skill set.

“My em­ploy­ers were non­judge­men­tal, sym­pa­thetic and they still wanted me to grow and progress ca­reer wise and they gave me that op­por­tu­nity,” Mitchell said of New Hori­zons. “It’s not just de­vel­op­men­tal and in­tel­lec­tual [dis­abil­i­ties], if you’re sick you’re sick and they un­der­stand and help with that.”

“I took Shelley un­der my wing,” Swift-King said, adding that she has been able to hire a few other clients for New Hori­zons po­si­tions, though most clients are found em­ploy­ment with out­side com­pa­nies.

Now, Mitchell makes up time missed from work due to her treat­ment on week­ends. She has been on the kid­ney trans­plant list at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Med­i­cal Cen­ter and is now at the top of the list. Look­ing back on her ex­pe­ri­ences, she says she hopes to help others the way she was helped be­fore.

“I love help­ing peo­ple who are in the same sit­u­a­tion as I am and even more so,” Mitchell said. “I love what I do be­cause you’re not just help­ing peo­ple find jobs, you’re help­ing re­build peo­ples’ con­fi­dence and help­ing them emo­tion­ally. They need to be told some­one be­lieves in them with­out any judge­ment with­out any dis­cre­tion. And that’s where we come in.”

“They need to be told some­one be­lieves in them…”

Staff photo by SARA NEW­MAN

Shelley Mitchell, em­ploy­ment co­or­di­na­tor, Jas­mine Thomas, lead em­ploy­ment co­or­di­na­tor, La­mont Bruce, job de­vel­oper, and Cyn­thia SwiftKing, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of em­ploy­ment ser­vices, as­sist those with dis­abil­i­ties find em­ploy­ment at New Hori­zons in Wal­dorf.

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