2022 National APSE Board Election Winner: Marianne Durrant, New York
2022 National APSE Board of Directors At-Large Election Winner!
Marianne Durrant, New York
The area(s) that best represents your current position/experience:
Service Provider or Manager; Family Member of a Person with a Disability
Describe your history/nature of involvement/interest in promoting competitive integrated employment in your state. Additionally, explain why you are passionate about competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities (no more than 500 words):
I began working in the disability services field 28 years ago, in residential services. At that time, our organization did not offer employment supports. Over the years, I began to question why that was, as I truly saw employment as an extension of our organizational mission of supporting each person’s talents and ability to grow, as well as their dignity and self-worth. Personally, I came to understand that employment was something that “leveled the playing field”, it was a way for a person to be valued differently in our community, and that bottom line, access to employment is a right of everyone in our community. I was thrilled to receive the support of our organization to start learning about employment supports and how we might implement them. Thanks to a number of people, I learned about employment- including what was being done well, and what I felt should be done differently. We moved ahead with starting an employment supports division, the Employment Alliance in 2011.
Over the years we have seen tremendous growth. We have grown to provide supports to people through the NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), ACCES VR (Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation), and the NYS Commission for the Blind. Upon reflection, it comes to mind that relationships have been key to that growth. Relationships not only with the persons using our supports but with businesses, with colleagues, and with our business community. Increasing employment outcomes for community members with disabilities is not a standalone issue. The work that we do in this field also supports work being done in our community to fight poverty and address social justice issues.
It’s said that a diverse workforce is a strong workforce. I have heard it numerous times from our business partners over the years; they have shared how much they have valued adding a person with a disability to their workforce. They have expressed the importance of the relationship with us, as a trusted partner in their success. This applies not only to people who use our services but to my team who provides the services as well. I believe that our team of employment specialists is most effective when it truly represents the people we support. As we have grown in numbers, my team has also grown in the life experience that they bring to our department.
Lastly, I became a parent of a young adult with a disability mid-way through my career. This only fueled my energy around closing the employment gap for people with disabilities. I have seen the tremendous effect employment can have for the person and their family; the sense of pride and purpose that only employment can bring.
In closing, I am dedicated to this work. I look forward to the day when employees with disabilities are seen at all levels of business and across all industries. It is possible, it may not be easy, but its benefits far outreach the challenges along the way.
What relevance does/should APSE and its chapters/members have in national and state conversations regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion (no more than 350 words)?
We are in exciting times in our communities, and in our nation, with regards to conversations on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. I cannot recall a time in my adult life that our nation has had such an amazing opportunity to engage in conversations and actions leading towards all citizens being truly seen, heard, and valued.
For over 30 years, APSE has done great work to elevate employment for persons with disabilities. In that time, we have seen legislation, education, and public opinion working towards improved employment outcomes. APSE is in a unique position to contribute to conversations in a broader sense. The persons on whose behalf APSE has worked so diligently, do not only experience disability. Our disabled community members may also experience barriers related to race, age, lgbtq+ identification, etc. It is imperative that we look at the lessons we have learned in the disability-employment field, to help us have a wider impact.
I believe that APSE has a place in conversations about being an ally to anyone experiencing social injustice. Admittedly, we are not the experts in all areas, nor should we be. However, I encourage APSE to reflect on where we see opportunities to show support to our field, to our communities, and to our legislators. Oftentimes, conversations around diversity are quickly narrowed to one focus, such as race. APSE has the ability to remind our state and federal governments to look at the intersectionality that exists in people’s daily lives.
I also believe that APSE should lead by example by taking a look at our practices and being open to an honest conversation about how we’re doing. What might we do differently at our conferences? How might we be more purposeful in our outreach to those in the field? How comfortable are we with transparency when we identify things we can do differently?
These are difficult conversations, but nothing worth achieving ever comes easily. I have always felt that through strong, respectful relationships, we can have these conversations in a way that helps us move forward and become stronger together.
What skills, knowledge or lived experience do you have that will contribute to strengthening and growing the financial health of APSE and promoting its mission to advance employment and self-sufficiency for all people with disabilities (no more than 350 words)?
During my career, I have had the opportunity to learn alongside some amazing mentors. From each of these people, I have learned lessons that have helped me get to where I am today. For many of us working in the human services field, finances aren’t our favorite topic. We would rather focus on supporting people who use our services and the stories that make us feel good. However, along the way, I have come to not only understand but embrace that the financial health of any organization is key to being able to advance its mission.
Throughout my time as director of the Employment Alliance, I have experienced many bumps in the road. I have learned to look at how to find balance in providing quality services as well as operating the department in a fiscally sound manner. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. I have also learned how to communicate that to my employees. I learned very quickly that trying to hold a team accountable to a fiscal standard that they didn’t understand, was ineffective. By helping the team understand “the why”, they are much more willing to do what they can to contribute.
I have also learned to think creatively about opportunities to contribute to the financial well-being of our department and the larger organization. I have worked collaboratively with community foundations who have provided us with grants to support our work. Together with my team, we have looked crucially at processes in order to increase efficiencies. We have had frequent conversations about setting goals, and about collecting and reviewing data to monitor progress on those goals.
I strongly support APSE’s mission to advance employment and self-sufficiency for all persons with disabilities. This work can only be done as we work together as an organization to maintain a solid foundation.
Marianne Durrant is the Director of the Employment Alliance, and the Director of the Employer Resource Network, at Heritage Christian Services (HCS). In her 28 years at HCS, Marianne has held a variety of positions, including direct support, residential and day services management positions. She started (2011) and currently oversees the supported employment division, both in Buffalo and Rochester, NY. This includes the development and oversight of our Project SEARCH Program for young adults and oversight of our Pre-Employment Transition Services for Potentially Eligible Students, through ACCES VR (Adult Career and Continuing Education Services Vocational Rehabilitation). In 2019, she started the Employer Resource Network- Rochester, part of a nationwide model to provide employee retention services to her own agency and external businesses. She is co-lead for NYS within the Employer Resource Network. She is President of the Rochester Area Employment Network, a coalition that strives to promote employment opportunities for people with disabilities. She is the regional representative for NYS APSE and has been directly involved in the planning and execution of the annual statewide conference. In 2020, Marianne was awarded the Wendy Wood Emerging Leader award by APSE. She has completed Travel Training and Travel Training Administration Courses through Easter Seals Project Action. She has completed training as Benefits Practitioner through New York Makes Work Pay. Additionally, Marianne has been responsible for developing and carrying out a variety of employment-related services to adults and students through multiple grants awarded to the Employment Alliance, including our AmeriCorps Program (2016). Marianne is involved in a number of community initiatives that relate to employment and anti-poverty. She participates in an employment workgroup through the Rochester Chamber of Commerce and a benefits project with Action for a Better Community, which is working on building an online tool for community members to better understand their benefits as they relate to employment.
In her free time, Marianne enjoys camping, gardening, and cooking. She volunteers with an organization that provides meals to homeless community members who are unable to be housed in traditional shelters. She also volunteers with a local group that connects people in her community with needed resources.