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September 16, 2008    DOL Home > ODEP > New Freedom Initiative   

2007 Secretary of Labor's New Freedom Initiative Awards

The Secretary of Labor’s New Freedom Initiative Award recognizes non-profits, small businesses, corporations and individuals that have demonstrated exemplary and innovative efforts in furthering the employment and workplace environment for people with disabilities, a goal of President Bush’s New Freedom Initiative.

On October 24, the Secretary Elaine L. Chao presented the award to six honorees at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC.

Secretary Chao also presented the second Secretary of Labor's Spirit Award at this occasion.


An Advocate for Opportunity

John D. Kemp
Washington, D.C.

Values at Work: Promoting America’s promise of equal opportunity for all citizens

John D. Kemp

Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao (right) and ODEP Acting Assistant Secretary Karen M. Czarnecki (left) present a 2007 New Freedom Initiative Award to John D. Kemp, Esq., disability advocate and principal at Powers, Pyles Sutter & Verville P.C., Washington, DC. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore)

John Kemp is an unwavering advocate for people with disabilities, having worked relentlessly for more than three decades to advance disability rights and the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of community life.

Born without arms and legs below the elbows and knees, Mr. Kemp was first fitted with prostheses at age two. From then on, there was no stopping him. In 1977, as a young attorney, he and a former law school classmate established one of the first firms to advise federal agencies, recipients of federal funds, and businesses with federal contracts on compliance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Mr. Kemp is dedicated to changing beliefs and behavior regarding people with disabilities by spearheading awareness activities, leading non-profit organizations, advising government agencies, and promoting legislation, particularly the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In 1995, he was a founder of the American Association of People with Disabilities—the nation’s first cross-disability organization. He also counsels Fortune 500 companies and was recently appointed Executive Director of the US Business Leadership Network, an employer-led organization that promotes the value of employing individuals with disabilities.

A skilled communicator, Mr. Kemp has addressed more than 150 audiences and is the co-author and editor of Reflections from a Different Journey: What People with Disabilities Wish All Parents Knew, a collection of essays by adults with disabilities since birth or early childhood.

Non-Profit Organizations

Empowerment through Employment

Laurie Mitchell Employment Center
Alexandria, Virginia

Values at Work: Creating opportunities through training and peer support

Raymond L. Bridge

Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao (right) and ODEP Acting Assistant Secretary Karen M. Czarnecki (left) present a 2007 New Freedom Initiative Award to Raymond L. Bridge, Founder of the Laurie Mitchell Employment Center, Alexandria, VA. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore)

Founded in 1995 by people with mental illness who recognized the need for greater access to vocational services, the Laurie Mitchell Employment Center (LMEC) helps those with mental illness and other disabilities build skills, obtain employment, and achieve independence. It operates as a drop-in center, providing a wide range of employment services, technical training, and peer support programs in partnership with the regional nonprofit Service Source, Inc. All programs and services are free of charge.

Since opening, LMEC has helped nearly 2,500 customers along their chosen career path and directly placed 427 individuals in competitive employment, with salaries ranging from $6.50 to $25 per hour. Recently, more than 80 percent of graduates of an advanced computer course secured employment by the end of their training.

Most of LMEC’s nine full-time staff members are themselves mental health consumers and thus identify with the challenges their customers face in gaining self-confidence, finding work, and managing a career. While delivering services, they share their understanding, offer hope, and serve as role models to others with mental illness during their personal and professional development.

To supplement its small staff, LMEC contracts with qualified individuals to run peer support groups and training courses. Also, LMEC customers are encouraged to contribute to the Center’s ongoing management by serving on its Board of Directors or various committees.

A Recipe for Success

Positive Vibe Café
Richmond, Virginia

Values at Work: Serving skills and experience to the local restaurant community

Garth Larcen

Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao (right) and ODEP Acting Assistant Secretary Karen M. Czarnecki (left) present a 2007 New Freedom Initiative Award to Garth Larcen, (center left) Founder and Owner of the Positive Vibe Café, Richmond, VA. Also pictured is Garth’s son Max, (center right) who was the inspiration for the café. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore)

The Positive Vibe Café is the first community-based effort to offer individuals with disabilities the opportunity to work in the restaurant industry. Since opening its doors in 2005, it has trained more than 150 students and garnered national and international praise for its innovative concepts.

The café was conceived by Garth Larcen and his son Max, who has muscular dystrophy (MD) and had become frustrated searching for employment. To get started, Garth established the Get Lost MD Foundation and began fundraising. After a major retailer gave $10,000, other monetary and in-kind donations followed, including $30,000 in kitchen equipment and $75,000 for heating/air conditioning. The result was a totally accessible restaurant kitchen and serving floor. Local chefs and restaurant professionals helped create the menu and serve as instructors.

The Café’s Basic Food Skills curriculum addresses all aspects of restaurant operations, including communication with the public, kitchen safety, food preparation, dishwashing, and busing and setting tables. Job-search skills such as resume writing and interviewing techniques are also addressed. Based on the program’s success, an Advanced Food Skills course has also been added.

Recent press coverage in The Wall Street Journal and on the CBS Morning Show prompted inquiries from entrepreneurs as far away as New Zealand wanting to start similar operations. Interested parties can now receive the Café’s business plan and training curriculum by donating $5,000 to the Get Lost MD foundation.


A Competitive Edge

The Dow Chemical Company
Midland, Michigan

Values at Work: Delivering on commitment to an inclusive workforce

David E. Kepler

Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao (right) and ODEP Acting Assistant Secretary Karen M. Czarnecki (left) present a 2007 New Freedom Initiative to David E. Kepler, Senior Vice President, Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Information Officer, The Dow Chemical Company. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore)

Through corporate-wide commitment to inclusion of individuals with disabilities, The Dow Chemical Company gains a competitive edge in attracting top talent to its 43,000-strong worldwide workforce. By using cutting-edge technology, a Dow employee who is paralyzed works from a virtual office in Singapore, while a colleague in Brazil who is blind is honored for authoring a Braille computer manual.

