Valley Event Honors ‘Champions of Disability Employment’

Posted: Updated:

Companies and individuals in the Shenandoah Valley were honored during the annual champions of disability employment ceremony Wednesday at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton.

Organizers say the group is setting positive examples. The University of Virginia, Hershey, and James Madison University were all recognized during this year's program. Not only are they collaborating with local and state agencies, but they are also making strides in employment and seeing past people's disabilities.

"Our society still provides barriers to so many individuals with disabilities,” said Jim Rothrock, commissioner of the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services.

Rothrock can speak from the heart when it comes to the adversity people with disabilities face when trying to enter the workforce.

"I was in a sleigh accident in the ’60s, and actually came to Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center as a student, learned how to get around in my chair. I went back to finish high school in Martinsville, then went on to college,” Rothrock said.

Wednesday’s event was all about recognizing those who dispel myths about people with disabilities and give them opportunities to thrive.

"The minority group composed of individuals with disabilities is one that anybody can join at any time,” Rothrock said.

Hershey, in particular the plant at Stuarts Draft, received praise for its program to recruit applicants with disabilities and train the rest of the company to welcome all types of workers.

"Our workforce should look like the community that we serve and what our customer base is, and we have found this to be a wonderful opportunity,” said Karen Van Curen, the human resources manager at the Hershey location in Stuarts Draft.

Organizers hope efforts like the one at Hershey will pave the way for more employers.

"Seeing beyond the wheelchair, beyond the absence of a limb, beyond a behavior...and seeing the person's inherent abilities, that's the key,” Rothrock said.

That program at Hershey is called H.E.R.O.S., which stands for Hershey Extends Real Opportunities to Succeed. Van Curen added that, since its inception, the support and success of the program continues to grow.

  • Sign Up for Email Alerts

    Sign up to receive news, weather, and breaking news emails from the NBC29 newsroom in your inbox daily.

    * denotes required fields

    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.