FOREST HILLS, N.Y. – As credit unions become more aware of the disabled as members, some have also become more aware of them as potential employees. The Central Credit Union, based in Forest Hills, New York, has begun employing interns from the Hellen Keller National Center, a training facility located in Sand Point, New York, in many of its routine computer related tasks. The two students have varying degrees of visual and audio disability that the broader culture often overestimates, explained Kathy Mezack, vocational service coordinator for the Center, offering a sentiment echoed by the credit union. “In every way the two interns we have hired have exceeded my expectations,” said Arlene Rudin, CEO of the $53 million CU. The credit union, which has only 10 full-time employees, has been particularly helped by the students’ presence one day a week because they have been able to take over many routine tasks that often fill the back-office of a credit union, Rudin explained. The students, Ron Hall, 29, and Cheryl Yee, 21, attend training at the center which is geared to help learn the practical skills that will allow them to become self-sufficient in life, explained Mezack, who stressed that the Center views the internships to be opportunities for the credit union as well as the students. “I emphasize to the employers that I want these students trained just like they would train any other employee. I want the business to gain from its relationship with the students as much as I want the students to benefit,” she added. Rudin explained that the credit union got involved with the Center through a connection that one of the credit union’s employees had with the organization. After the credit union contacted the center, Mezack made a visit to the credit union to see if any of the work she saw might be suitable for the students. “When I saw the use of the computers, the use of the technology and the type of work it was, I was certain my students could handle it,” she said. Rudin said her biggest surprise in hiring the students has been finding out how much the students could do so quickly and, as the internships have been drawing to a close, reported that the credit union has already started missing the help the students have offered. Although geography prevents a large number of credit unions from employing student interns form the Center, both Mezack and Rudin said that they hoped to continue the relationship after Hall and Yee depart. Mezack, in particular, said she hoped the example of Central’s experience might lead other credit unions to think more actively about hiring the disabled. “The biggest barriers so many of our students face are barriers of ignorance and pre-supposition,” she said. “Potential employers just don’t know what these people can do, and assume they have a level of ability below the levels that they actually have,” she said. Role for Disabled in Credit Unions? Central is so convinced that Hall and Yee could be assets to any credit union that needed them, the credit union has taken an active role in helping to place them with other credit unions closer to their homes. In Yee’s case that has meant dealing with credit unions 2,000 miles away, in Hawaii. “Yes, I have given the center the names of some contacts in the Hawaii League,” Rudin said, and Mezack reported that Yee has been able to send out about 30 resumes to various credit unions, a number of which have responded with initiations to come in to fill out applications and be interviewed when she gets home. The overall message is hiring the disabled is not just good for the disabled, Mezack said. It’s good for the employer too, and could be very good for credit unions. [email protected]

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