On Wednesday, Mayor Randy Rowse recognized the Santa Barbara City College Foundation, Maximus, Smart & Final Extra!, and Kyle’s Kitchen for their contributions to employment for people living with disabilities in Santa Barbara. The annual awards are held during National Disability Employment Awareness Month every October. This was Mayor Rowse’s first Mayor’s Awards, and the first in-person awards ceremony since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The theme of this year’s event was “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation,” recognizing the vital role people with disabilities play in making the nation’s workforce diverse and inclusive. The keynote speaker at this year’s event was Sophia Lee-Park, a lifelong disability advocate and community engagement intern at Isla Vista Community Services District. Ms. Lee-Park spoke about the importance of accessible institutions, and invited attendees to rethink how they view people who live with disabilities.
Santa Barbara City College Foundation won this year’s Non-Profit Award for providing educational access to many students who live with disability in Santa Barbara. Through its Promise program, SBCC Foundation provides tuition, books and supplies to more than 6,000 graduates of local high schools, including many who live with a disability. The SBCC Foundation provides accommodations to SBCC Promise Students with disabilities to learn at their own pace with a reduced or modified workload. It also provides scholarships for students to attend Santa Barbara City College’s Disability Services and Programs, which teach invaluable job and life skills for students with disabilities. In his acceptance remarks, SBCC Foundation CEO Geoff Green emphasized the vital role SBCC Foundation plays in the lives of Santa Barbarians of all ages and the important work SBCC’s Disability Services and Programs for Students plays in the lives of people who live with disability.
Maximus won the Design/Accessibility award for creating their DiversABILITY Team to help job seekers who live with disability by connecting them with remote work opportunities. The DiverseABILITY Team at Maximus is a specialized unit whose singular efforts are to support individuals with disabilities, veterans, and veterans with disabilities into employment. Through partnerships with the Santa Barbara Department of Rehabilitation office and vocational rehabilitation offices around the United States, Maximus has empowered its counselors to submit individuals with disabilities and veteran candidates directly into the interview pipeline. Melissa Janowski, Shavonda Perry, Angela Gilliam, and Carlos Reales accepted the award, and each spoke to Maximus’ continuing commitment to accommodating people living with disability in their workforce, as well as how the ability to work remotely can make a huge difference for people living with disability and their caregivers.
Smart and Final Extra! at Five Points Shopping Center was awarded the Outstanding Effort Award for their concerted efforts employing people living with disability since it opened in 2016. At Smart & Final Extra!, this commitment is evident through the store’s diverse staff, which includes seven employees living with an intellectual or developmental disability. The store’s management devotes time and effort to accommodate these employees while working to make their teams more inclusive. Store Manager Amanda Valenzuela accepted the award and shared thanks for her employees and community partners for being a part of Smart & Final’s diversity mission. She also partially attributed the success of the store to their focus on nourishing the Santa Barbara community by focusing on employee diversity.
Kyle’s Kitchen was the winner of the Employment/Accommodation Award for creating employment opportunities for people who live with intellectual or developmental disabilities, as well as for their extensive charitable giving to disability causes. Inspired by their son Kyle, the Ferro Family opened its first location in 2015 with the goal of creating a business that could also help people with disabilities reach their potential. Each month, Kyle’s Kitchen donates a portion of proceeds to an organization that supports people with disabilities, totaling more than $250,000. In 2021, Kyle’s Kitchen created a new position tailored to the talents of job seekers who live with disability. Kyle’s staff provided several months of training and mentorship for every one of their employees living with disability. Kyle’s Kitchen has given a job opportunity for six people who live with disability in the last year, and look forward to providing more in the future. Kyle and Jay Ferro accepted the award, with Kyle thanking the attendees for coming and Jay remarking on how personally meaningful it has been for him to use his business to benefit the Santa Barbara community.
This year’s event organizers include representatives from each of the following organizations: California Department of Rehabilitation, City of Santa Barbara, Tri-Counties Regional Center, Independent Living Resource Center, Santa Barbara Unified School District Bridges TPP, Jodi House Brain Injury Support Center, County of Santa Barbara Workforce Development Board, Santa Barbara City College, Momentum WORK, Inc., and PathPoint; and community volunteers Pamela Gunther and Julie Holmes. A special thanks to Vons-Albertsons-Pavilions for providing florals and food, and the Santa Barbara EAC for providing funding for supplies.