Ivymount Recognizes PAHO with Award

Ivymount Recognizes PAHO with Business Partner of the Year
Posted on 10/22/2019

When parent Maristela Monteiro saw a flyer about Ivymount School needing businesses to host students for work experience, she thought, “Why not my workplace?” That was the beginning of a project that has turned into a five-year partnership between Ivymount and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Monteiro, whose son was an Ivymount student, recognizes the barriers that persons with disabilities face in finding and maintaining employment: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an adult with a disability is twice as likely to be unemployed as a person without a disability. Working at an organization focused on public health and human rights, she saw an opportunity to embody PAHO’s mission by advancing inclusion. “I think the Ivymount students bring a new perspective on the need for tolerance and flexibility - that everybody has a talent and that we should value and build on what they can do,” says Monteiro.

As part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), Ivymount recognized PAHO with a Business Partner of the Year award at its annual School to Work Breakfast. Since Monteiro first asked how PAHO could get involved, 16 Ivymount students have earned valuable real-world work experience at the international public health agency, which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). The partnership began with three students from the Autism and School to Work Post High School programs working in two departments, two days a week, and has evolved to four full-year placements in departments across both PAHO locations.

Students perform a variety of office tasks, including: entering data in Excel files, preparing directories and lists of event participants, web searches using key words for research papers, creating power point presentations, assembling folders for meetings of 10 to 100 people, preparing USBs for distribution, and organizing publications from different partners for distribution.

Monteiro says the work provides recognizable value to the organization. “They are doing the tasks that are often done at the last minute when we’re preparing for important events, or where people would have to stay overtime to get it done.  For example, they’ve organized materials that for years could not be addressed for lack of time.”

PAHO is now involving Ivymount students in the planning and execution of a video series that will address access to healthcare of people with special needs. “We’re asking them what their own experiences have been and what is helpful to inform primary health care professionals,” says Monteiro. “We recognize a big barrier can be the stigma around physical and developmental disabilities.” 

Another Step towards Inclusion

Overcoming misconceptions and fostering understanding has been a rewarding outcome of the Ivymount-PAHO partnership. In addition to being a job training site, PAHO has provided Ivymount’s student-run businesses a venue for occasionally selling student-made products such as soap and room scents. “We emphasize that this is not only an enterprise, but a way to build work and social skills. We have dozens and dozens of people who come down and they interact and talk with the students,” says Monteiro. “I think this shows a change in thinking from sympathy to recognizing how they contribute.”

Echoing the 2019 NDEAM theme #RightTalentRightNow, Monteiro encourages other organizations and businesses to consider creating work opportunities for individuals with different abilities. “From my experience at PAHO, everybody learns something, the staff feels good, and students are very helpful. Don’t wait!”

PAHO and Ivymount collaborated on a video, which was shared with WHO headquarters in Geneva. The response was so positive, that the video is now part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and a WHO best practice in training for equality and inclusion.Watch it here.