The will to work

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.

As a

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

normal duties.

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.


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