Community Grants Q&A with DMF Employment Opportunities

This year, our revised Community Grants program will invest in local opportunities for change and people-led progress. We were inspired to reimagine our work by our many local partners who are already focused on building the Greater Miami they believe in.

With their focus on abilities rather than limitations, DMF Employment Opportunities is one such partner working to establish models for inclusive employment. A 2020 Community Grants recipient through the “Inclusion of People with Diverse Abilities” category, the local nonprofit helps secure competitive employment for people with disabilities and trains local business champions. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the grant they received made it possible to provide uninterrupted virtual support for participating young adults with disabilities. DMF quickly pivoted to provide its job training and life skills programs virtually so participants could continue to develop employable qualifications. Two participants even tapped into their writing skills and published a book!

We connected with Natalie Roque Sanchez, operations manager at DMF, about the value of inclusive employment and how community recovery efforts can include competitive opportunities for all residents.


What does your organization seek to achieve for Miami, and how?

DMF Employment Opportunities strives to increase community inclusion of individuals with unique abilities by increasing awareness and visibility of the ability, not the disability. Because of a lack of knowledge, employers oftentimes perceive training costs and the need for accommodations as barriers to employment. Our goal is to break down those barriers and preconceived notions to decrease the unemployment rate.


How is your organization creating systemic change? 
We are creating systemic change by fostering equitable employment opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities. Promoting inclusion, increasing awareness and expanding integration into the workforce is the pebble cast into the pond that sends ripples throughout our community to embrace different abilities. We are fortunate to have more than 50 employer partners who are critical in this work – after we train them and support effective employees in their businesses, the employers often become advocates for inclusive employment too! We continue to recruit new employer partners who recognize the abilities of our young adults and know that employment is crucial for every Miami resident to gain independence and lead fulfilling lives.


What was the most important thing you learned in 2020, and how will that guide your organization’s work moving forward?  

The most important thing we learned in 2020 is the need to increase the accessibility of virtual technology. By leveraging tools such as Google Classroom to create DMF Stay Connected and the DMF Academy, the organization was able to keep participants with unique abilities engaged and active through online learning. This allowed participants to gain new job and life skills while preventing isolation and promoting mental wellness. Moving forward, we will continue offering virtual services in conjunction with face-to-face support to increase the number of participants we connect with and serve.


In 2021, Miami will chart a path toward an equitable, just recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. What will you be working to see included in recovery efforts to ensure that our community builds back stronger?

People with developmental disabilities form one of the largest minority groups, but they are often forgotten, so we will be working to ensure that they are no longer left behind. The path toward an equitable and just recovery effort must include creative and innovative employment for all. We will be working to improve support for remote employment and entrepreneurship – for example, two young adults with autism who participate in our program recently wrote and illustrated the book “The Epic Adventures of Super Alexander” that is now sold on Amazon. This year, we are hoping to be brave like Super Alexander and build our community back stronger by ensuring the inclusion of all individuals with disabilities.


Valerie Crum is the programs officer at The Miami Foundation.

Pictured: DMF Employment Opportunities uses a model of on-going support to foster a platform encouraging long-term meaningful employment for young adults with unique abilities.

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