Employment and Community Inclusion: Meet Victor

HDC celebrates Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Each March, we join the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACCD) to highlight the many ways in which people with and without disabilities come together to form strong, diverse communities. This social media campaign, known as “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month” or #DDawareness2021, seeks to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities, as well as awareness of the barriers that people with disabilities still face in connecting to the communities in which they live.

The graphic for Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month 2021 designed by Eileen Schofield.

The Human Development Center (HDC) strives to achieve inclusion throughout a person’s development by offering tools and resources from early childhood into high school age. A major life milestone we are all aware of, regardless of disability, is employment. Jobs support us financially, build self-confidence, and allow for independence. This part of life that many of us take for granted is an incredible opportunity for self-sufficiency and community inclusion. However, young adults with disabilities may find life after high school difficult if they do not have a foothold in the community. Fortunately, HDC’s PAYcheck program has helped high school students prepare for this jump to adulthood by transitioning them to employment for the last 5 years.

About the PAYcheck Program

Postsecondary Apprenticeship for Youth (PAYcheck) is an innovative collaboration between HDC, Louisiana Rehabilitation Services (LRS), Delgado Community College, public school systems, and employers in the New Orleans metro area. PAYcheck is a 3 semester program where students participate in courses at Delgado Community College, engage in professional career development activities, learn community and work-related skills, and gain employment experience through two 10-week paid internships/apprenticeships.

As NACCD points out in the introduction, people with disabilities still face barriers in connecting to the communities in which they live. We pointed out transportation as a barrier to the community and employment in our last article about Rashad, but the PAYcheck program also addresses barriers that make interactions within the community difficult.

PAYcheck participant Notoria smiling with an employee ID badge at the office of her paid internship.

A common barrier people with developmental disabilities face is communication. PAYcheck’s Transition Specialists help participants enroll in programs that build communication skills fit for professional surroundings and even nurture their unique abilities to thrive in an environment best suited for each participant. For an incredible story on overcoming communication barriers, meet PAYcheck participant Victor Castillo.

Meet Victor

From day one in the PAYcheck program, Victor Castillo has been a delight and sweet spirit to work with. Victor is deaf and born into an all-hearing, Spanish speaking home. He communicated with family via homemade signs, and so, he did not know American Sign Language (ASL), Spanish, and only some broken English.

The PAYcheck program helped Victor become more independent by providing an educational environment that showed him how to communicate and interact with those in his surroundings. After collaborating with his school and LRS to develop ways to improve Victor’s communication skills, PAYcheck helped him enroll in several ASL courses at Delgado Community College and an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutoring program to enhance his English writing skills.

Victor Castillo smiling with his student ID badge for Delgado Community College.

PAYcheck also offered Victor the opportunity to immerse himself in deaf culture and discover how to interact and thrive with other deaf people during an intensive summer ASL course at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. While at Gallaudet, Victor became more independent, developed many friendships with other deaf students, and learned how to communicate more efficiently using ASL. Victor returned home with a better ability to communicate via ASL with his interpreters, his fellow deaf friends at Delgado, his family at home, and the PAYcheck staff. 

Victor has grown tremendously since entering the PAYcheck program and is ready to work. Victor’s love for cars motivated him to take several auto body courses at Delgado, and is now working in his first paid internship at Maaco Body Shop in Kenner, LA. 

“We are so proud of the progress and growth Victor has made throughout his tenor in the PAYcheck program.  We know that Victor’s future is bright and this is only the beginning for him. Victor hopes to obtain a full time job working on cars and one day return to Gallaudet to possibly complete a degree in ASL.”

– Kimberly Paige, Transition Specialist

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