CAMP CREEK — October is usually considered the month for Halloween and the arrival of fall colors, but it’s also the month for commemorating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the programs that help people like the ones working at a local state park find meaningful employment.
The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced that Increasing Access and Opportunity is the 2020 theme for October’s annual observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This year is the nation’s 75th observance of NDEAM, which is administered by the Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).
The observance culminates the department’s commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“Ensuring that America’s workplaces continue to include and accommodate people with disabilities will be an important part of our economic rebound,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia. “Looking ahead, the Department will remain focused on the policies that led to a strong economy and record low unemployment rates for persons with disabilities prior to the pandemic. A vigorous economic rebound and job growth will, alongside the Americans with Disabilities Act, increase access and opportunity for Americans with disabilities.”
“People with disabilities are experienced problem solvers with a proven ability to adapt,” said Office of Disability Employment Policy Deputy Assistant Secretary, Jennifer Sheehy. “Now more than ever, flexibility is important for both workers and employers. National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates the ingenuity people with disabilities bring to America’s workplaces.”
Each October, NDEAM celebrates America’s workers with disabilities and reminds employers of the importance of inclusive hiring practices.
Locally, there are programs that provide introduction into the workforce and employment opportunities. For years, Camp Creek State Park and Forest has worked with many different programs, said Park Superintendent Frank Radcliffe. Two current employees started out in such a program.
“They have kind of graduated from one program to become seasonal employees,” Radcliffe said. “When I say graduate, they started coming out here with the PikeView High School Work Exploration Program.”
The Exploration Program gives students the chance to get work experience outside the classroom setting.
“They would spend the morning here two times a week to get real life work experience,” Radcliffe said “We took extra time to game plan with them, and then work with them just like a normal crew.”
Students workers have performed tasks such as constructing one of the park’s new playground equipment, he stated. Having this extra help freed up time that let the park’s regular employees to work on other projects.
Two of the students, brothers Samuel and Daniel Sheets, completed internships. They now perform grounds-keeping duties and other tasks necessary to keep the state park operating.
“After the internship was when we had a couple of seasonal job openings at Camp Creek, and I asked them to apply,” Radcliffe recalled. “They’ve been working at state employees since the spring of 2020. They assist us with many things that are behind the scenes. Today they’re getting next year’s campfire wood put away so we can sell it next year.”
The brothers are taking on other responsibilities, too.
“Daniel just completed and got certification as a drinking water operator to treat the water,” Radcliffe stated. “That’s through the West Virginia Department of Health and it’s not an easy test to pass. It’s quite an accomplishment.”
The state park has stayed busy despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Camp Creek is not unlike any other park in the state or country right now,” Radcliffe said. “We’ve seen a major influx of people. People are looking for safe things to do.”
Programs like Work Exploration gives students opportunities for work experience, and others like Community-Based Assessments has brought two senior citizens to work at Camp Creek, Radclffe said.
“West Virginia Rehabilitation Services has so many incredible programs that are win-win situations for everybody,” he added.
Karen Miller, a PikeView High School teacher who is now retired, said the Work Exploration Program can be found throughout the state.
“Business owners or people like Frank will allow students to come into a place of business to get an educational work experience,” she said. “At Camp Creek, we would go two days a week and whatever assignment or job Frank wanted my students to do, they’d do it.”
“Daniel and Samuel are both excellent workers,” Miller said of her former students. “Whatever Frank asks those two young men to do, they can do it. Now they’re getting paid. My whole class would go and do different types of jobs there.”
The students enjoyed helping at Camp Creek, and it was “a great opportunity” for them to acquire work experience and job skills, Miller said.
“That’s one thing I want them to do in life, to be a productive citizen and have an opportunity to help others,” she added.
Students cannot go to Camp Creek for work experience now that the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted movement, but Miller said that she hopes to see the program resume when the pandemic subsides.
Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org