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Winners of Michigan Rehabilitation Champion Awards recognized

One person honored was Rita Keilholtz, who works at the Superior Alliance for Independent Living, in Marquette.
One person honored was Rita Keilholtz, who works at the Superior Alliance for Independent...
One person honored was Rita Keilholtz, who works at the Superior Alliance for Independent Living, in Marquette.(Superior Alliance for Independent Living)
Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 5:50 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) - Eleven individuals and organizations were recognized during Wednesday’s annual Champion Awards ceremony for their outstanding commitment to Michigan’s public vocational rehabilitation programs for people with disabilities.

Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS), within the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Employment and Training, collaborated with the Michigan Council for Rehabilitation Services to recognize employers, partners and customers. MRS presented its 12th annual Champion Awards during a virtual event on Wednesday.

“Today’s award recipients are shining examples of those who contribute to ensuring all Michiganders have exceptional opportunities to have a great job, earn a livable wage, and contribute to our state,” said Stephanie Beckhorn, Director of LEO’s Office of Employment and Training. “The successes shared today are just some of the thousands of stories that could be told about Michigan’s vocational rehabilitation programs and their outcomes.”

MRS offices around the state nominated champion candidates. The consistent theme from those nominated was demonstration of the value of hiring and retaining vocational rehabilitation customers.

The event was part of Investing in Abilities Month in October, as proclaimed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to encourage employers to hire qualified people with disabilities while focusing on their abilities. This year’s event also helped mark the 100-year anniversary of federally-funded vocational rehabilitation programs and the 30-year anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Awards were presented in the following categories.

Customers (including youth) who are motivated and committed to finding and keeping jobs:

  • Robert Gurley of Detroit who was a diligent student while participating in the advanced Soft Skills and Job Club with Disability Network Wayne County-Detroit and has become a part-time employee of the Disability Network.
  • Austin Gonda of North Branch who received Pre-Employment Transition Services and participated in a work-based learning program in Lapeer County. Austin is now employed full-time with a local construction business.
  • Emily Sare of Kalamazoo who completed the Pharmacy Technician training program at the Michigan Career and Technical Institute and now works at Family Health Center.
  • Joseph Samona of San Antonio, Texas who has not let his hearing loss deter him from pursuing his dream of becoming a dentist. Joseph graduated from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in 2020 and is completing a one-year residency at the University of Texas in San Antonio.

Business partners from large businesses that are working in innovative ways with MRS and its customers:

  • Dean Transportation, Lansing and statewide
  • Joe Coeling, Michigan Dining: University of Michigan of Ann Arbor

Business partners from small businesses that are working in innovative ways with MRS and its customers:

  • Juston Oswald, Ozzie’s Quick Lube of St. Charles
  • Lumbermen’s of Grand Rapids

Community partners who have demonstrated a strong commitment to empowering individuals with disabilities to take charge of their futures:

  • Misty Shulters, Michigan Works! Southeast Lenawee County of Adrian
  • Rita Keilholtz, Superior Alliance for Independent Living of Marquette

Statewide Community Partner who has demonstrated a strong commitment to empower individuals with disabilities to take charge of their futures:

  • Clydene Stangvik and Patrick Romzek, Cisco Networking Academy of Northville

MRS assists persons with disabilities to achieve competitive employment and self-sufficiency. For more information on Michigan Rehabilitation Services, visit Michigan.gov/MRS.

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