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rod, job coach, working with a resident

Meet Our Volunteers: Rod

Rod Gardner (pictured right) has been volunteering as Friedman Place’s job coach for over one year. Part of Rod’s inspiration to volunteer at Friedman Place stemmed from his relationship with a family friend who was blind. He recalled the successes and the struggles of his friend and hopes to provide Friedman Place residents with opportunities to succeed in gaining work by teaching them how to find work and keep it. He also has worked as a job coach for people with disabilities other than blindness, and when he discovered Friedman Place in his old neighborhood it seemed like a great fit for him.

He offers his expertise in job coaching and job placement services to residents on Mondays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., even though most residents make appointments he occasionally has time to accommodate a drop-in visit. He works with four residents each day. He helps build their resumes, assists in their job searches and teaches them how to conduct searches independently. Rod first learns about residents’ abilities and desires and then works with residents to find a paid or volunteer job. Once Rod gets to know a resident better he incorporates role playing in order to hone residents’ interviewing skills. Rod also helps settle down first-day jitters and provides advice on how to communicate issues that arise with employers or co-workers.

Rod’s many years of experience in the job placement and job readiness field for people with disabilities made him well aware of the challenges that employers imagine when considering hiring someone with a disability. Despite his experience helping other job seekers with disabilities, he was surprised by the extreme bias employers had toward applicants who are blind or have severe visual impairment. Rod’s firsthand experience of the difficulty for those living with blindness to find work makes the incredulous statistic of 70% unemployment nationally for people who are blind or visually impaired very believable.

“Employers don’t think people who are blind can work or be productive, it’s very sad,” Rod said. However, this bias makes him even more determined to succeed. Rod has faced these challenges and has had success partnering with other nonprofits, faith-based organizations and corporations that have provided Friedman Place residents with volunteer and paying jobs.

In fact one resident, a man in his fifties, is doing very well at his volunteer position. He attributes some of this success to getting his foot in the door thanks to Rod, his hard work and determination, and having someone to help him talk through sticky situations at work. This has provided the resident with enough self-confidence to ask his boss for a paid position.

Rod has been a member of the surrounding communities of Lincoln Square and Edgewater, although he currently resides in Evanston with his wife and two cats. They enjoy exercise, music and listening to old CDs, cassettes and vinyl records together.

If anyone can connect Friedman Place with organizations or corporations that would be willing to work with Rod to explore the possibility of paid or volunteer positions for our residents, please contact:

Christian Zapata (Tony), social services supervisor; Christian@friedmanplace.org or call 773-998-9800 x 1102.

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