On-the-Job Training Leads to Success

Chris Giuffrida photo

St. Petersburg, FL Chris Giuffrida is thrilled to be working as a law clerk. The young man who has spina bifida and uses leg braces answers the phone, makes copies, files, delivers the mail, and does anything else that is needed to help make the attorneys' jobs at the Law Firm of James E. Hack a little easier. It was a long road to employment through the Pinellas County School System and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), but it was definitely worth it.

Chris first learned about VR and how they help people with disabilities find employment when VR Counselor Carol Weinberg visited his high school. Carol worked with Chris, offering counseling and guidance to help Chris develop and reach his career goals.

After he graduated from high school, Chris joined the extended transition program at the Pinellas Technical Education Center. During this time, Carol paired him with Job Coach Christy Brown, who began a full-fledged search to help Chris find the right job. "He had a little bit of trouble finding the right fit," says Carol. "But he's matured quite a bit during the last year and a half."

Law Clerk seemed to be the best type of job for Chris' interests and skills, but no one was hiring. They were not deterred. Christy decided that Chris would be a good candidate for VR's On-the-Job Training program, and Carol agreed. With the On-the-Job Training program, VR reimburses employers for the trainee's salary, training costs, and any accommodations needed. It's a win-win situation for both the business owner and the employee. Christy knew that if Chris could get some of the skills training he lacked, he would be a welcome addition to any company's staff.

The Law Office of James E. Hack agreed to give Chris a chance, so last fall he began his on-the-job training as a law clerk. Carol saw a major improvement in Chris during his training period. "He did very well. It was a good fit for him, and they really improved his self-esteem. He became more confident and became aware of the fact that 'I really can work,'" says Carol.

Chris made such a lasting impression with the firm they hired him as a part time clerk after he completed his training in December. His supervisor, Amber Kotowski, is pleased with Chris' progress. "He's always here and with a smile on his face," she says. "He's willing to do anything that's asked of him, and he gets it done in a timely manner."

Chris enjoys his job and hopes to continue working for the firm for a long time. "Hopefully, down the line, the company will get bigger and I can work more hours," he says. He thinks very highly of Carol and Christy. "If anyone ever needs a VR person, I would recommend Carol," says Chris. And, "Christy was always there for me if I had any questions about my job. She always kept me on my toes."

The law firm did not need to make any accommodations for Chris. "He does his job so well," says Amber. "Chris' disability has not been a factor in his employment at all." Many employers are unaware that most job accommodations for individuals with disabilities cost less than $500, with the majority being free.

For Amber, working with Chris through training and now employment has been a very fulfilling experience. "He loves working here, and we love having him. It's been a special experience participating in VR's On-the-Job Training program." Chris definitely agrees.

Florida's Vocational Rehabilitation program is committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America's workforce. Our employer-focused website, FLJobConnections.com, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 111 offices across Florida, and last year helped 3,874 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit Rehabworks.org.