2020 APSE Virtual Conference.

The Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) is awarding the APSE Wendy M. Wood Emerging Leader Award during the #APSE2020 Virtual Conference.

Wendy M. Wood is the founding Executive Director of APSE.  To begin this organization took great vision, effort, determination, and risk.  To honor her contribution to this organization and to the overall field of supported employment and Employment First, APSE’s Board of Directors established this award.

This award recognizes emerging leaders who are developing a vision and creating action toward full inclusion of citizens with disabilities in our society.

This year, APSE is honored and humbled in recognizing the contributions of the 2020 nominees and winner, Marianne Durrant.

The Wendy Wood Emerging Leader Award was presented on July 31st.

Congratulations to the #APSE2020 Wendy M. Wood Emerging Leader Winner, Marianne Durrant!

Marianne Durrant, New York

Marianne Durrant headshot.Serving in two leadership roles, as director of Employment Alliance and director of the Employer Resource Network, Marianne Durrant plays an integral part in improving the local workforce. She engages with local business leaders to understand the workforce needs of different industries and how the promotion of inclusive hiring practices will lead to positive outcomes for the businesses and the people they hire.

For example, in her role serving the Employment Alliance, Marianne focuses on providing supportive “right fit” employment. Individuals aren't just placed in any available entry-level position; they are matched to specific jobs based on interest and an assessment of their skills. Employers who have hired someone from the Employment Alliance have been able to improve onboarding and training for their entire workforce, based on some of the supportive employment practices the program has given them. Some of her most important work has been addressing equity and inclusion for people who have disabilities in the local workforce, and she has changed the perception of what employment looks like to many employers.

Marianne’s patience and strategy have laid the groundwork to expand Heritage Christian Services reach of employment services to marginalized communities. Often services in this field are provided to people based on the funding streams that exist and the models that prove to be safe and financially sustainable. Marianne will seek to identify those who are most in need of employment support and will always find ways to fund these efforts by developing creative models needed to sustain them. She has recognized that in addition to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, there is also a wider disability population that could benefit from having employment supports. She has found innovative ways to provide vocational opportunities and employment services for people in the mental health community and young people with learning challenges who are involved in the criminal justice system.

As president of the Rochester Area Employment Network (RAEN), Marianne leads a network of 30 organizations and together they work toward a goal of improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities living in the greater Rochester community. She also regularly attends meetings with area chambers of commerce and the local Rotary Club to provide information about incentives for hiring people with disabilities and about the benefits of inclusive hiring practices. She also partners with ACCES-VR to coordinate annual National Disability Employment Awareness Month to recognize local employers for their inclusive hiring practices.

Nominated by April Franklin

About the Nominees

Karey Bauer, IndianaKarey Bauer receiving an award from IN APSE.

Karey Bauer has been described as “intelligent, motivated, and compassionate.” She has been very creative in coming up with ways to support the individuals she serves. As Jenny Austin with Vocational Rehabilitation explains: “I have partnered with Ms. Bauer to provide supported employment to some individuals with very challenging needs.” Recently, she had a participant who applied for a position as a direct support professional. This was not necessarily the best job match given this individual’s history of anxiety and impulsiveness, but Ms. Bauer wanted to support him in his efforts. She worked closely with this participant to help him understand just what the position would entail. Since a work experience would not be possible, she discussed the position with agency staff in order to have him job shadow a similar role. She also worked on sample questions for the more challenging trainings, gathered examples of required documentation and set up an interview with someone in a similar position. This was all in service of having the individual understand all aspects of the job and make an informed choice of whether or not to pursue the position.

Karey is the face of Stone Belt Employment having created long lasting partnerships with so many employers. Her upbeat approach to the most challenging situations gives everyone involved a ‘can-do’ attitude. Possibly the most important thing Karey does is to work with clients with the most significant barriers time after time with a glad heart and good spirit that only someone who loves their job could have.

Karey is a natural ambassador for opening and nurturing lines of communication with community employers. She net-works constantly with local businesses. Karey is very aware of community events and happenings that she can use to promote our goal of hiring people with disabilities. ( Ex. Chamber events and recruiting area businesses for the Job-A-Polooza event. Karey mentors fellow Employment Consultants and Employers to be their best and give the respect that each participant deserves. Karey has assisted with participating in disability awareness events and a project to make Bloomington a more inclusive city. Karey has been a key player in developing jobs for Project Search Interns, as well as being the backup instructor for the program.

Nominated by Jonathan Kraeszig

Danielle Gruen, California Headshot

There is no better candidate for the nomination than Danielle. One conversation with her and you will understand that her passion and energy for the Employment First movement is contagious and intoxicating. She makes others want to be involved and find their way to help create and foster equitable opportunities for individuals with differing abilities, particularly in the developmental disability community. Her ideas are inspiring and energy intoxicating, her students frequently relish in their excitement of taking on a challenge encouraged by Danielle to do so that they would not have otherwise had the courage nor believe in self on their own to do. Students rave about Danielle’s natural gift to understand them and their strengths, to view them as a person first with the ability to set and achieve life and career goals.

She is constantly advocating for equitable employment and full social inclusion through active involvement in committees and advisory boards, community partnerships, and employer engagement in the local region of West Los Angeles, South L.A., Culver City, and other nearby communities. No audience is too small or too large for Danielle when it comes to creating an opportunity for change and expansion of thoughts, opening of minds to engage in exploratory opportunities and goal setting around opening doors for individuals to have competitive integrated employment opportunities with meaningful work that gives a sense of purpose and pride. She is apt to say “yes” over “no” and prides herself and her C2C program on doing just that. Let’s find ways to say “yes” whenever we can, to our employees, our students, our neighbors, our families. When we can not, we know we have at least given it our best effort and will try yet again with more data and support.

Nominated by Laura Manyweather and Sandra Albers

2019 APSE Wendy Wood Emerging Leader Award Winner

Devin O'Connor

Devin O'Connor receiving the award.

Devin O'Connor, Wendy Wood Emerging Leader Award

Devin O’Connor founded and is the active Director of The Grow Group, a non-profit organization that was created to assist individuals with disabilities throughout the State of Florida in obtaining meaningful employment, achieving financial independence, and realizing their own personal success. Over the past 9 years, The Grow Group has successfully placed over 1000 people in various positions and industries. With the belief that every individual has the right to work, the organization has also collaborated with entrepreneurs to create and sustain small businesses within the community. In addition to these services, Mr. O’Connor has consulted and advised large corporations and local businesses on how to successfully hire, train and retain these individuals, while creating an organizational culture that embraces all and accepts differences. With a continuous and unwavering passion for improving the lives of people with disabilities, Devin challenges the standard of service to raise the bar for providers in his local area and across the state by developing new services and strengthening existing ones.

The Grow Group logo.
This year alone they have doubled their team of employment specialists, discovery and evaluation providers, and in turn their positive outreach, and are now providing services throughout the State of Florida. In 2016, The Grow Group was recognized and awarded by The University of South Florida as one of the top 10 fastest growing alumni-led organizations internationally (The Fast 56 Award). In 2016 Devin was recognized for the National Rehabilitation Association’s Bell Greve Award for Leadership and his organization won the 2016 Organizational Award. It is for these reasons provided, and many more, that I am nominating Devin O’Connor for the Wendy M. Wood Award as an Emerging Leader who has developed a vision and created action toward full inclusion of citizens with disabilities in our society.