As businessman Jim Click finished a spirited conversation with a young, disabled man at the DREAM Job Fair on Wednesday morning, he shook his hand, and turned away with tears in his eyes.
“I just get emotional,” said Click, the owner of the 47th largest car dealer chain in the United States.
As one of about 35 business representatives attending the job fair at the Hotel Tucson City Center last week, Click wasn’t alone in seeing the value the annual event brings to disabled jobseekers each October.
In its third year of operation, the DREAM (Disability & Rehabilitation Employment Awareness Month) organization is made up of 12 co-sponsoring agencies that come together each year to ensure job opportunities for Arizona’s disabled population – 35,000 of which live in Tucson and suffer a 70-percent unemployment rate.
“It’s a huge number,” said Patrick McCarthy, director of development and communication with the Beacon Group, one of the organizations to co-found DREAM. “Not all of them can work or want to work, but thousands of them do.”
And those that do, tend to make excellent employees, McCarthy says.
“They are ready, able, and willing to work, and they have the characteristics that employers are looking for,” he said.
Ethan Orr, District 9 House Representative and Executive Director of Linkages, a co-founding partner of DREAM, echoed that sentiment, citing one experience in particular.
“I had a young man who came to me, and he said, ‘I will do anything. I will show up early, I’ll stay late,’ and he ended up employee of the year at JW Marriot,” said Orr.
Orr said he expects the event, which as of this year also runs in Phoenix, Flagstaff, Yuma, Bullhead City, Cottonwood, and Casa Grande, to contribute to 900 job placements for disabled jobseekers.
About 350 jobseekers attended this year’s DREAM Job Fair, which was co-chaired by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, her husband Mark Kelly, and current U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, D – Ariz.
The range of disabilities the jobseekers have varies from such issues as deafness, blindness, mobility problems, or issues with emotional or learning developments.
One of those job seekers was Kyle, a 24-year-old with a visual impairment that requires him to walk with a white cane. He has struggled to find employment after graduating from the University of Arizona with a business degree.
“This is really helpful, just because of all the options,” he said. “It’s been hard, but with things like this, I think I will find some new possibilities and find a job… lots of support here.”
That support comes in several forms, with employers and members of DREAM offering not just job leads, but aid with interviews as well as on-the-job training.
Regardless of the type of disability one may have, there is a job for just about anyone who steps foot into a DREAM job fair.
For example, Click, who has about 40-45 disabled individuals working for him, employs a blind switchboard operator.
“Don’t ask me how she does it, but she does it well,” said Click.
Another employee that worked for Click as a body shop mechanic broke his neck in a touch football game. After rehabilitation, he returned to college and received an accounting degree. But, due to some lasting effects from the injury, he struggled to find work in a major accounting firm.
So, Click found him a spot.
“Today, he is my Chief Financial Officer, making over $100,000 a year,” said Click.
When asked why it’s important to act as an employment advocate for people with disabilities, Click’s answer was simple.
“They have ability,” he said. “And I have a heart.”
The 12 co-sponsors of this year’s DREAM event include: Beacon Group, Goodwill, DK Advocates, Linkages, Community Partnership for Southern Arizona, the Division of Developmental Disabilities, Rehabilitations Services Administration, Easter Seal/Blake Foundation, Direct Center for Independence, Pima County One Stop Career Center, Tucson Metro Chamber, and the Centers for Habilitation.
More information, including a full list of participating businesses can be viewed at www.dreamjobfair.org.