By Joel Hall
WORKTEC, the county's central resource for helping disabled individuals find, and maintain employment, helped 304 people with disabilities get jobs this year.
On Tuesday, the agency highlighted the success of several of its participants, as well as businesses, for their work in the area of keeping disabled individuals gainfully employed.
The WORKTEC celebration was held at the Clayton County Public Schools (CCPS) Professional Learning Center. Hundreds attended the event, which featured several celebrities, including CCPS superintendent John Thompson, and Terance Mathis, a former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver.
Dorothy Cochran, director of WORKTEC, said the celebration marks the ninth time the annual observance has been in October, which is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. She believes the event is an "opportunity to make the community more aware of the employment needs of people with disabilities.
"It's estimated that over 70 percent of adults with severe disabilities, and 50 percent of individuals with less severe challenges, who desire to be employed, are under, or unemployed," said Cochran. "We're highlighting employers, community partners, and community supporters who assist us in our mission of providing assistance to people with disabilities in finding employment.
"Frequently people whom we work with are not able to transfer skills, so it is very important for them to have real life work skills," Cochran continued. Several businesses were honored for giving disabled individuals those opportunities. They included Quiznos Restaurant of Griffin, Steak and Shake Restaurant in Morrow, Oglevee Ltd., the Clayton County Headquarters Library, Toys R Us of Morrow, and Walgreens on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro.
John Hurt, owner and operator of 14 McDonald's restaurants in the metro Atlanta area, was honored with WORKTEC's most prestigious award, the Starr Award. The award, named after former State Senator Terrell A. Starr, is given to people who display an extreme desire to keep the disabled employed.
For several years, Hurt has kept anywhere from 12-20 disabled people employed in his restaurants. He has also offered several of his restaurants as on-site training facilities for WORKTEC participants making a transition into the workforce.
Hurt said the awards celebration demonstrates that even with challenges, people who work hard and persevere can succeed at life.
"A lot of young people don't understand the value of employment and they take it for granted," said Hurt. "This awards program exemplifies the value of employment."
Mathis, despite growing up with asthma and being shorter than many of the players on the field, still holds records for the Atlanta Falcons franchise in career receptions, touchdown receptions, and receiving yards -- six years after his retirement.
Mathis told participants to not let challenges prevent them from achieving their dreams.
"I played more plays than any receiver to play for the Atlanta Falcons," said Mathis. "All this is from a guy who was too small, too slow to play. I may have not been the strongest or the fastest person on the field, but I was the smartest person on the field because I knew my business.
"You can be whatever you want to be, no matter how young or old," added Mathis. "Reach for the moon, and if you fall short, you will still be among the stars."