2014 honorees: Charlie Smith award winners exemplify his life's work, passion

The 2014 CA winners

A full house representing many of Minnesota’s disability community turned out November 7 for the AccessPress Charlie Smith Award banquet. They honored 2014 winners Wendy DeVore and Christine Marble of Career Ventures. These women and their business, Career Ventures, are committed to removing barriers, creating access, creating workplace equity and increasing independence.

DeVore and Marble accepted the award on behalf of their entire staff. They are the 12th winners of the award, which began in 2003.

The two professionals won the award in September, by vote of the Access Press Board of Directors. The award honors the late Charlie Smith, founding editor of AccessPress. DeVore and Marble didn’t get the opportunity to meet Charlie Smith but many of their colleagues including colleagues in the interpreting community, shared stories with them about their work and experiences with Smith. “The consistent theme shared by all was the mention of his passion, his energy and his tireless commitment, day in and day out for the advocacy for equal access for all. We’d also like to mention that in reviewing the list of former recipients of this award, we are quite humbled to be among this list,” DeVore said.

“Wendy and Christine are outstanding honorees and we are pleased to recognize all that they and their staff have done for Minnesotans with disabilities,” said Access Press Executive Director Tim Benjamin. “They have done so much for so many people.”

Marble and DeVore are co-founders of Career Ventures. The organization is based in St. Paul, but is a statewide community rehabilitation program that provides employment-focused services in preparing individuals for employment.

Career Ventures provides a wide range of services for its clients, including job seeking skills training, resume development, job search, assisting in the application process, conducting interview practice and mock interviews, interpreting job interviews, on-the-job supports, cultural awareness trainings, advocacy for accommodations, and more.

Clients are deaf, deaf/blind, heard of hearing blind or have low vision. Career Ventures clients are ages 15 years and older.

As part of their acceptance speeches, Marble and DeVore shared personal stories, as well as the stories of a few of their clients.

DeVore was raised by a single mother who was deaf. Communication was through American Sign Language. After many years of work, her mother became unemployed. DeVore recalled her struggles to find a new job. “She could not help but wonder if this was due to the potential misgivings that employers had about hiring someone that was deaf,” she said.

Family members took on an array of jobs to support the household. DeVore’s mother finally got a job cleaning at a fast-food restaurant. It was a job she took great pride in. “(My mother) always told me that no matter what work you were given to do, it was important to do it with pride and always serve with a smile. And she did just that,” said DeVore. “And now, here I am as an adult contributing whatever part I can in assisting others who are willing and able but who too, are looking for ‘a way’ in how they can participate in work world.”

Career Ventures educates employers about ways to hire employees with disabilities, using adaptive technology, equipment and support services, and helping employers make workplaces accessible.

“One of my driving factors in the work that I do is knowing that we are not only working with the client that has been referred to us, but we are working with all the people that are “behind the scenes” in their life as well,” Marble said. “What I mean by that is that each client that we work with has loved ones that are rooting for him or her to obtain employment. The work that we do is not just about getting someone a job. The people we serve are husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, just like all of us and they want the same opportunity to support their families and be role models to their loved ones as anyone else does.”

“In American society, if you go to a party, one of the first questions asked is ‘so, what do you do for a living?’ Not being able to answer that can affect self-confidence,” Marble said. It’s an honor for Career Ventures to be part of someone’s successful employment process.

The work of helping people find work isn’t glamorous and requires working around to clock, to accommodate clients’ individual work hours. The work has taken staff, including the two company founders to everywhere from corporate offices to farmyards. But Marble said the reward for everyone who works at Career Ventures is the variety in their jobs and the satisfaction of matching clients with meaningful work.

Learn more about Career Ventures here.