When Tucson Medical Center’s Food and Nutrition Services teamed up with WorkAbility, a nonprofit designed to support people with disabilities in obtaining meaningful employment, the mutual benefits soon became apparent.
As a result of working together, Tucson Medical Center has since been connected with a committed and dedicated employee, Henry “Koa” Figueroa, who in turn has been able to find sustainable work among compassionate colleagues.
But that connection may not have happened without the advocacy of WorkAbility’s job coaches who not only helped the Food and Nutrition Services leadership team communicate effectively with an employee with autism, but assisted in ensuring they had a good grasp of Koa’s skill sets and limits.
By shadowing Koa through on-site training, WorkAbility coaches also teach coping strategies to the employees for managing the stimulation that can come from a workspace with intense bustle and noise.
Vanessa Zuber, director of the WorkAbility program sponsored by the nonprofit organization UCP of Southern Arizona, noted, “Establishing partnerships with our employers is key to successful transition for both WorkAbility job seekers and employers. Job coaching is not only a benefit for the client but also a benefit to the employer.”
Their assistance was invaluable, from the perspective of department director Beth Dorsey. “As an employer, your expectations are the same of your employees. We are uncompromising about the quality of the work we do in our kitchen – but the way you go about communicating those standards, and supporting your employee in reaching them, requires a different approach than you might typically use,” she said.
“We originally became involved in the program because it’s the right thing to do, what we’ve learned since is that quite aside from the value we place on the contributions of our colleague, this has been an invaluable experience for our culture and our team in learning about how to successfully navigate differences.”
Koa also said he appreciated the partnership. “I am thankful for being recruited. Working with Tucson Medical Center has taught me the value of hard work and keeping the dishes clean.”
TMC was pleased to be nominated from WorkAbility for its Employer of the Year Award. Although TMC did not win, nominees will be recognized at the Nov. 17 luncheon.
Zuber said TMC was worthy of the recognition, not only for inviting WorkAbility to provide disability awareness training to staff, but also for communicating regularly with WorkAbility to provide assistance, and welcoming the group as a team player in TMC’s work culture. “The WorkAbility members that have been employed by TMC have been challenged to do their best and have gained so many skills,” Zuber said. “It’s a win-win partnership.”