Rebecca Cheraquit, Maryland
2021 National APSE Board of Directors At-Large Candidate
How many years have you been involved in integrated employment/supported employment?
The area(s) that best represents your current position/experience:
Advocate, Local Agency Representative
Describe your history/nature of involvement/interest in integrated employment/supported employment.
I have worked in promoting integrated employment and supported employment for people with disabilities in the past 20 years. While working in schools in New York City, my team and I worked on training students with disabilities to enter the world of work. At Melwood, I led the Vocational Support team in supporting people with disabilities working on the federal contract sites. In the past 7 years, I have strategically prepared my team in promoting competitive integrated employment. My focus is to empower people with disabilities to become financial independent, connect them to community resources, and become self-advocates promoting employment for people with disabilities.
Throughout my career, I have not only focused on employment for all but develop staff to support people with disabilities. I believe that it is crucial to professionalize the field of employment support for people with disabilities. When standards for practice are universal, they create expectations for service delivery and clear directions for ethical dilemmas. The field of support for employment for people with disabilities continues to emerge, but there is much to do to invest in such training. Most non-profit organizations are encouraged to promote training staff; however, they may not be able to cover the costs.
A formalized education training for staff supporting people with disabilities is important. Another important factor is to educate businesses and potential employers in including people with disabilities in the workforce. There is a misconception that people with disabilities are not as productive, reliable and would drastically change their operations. As a result, it is imperative to train managers in effectively respond to all workers’ needs. Employers are best prepared to welcome people with disabilities in the workforce when the process is normalized. Melwood has successfully delivered such training and serves as a community resource encouraging competitive integrated employment.
How will you be able to contribute to the growth and improvement of APSE as an organization?
I would be an excellent contributor to APSE’s mission as I bring many years of experience in supported employment and promoting an inclusive workforce. My experience as a practitioner allows me to understand the needs of people with disabilities in the community. As a direct delivery staff member, I can speak to the training and experience of people with disabilities and their families. As a manager, I can give voice to developing staff to best support people with disabilities to enter the workforce and becoming financially independent. As an Executive, I continue to strategically leverage relationships to further connect people with disabilities, with employers, government entities research bodies and community resources. As a social worker, I have a clear understanding of all people development needs. In the past 20 years, more people understand that all people should have the same opportunities for success. There are higher expectations for students leaving high school to have strong post-secondary planning. It is as much a natural process for all adults including people with disability to achieve the dignity of work and become financial contributors in the community. When given the opportunity to work, people with disabilities make a great impact in the workforce and society. As they become more financially independent and active in commerce, they rely less on federal and state benefits. APSE can leverage this change in promoting employment first and continue to be a thought leader in this space. My professional experience responding to the micro and macro needs in promoting competitive employment for all is a great asset to APSE.
Rebecca Cheraquit serves as the Chief of Program at Melwood. She was previously the Vice President of Community Services with Melwood and has held senior management positions in the non-profit/social service fields for about 20 years. For the last 10 years or so, her focus has been on job readiness and job retention for young adults and adults with differing abilities. Her professional journey began in New York City, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from City University of New York at Brooklyn College. In 2000, Ms. Cheraquit completed a Master of Science degree in Social Work at Columbia University School of Social Work with a concentration in clinical work, and she holds an LMSW license as a social worker. Ms. Cheraquit successfully managed alternative education programs in collaboration with the New York City Department of Education. In these roles, she also demonstrated her ability to lead grassroots advocacy efforts to affect public policy. About 7 years ago, Ms. Cheraquit moved to Maryland and joined the Melwood team as the Director of Vocational Support Services. She turned Melwood’s Vocational Support Services program into an industry-leading operation with an emphasis on process and professional development. In 2016, she was selected as the Vice President of the Community Services Division, responsible for approximately 15 programs and services and 300 staff members.
Ms. Cheraquit will continue to lead the development of new and innovative programs to better serve people with disabilities by growing opportunities for community integration.