United to make occupational diplomas a positive reality - Experts gathered Tuesday in Lawrenceburg to gather information on the needs and expectations of employers who have potential work for the developmentally challenged. Pictured left to right are: Loria Richardson, The Arc of TN; Elizabeth Hill and Sarah Harvey with Tennessee Works at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities; Carrie Hobbs Guiden, Executive Director of the Arc; Abigail, Lesa, and Tommy Lee Kidd of Lawrenceburg; State Senator Joey Hensley of Hohenwald and State Representative Barry Doss of Lawrenceburg. –HoJo Photo
Experts look to Lawrence employers for advice on implementation of new Occupation Diploma law
Lawrence County employers were among the first to help shape the curriculum for a new Occupational Diploma for the developmentally disabled. The first of six statewide meetings between potential employers and statewide agencies, prestigious experts and policy makers in the field was held right here in Lawrenceburg last Tuesday at the First Baptist Christian Life Center.
As of 2013, Occupational Diplomas are the law in Tennessee. A task force including those in education, related state agencies, and members of service provider fields has been tasked with gathering facts and working out the details for the curriculum required to receive an Occupational Diploma and reporting back to the State Board of Education.
The other five meetings are to be held over the coming weeks in Chattanooga, Jackson, Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis – the usual suspects when it comes to statewide fact-finding missions. So why is Lawrenceburg first or at all? Look no further than the dedicated efforts of Lawrence County’s Tommy Lee Kidd, a member and legislative chairman of the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities (TCODD). Kidd and his wife Lesa, proud parents of daughter Abigail, born with Down Syndrome in 2000, are tireless advocates for the developmentally challenged. Kidd was among those who first advocated the idea of Occupational Diplomas.
“Of course I thought of the Kidds and Lawrenceburg for the first meeting,” said Carrie Hobbs Guiden, meeting leader and State Director of The Arc of Tennessee, an organization dedicated to making the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities better.
“After the successful Community Conversation event he put together here last year, I knew he would turn out the potential employers and he did! I knew a meeting here would be a big success.”
Looking around the room filled with representatives from multiple local businesses from Edwards Oil to McDonalds, to Wal-Mart, Kidd gave all the credit to his home community.
“Pretty much e everyone Lesa and I called showed up, and that is a testament to all of you!” Kidd effused. “The new occupational diploma legislation is going to help many, many kids across the state of Tennessee. This is exciting.”
Guiden, along with several other prestigious experts and policy makers in the field, including Sarah Harvey, Program Director for Tennessee Works at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, shepherded the meeting by asking a series of questions urging potential employers to focus on key skills they would require for a student to be a successful employee.
A high point in the meeting came when Veterinarian Mark Short of the Northside Animal Hospital shared a story about hiring a developmentally challenged girl named Rebecca after Kidd introduced them and explained her love for animals.
“She is a great girl. She really is,” Short said. “She was all smiles when I met her and about 30 seconds after that, we knew we wanted her to come to work, and we have never regretted it. She can’t do everything everyone else can, but she is the first in very day and is happy to be at work and great with the animals. She also drives herself, which is nice. I think we benefit more from her than she does from us!”
Kidd said he got the idea for a special diploma to honor the achievements of the developmentally disabled when he became aware the children like his daughter would only receive a certificate of attendance at the end of their high school experience- the same as for those who drop out of high school.
“Before a meeting (of the TCODD), I explained to the legislative policy director on the council that Lesa and I did not think it right that Abigail will only get a certificate of attendance when she finishes high school,” Kidd explained. “at the time, this conversation was sort of a ‘passing, side conversation’. I didn’t think he would even remember it. About a year later, he called me and let me know that he and some other folks had researched the diploma situation to see what other states were doing. From this research, they had come up with a rough draft of some legislation to create an Occupational Diploma for students with disabilities. We began the process of getting several agencies on board with the legislation.
“I arranged a meeting with our State Representative (now State Senator) Joey Hensley with eh Executive Director of the Arc of TN, the legislative policy directory of the TCODD, and myself. We all traveled to Dr. Hensley’s office in Hohenwald, and he graciously agreed to sponsor the bill for us, and the bill became a law in the 2013 legislative session.”
State Senator Hensley was on hand and very happy and proud of the work being done to make Occupation Diplomas a reality and a tool for those who are eligible.
“The Kidds are an inspiration to me and I am proud of the part I played in this (by sponsoring the bill),” Hensley said.
State Representative Doss reiterated the same sentiments, “This is what makes me proud to serve Lawrence County,” he said looking around the crowded room. “When Lawrence Countians are called on, they perform.”
See the Advocate this Sunday for a Lifestyles article on the local school system’s Life Skills Class. Established for students with disabilities, it focuses on teaching them to perform everyday tasks that are necessary for independent living.