KAPA’A – Laura Miyashiro smiled from behind a stack of clothing as her fingers
nimbly worked their way through the tagging process. Hard at work at her
station at Pono Cleaners, Miyashiro was about to be rewarded for something more
than her work performance.
“Laura’s driving force to overcome multiple
barriers to gain employment earned her recognition as Kaua’i’s 1999
Rehabilitant of the Year,” said Neil Shim of the state Department of Human
Resources, Vocational Rehabilitation Division.
Shim and Brenda Viado, also
of the Vocational Rehabilitation Division, were on Kaua’i earlier this week to
honor Miyashiro and Pono Cleaners owner, Lincoln Uegawa, who was named employer
of the year for the rehabilitation program.
The occasion was attended by
State Rep. Ezra Kanoho, Dave Jordan of Friendship House, Uegawa and
Miyashiro became a client of the Kaua’i Community Mental Health
Center in 1968 after being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder including
delusional and auditory hallucinations.
While being treated, Miyashiro
experienced side effects from her medication characterized by involuntary
facial and body movements.
Working with Friendship House, the Kaua’i
Community Mental Health Center, and her family, Miyashiro’s Vocational
Rehabilitation Counselor Layne Shigeta helped gain appropriate services for
Laura so she could attain her vocational goal of employment.
participant of the Friendship House Transitional Employment Program, Miyashiro
secured a part-time position at the YWCA, and then at the Kapa’a Big
The Vocational Rehabilitation Division provided Miyashiro with
appropriate clothing and shoes while closely overseeing her progress. Dave
Jordon and the Friendship House staff provided job coaching and
Miyashiro’s employers were impressed by her commitment to her
job as well as her initiative to seek additional responsibilities beyond her
It was this spirit that earned Miyashiro skills in a
variety of areas including vocational, interpersonal, and independent living,
and by February, 1999, Miyashiro was a candidate for permanent
Uegawa had already contacted the VR office about openings in
his dry cleaning operation, and Miyashiro was hired as a tagger whose
responsibility included inputting information in a computer to produce tags for
items to be cleaned.
Support for Miyashiro did not end with her crossing
the threshold of Pono Cleaners as Friendship House. VR counselors continued to
provide support services as Miyashiro continued to impress Uegawa to the point
where she became a full-time employee with full benefits.
She continues to
be an active member of Friendship House, and works to educate the community
about mental illness.
In presenting Uegawa with the program’s Employer of
the Year award, Viado noted that Pono Cleaners took the initiative and
contacted RV with employment possibilities.
The mission of the RV Program
is to assist persons with disabilities into employment. To this end, Shim
explained that in the 1999 fiscal year, the state agency placed some 538 people
into the workforce.
Of this, 86 percent of the clients were placed in
competitive jobs, and 40 percent, or 213 clients, were suffering from severe
Additionally, 174, or 32 percent, were receiving Public
Assistance prior to their rehabilitation.
VR counselors help clients
develop “Individualized Plans for Employment” that help the client meet their
needs. These may include, but are not limited to, vocational assessments,
diagnosis and treatment of impairments, vocational counseling and guidance,
rehabilitation technology services, supported employment, vocational and other
training, job placement, and follow up.
A report prepared by the VR Program
staff notes that the program received 2,350 new referrals in 1999 and served
6,630 citizens with disabilities statewide.
The report cites that VR
services increased the annual earning power of its clients from an average of
$1,820 prior to the client receiving services to an average of $13,728 after
going through the program.