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AbilityLinks Celebrates 15th Anniversary with Breakfast Featuring Successful Job Seekers

Last month AbilityLinks celebrated its' 15th anniversary with a breakfast that featured four successful AbilityLinks job candidates: Eric McGee from Enesco, Ann Williams and Karolina Pieniazek from the Social Security Administration and Andrew Besbekos from Equip for Equality.

Also attending were AbilityLinks committee members, volunteers, supporters and staff that have shared their expertise and resources to help AbilityLinks grow. 

Successful AbilityLinks job seekers, Kathleen Yosko, Ken Skord, Tim Moen standing

back row (l-r): Ann Williams, SSA, Kathleen Yosko, Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, AbilityLinks Steering Committee Co-chair, Ken Skord, AbilityLinks, Andrew Besbekos, Equip for Equality, Tim Moen, AbilityLinks Steering Committee Co-chair

front row:  Karolina Pieniazek, SSA, Eric McGee, Enesco


AbilityLinks staff Janice Duvall, Bill Oconnor, Ken Skord
AbilityLinks staff Janice Duvall, Bill O'Connor, Ken Skord
Eric McGee speaking
Eric McGee is employed at Enesco

Eric McGee posted a resume on AbilityLinks in 2004. An AbilityLinks information and referral counselor assisted Eric with finding employment in a customer service job at Enesco, a global leader in giftware, and the home and garden decor industries.

Today, Eric remains employed at Enesco where he has advanced to the position of buyer.

"I had been out of a job for nearly a year before I came across AbilityLinks at a local job fair. When the staff found that there was a job opening at Enesco, they called their human resources department. Enesco called me the next day for an interview. 

After a year without a job, I was so thankful that AbilityLinks was able to provide me with the resources and the human touch that helped me secure a job in a field that I excel in," Eric said. 

Karolina Pieniazek
Karolina Pieniazek is employed at SSA

Social Security Administration regularly searches the AbilityLinks resume database to find qualified candidates. Two of those candidates, Karolina Pieniazek and Ann Williams who were hired by SSA in 2014, also spoke at the breakfast. 

Born in Poland at the beginning of the seventh month of pregnancy, Karolina Pieniazek's lungs were not well developed. She should have been placed in an incubator but was left outside of it, and just a few minutes later because of the lack of oxygen to her brain, she suffered brain damage. "That is exactly how I developed cerebral palsy," she says.

In 1983 Karolina emigrated from Poland with her parents. First she learned to speak English and then she taught her parents.

Despite having excellent skills and qualifications, her job search was filled with hundreds of rejections. Karolina didn't give up. Her determination paid off. She is thankful that her connection to AbilityLinks led to permanent, full time employment with SSA, she says. 

Karolina's advice to employers?

"I would like to encourage employers to hire people with disabilities because we are fighters.

We keep our word and we complete our assignments from start to finish. Most of all we try to be perfectionists in everything we do. That is why hiring someone with a disability could be the best the best decision ever, which every employer can make, not only for the company and coworkers but for themselves as well," she said.

Ann Williams speaking
Ann Williams is employed at SSA

Ann Williams was born with moderate-mild hearing loss made worse by a 2002 auto accident. It increased her hearing loss from mild-moderate to profound. She is grateful that SSA hired her and thankful for improvements in technology and modifications of disability laws that "came along way."

"For the past three years, wearing digital hearing aids is a blessing," Ann said.

Ann's advice to job seekers?

"One thing that I do not do is use my disability for my personal gain or abuse the system," she says. 

Ann's advice to employers? 

"My advice is not judge us by our hearing limitations. Give us an equal opportunity and we can do the same kind of work as those with no limitations." Read more of Ann's story.

Andrew Besbekos speaking
Andrew Besbekos is employed at Equip for Equality

Andrew Besbekos has autism spectrum disorder. Most persons with this disorder do not go on to college or find employment but Andrew is defying the odds.

He is planning on completing a Bachelor’s degree in information technology (IT) from Governors State University in 2017 and says his dream job is to work a full time career with the Walt Disney Company using his marketing, computer animation and IT skills.

Before his current paid internship position at Equip for Equality, he was referred by AbilityLinks, his work experience included multiple internships at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. 

Andrew's advice to job seekers? 

"Just because you have a disability that affects you walking, learning, seeing, it does not stop you from fulfilling your dreams, whatever you want to do.

Keep pushing yourself.

It may be challenging at first to go for dreams but never stop learning because technology keeps changing".

Andrew's advice to Employers?

"If you are hiring people with disabilities, keep doing what you are doing. If not, don’t be afraid. Do not under estimate people with disabilities. Einstein and Stephen Hawking had disabilities.

Never underestimate the knowledge of people with disabilities even if a person looks or sounds different." Learn more about autism spectrum disorder and employment.

Abilitylinks 15 year anniversary logo

Since launching in 2001, hundreds of thousands of job seekers, businesses and service providers have visited, posted resumes and jobs, contacted AbilityLinks information and referral counselors for help with job search and attended online and in person events aimed at increasing employment of qualified persons with disabilities.

More than 700 have let AbilityLinks know they successfully found employment.