Mandy Cook : Effingham’s Employment Specialist with CCDS

story by Katrice Williams     photos by Shelia Scott

The Coastal Center for Developmental Services (CCDS) is a non-profit, 501 (c) (3) organization that “provides employment-related services, training and community integration opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities.” While Savannah is home to the primary branch office, the organization’s Effingham presence has certainly grown over the years. Established in 1951, CCDS has assisted countless individuals on their “road to independence.” Understanding that multiple thousands of Georgians, alone, have various developmental disabilities, CCDS knows that individuals should have the right and opportunity to live the significant and purposeful lives that they deserve, as every person deserves the ability to be a functioning member of society.

     An ongoing and critical goal of the organization is to partner with employers to show them, first-hand, that CCDS candidates can positively contribute to the overall success of their businesses. Utterly, the organization’s overall objective is to “train and place individuals with developmental disabilities with community wide jobs.” CCDS has firmly established impartial and merit-based standards, as each employee’s professional credibility is based on what they are able to contribute to their company, dismissing notions that “sympathy or empathy-based” employment decisions are expected or acceptable. The company is driven to make visible the reality that it is needed, no, imperative, to “focus on the ability rather than the disability.”

     For their community partners, CCDS provides pre-screened applicants who are ready and willing to work hard. The organization offers “customized job placement,” insuring that every employee has the necessary qualifications and is a proper fit for their potential position. Further, CCDS provides ongoing prevocational training for employees to prepare them for work; individuals can receive training in catering, promotional printing or warehousing and electronics. This allows for beneficial onsite training prior to going into the workplace.

     Dr. Ken Boyd, originally from Philadelphia, has lived in Effingham for a long time. Though he has been affiliated with CCDS for over 10 years as an active board member, Ken has been the executive director for the organization in Savannah for over a year. He believes strongly in what CCDS stands for and what is being done for those deemed developmentally disabled.

     “What we can offer to the community is a population of people that is extremely motivated and highly trained to go to work,” Ken said.

     Ken knows the notable work ethic of the individuals that his organization trains, when given the same opportunity as everyone else to demonstrate their abilities.

     He declares, “Give someone with a developmental disability a chance, and they’ll show you they’re great.”

     Ken explains that the organization is set to take on a new name in February—one more adequately representative of the diverse, qualified and talented group of individuals they represent. The new name, EmployAbility, does just that. It is all about “getting people employed and maximizing their abilities to do certain things.”

     Ken aspires to eventually see all businesses within surrounding communities with “an integrated mix of workers.”

Further, the organization takes pride in their continuous follow-up services, allowing them to be aware of current conditions after placement. Besides prevocational training, which helps bring out the skills that individuals need to possess a successful career, CCDS offers a day habilitation program, day-hab, for those who may not be as independent; whether physical and occupational therapy assistance or other self-help initiatives, day-hab helps individuals attain the resources that will address their particular needs. Health services are also available to make sure that employees have care when needed. Additionally, CCDS provides transportation for employees with onsite jobs, or those provided directly by the organization.

     Mandy Cooke has lived in Effingham for some time now, along with her husband Jeff and four children. Actually, Mandy, who adores Effingham, is proud of her community and wants to see it continue to thrive. “I love the community; I love the feel of Effingham,” she stated.

     Mandy is an employment specialist with CCDS; she began her career with the organization in 1996. After investing many years, she took some much-treasured time off to be a stay-at-home mom for her family; Mandy then returned in 2010, aspiring to help CCDS develop and service the Effingham community. She loves what she does and knows that it makes a big difference and adds tremendous value to the lives of others.

     Mandy comments, “I love to see individuals who are labeled ‘developmentally disabled’ take the disability and turn it into an ability; I get more joy out of that than anything. It’s not a job to me; it’s something I do. I love my people.”

     As an employment specialist, Mandy helps individuals with community integration through job training. She visits each business partner to find out what their needs are, then evaluates the individual’s abilities and strengths to match them properly. She, too, helps them through the application and interview process. Upon starting their first day on the job, she is there to provide job coaching to “help them train for the job.” After an employee has become comfortable and competent within their position, Mandy begins the process of “fading out,” where she no longer visits their job site on a consistent basis. She visits twice each month and provides ongoing support. Hence, she insures that there is “always a presence,” which keeps both the employee and business in mind.

     Mandy explains that there are several ways that CCDS identifies individuals that may greatly benefit from their assistance. One of the biggest ways is through Project Search, “a high school transition program for adults with developmental disabilities.” The program helps individuals “discover their capabilities” through “workplace immersion, classroom instruction, career exploration and job skills training” in order to gain good employment. Both Effingham Hospital and the Effingham Board of Education participate in Project Search.

     Mandy appreciates her employee partners in Effingham and knows that much of the program’s success is attributed to their support. Some include: Rincon Transmission, Edward’s Interiors, Effingham Hospital, Effingham Board of Education, Ebenezer Retreat, YMCA, Wiley’s, Harvey’s, Chevron and Arby’s, to name a few.

     “Effingham has been very accepting. We’re educating people and bringing our community together, breaking down the walls…the barriers,” she affirms.

     Because they are so driven to overcome the barriers and stereotypes in society, individuals with development disabilities often do exceptionally well on the job. Most want the opportunity to show that they are responsible citizens with worthwhile contributions to make to businesses.

     “Our individuals help bring out productivity and the bottom line in a lot of businesses, because they are so focused. Our safety ratings are outstanding,” she mentioned.

     Mandy knows that the independence that CCDS provides for individuals is truly “amazing.” Her major goal is “to get everybody to be included” and feels that there are countless ways that businesses and the overall community can get involved.

     She states, “I want every business here in Effingham to somehow, whether it’s hiring an individual, donating or volunteering to get involved with CCDS.”

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