New Horizons helps carve path for those with disabilities
Organization opens new office in Waldorf
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…”
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.