The Dow Chemical Company affirms this commitment in its Global Position Statement on People with Disabilities, which declares that people with disabilities are “a unique source of talent who can deliver substantial value to our company, our customers and our communities.” Helping to put this philosophy into practice is Dow’s company-wide Disability Employment Network (DEN), comprised of employees with disabilities, employees parenting a child with a disability, and others interested in advancing disability employment issues.

Dow is also looking ahead to ensure an inclusive future workforce by participating in Disability Mentoring Day and sponsoring the Michigan Youth Leadership Forum, which offers career training for high school students with disabilities. In 2005, the company initiated a program to recruit summer interns with disabilities. It was so successful that Dow expanded the effort by training 30 recruiters, tripling the number of interns, and gaining valuable knowledge with wider application to full-time opportunities throughout the company.

A Fitting Partnership

Gap Inc.
San Francisco, California

Values at Work: Collaborating to build an inventory of skilled candidates

Eva Sage-Gavin

Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao (right) and ODEP Acting Assistant Secretary Karen M. Czarnecki (left) present a 2007 New Freedom Initiative Award to Eva Sage-Gavin, Executive Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Communications, Gap Inc. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore)

Gap Inc. is one of the world’s largest retailers, with more than 3,100 outlets in six countries. Through its charitable arm, the Gap Foundation, the company actively encourages its more than 150,000 employees to contribute their time and talent to community causes of their choice.

Six years ago, an associate manager from New York attended training on the Americans with Disabilities Act sponsored by Abilities, Inc., a nonprofit organization providing job training to people with disabilities. Following the program, she volunteered in the organization’s “Nifty-Thrifty,” a mock store used to train individuals for retail work. Her personal commitment soon grew into a partnership between the Gap and Abilities, Inc., with the retail giant spearheading committees, facilitating practice interviews, and creating curricula—and the services of a cadre of qualified employees for its New York-area stores. Annually, about a third of the program’s trainees are hired by the Gap.

In recognition of her efforts, the Gap Foundation awarded the associate manager the Gap Founder’s Award, which includes a $50,000 donation to her chosen organization and 80 hours of paid time to devote to it. The funds are used to update course content and remodel the Nifty-Thrifty into a state-of-the-art, fully accessible facility modeled on an actual Gap store. Gap Inc. is also implementing a job-shadowing program in 12 stores and its New York corporate office to ensure maximum access to the professional talents available in the disability community.

A Positive Impact

Operation Impact Program
Northrop Grumman Corporation
Los Angeles, California

Values at Work: Supporting those who served the cause of freedom

Karen Stang

Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao (right) and ODEP Acting Assistant Secretary Karen M. Czarnecki (left) present a 2007 New Freedom Initiative to Karen Stang, Operation IMPACT Program Manager, Northrop Grumman Corporation. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore)

Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Operation IMPACT (Injured Military Pursuing Assisted Career Transition) Program provides transition and employment support to returning service members who have been severely injured in the Global War on Terror. Delivering on its motto of “Have jobs waiting for soldiers, not soldiers waiting for jobs,” it identifies career opportunities not only within the worldwide defense and technology company, but also other organizations in need of qualified, committed candidates.

Since its inception, Operation IMPACT has contacted more than 400 injured service members, offering support during their rehabilitation and recovery and maintaining communication until they are ready to enter the workforce. Currently the program actively works with more than 75 job-ready individuals and another eight who are awaiting medical release from the military. So far, the company has made 15 job offers, 11 of which were accepted. The program also provides support to returning service members’ primary wage earners, placing some in jobs within the organization.

To ensure commitment to the concept company-wide, Operation IMPACT has program champions in each of Northrop Grumman’s eight sectors. In addition to identifying job opportunities, these individuals advise on accommodations and training needs, facilitate transition, and mentor new hires. They also assist in outreach through presentations to more than 100 audiences on the value of supporting those who have sacrificed to serve our country.

Secretary of Labor’s SPIRIT Award

Out of Adversity a Mission of Healing Grows

The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis
Marc A. Buoniconti
Miami, Florida

Values at Work: Making a difference for those with spinal cord injuries

2007 Spirit Award winner Marc Buoniconti

Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao (right) presents Marc A. Buoniconti (center) with the Secretary's SPIRIT Award at this year's NFI Awards. Pictured at left is Marc's mother, Terry. (DOL Photo/Shawn Moore)

The inspiration for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis began in 1985 when Marc Buoniconti suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. In that moment, he joined those who know the devastation of such injuries, and his struggle to recover led Marc’s father, NFL Hall of fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti, and Dr. Barth A. Green to found the Miami Project.

Since then, the Project has become the world’s largest and most comprehensive spinal cord injury center. With over 200 doctors, scientists and clinicians, the Project has made unparalleled and spectacular findings in its cutting edge research, and generated hope for millions of people worldwide paralyzed by spinal cord injury. The Project is renowned for pursuing a revolutionary strategy of gathering together the finest minds in neuroscience in an all-out assault on spinal cord injuries and promoting the kind of intensive collaboration between the scientific and clinical communities which holds the best prospect for new and effective treatments.

Committed to finding a cure and seeing millions worldwide walk again, Marc Buoniconti serves as Ambassador for The Miami Project and conducts a rigorous campaign to ensure that this important work is seen clearly and positively by an ever-increasing public. In its crusade to understand and eliminate paralysis, the Miami Project gave Marc and so many others the promise of someday unlocking the secrets of spinal cord repair and regeneration – and hope for a better future.

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