Before Michelle Katagiri-Mena moved to Orange County, most of the people who worked with her had no idea how much she could accomplish if she were simply given an opportunity. Working in a sheltered workshop, she performed piecework that was not challenging for her and earned around 90 cents an hour. Today, the vibrant 23-year-old is employed by CHOC Children's, where she earns $15 an hour and is a valued and respected member of the food services department on the main hospital campus in Orange.
The turning point for Michelle, who has autism, was her participation in the Gillman Project SEARCH internship program at CHOC, which gives young adults with developmental disabilities the opportunity to intern in various hospital departments to gain valuable work experience. Her Regional Center of Orange County service coordinator spotted her potential soon after she began receiving services through RCOC and suggested she apply. After the internship, Michelle was hired by CHOC, where she continues to receive RCOC-funded support from a job coach with Integrated Resources Institute.
"In honor of October's National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we want employers to know more about the benefits of hiring the people we serve," said RCOC's Executive Director Larry Landauer. "Michelle's story illustrates how, with the right coaching, many people with developmental disabilities can work effectively side-by-side with typical employees, and truly enhance the workplace."