Highlighting Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

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March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. According to the CDC, up to 1 in 4 adults in the United States have some type of disability. The CDC also found that about 1 in 6 children, aged 3 through 17 years have one or more developmental disabilities. We take the time to acknowledge and support people with disabilities and the important work being done to uplift those in the community living with a disability.

One organization in Cobb County doing that necessary work is Tommy Nobis Center, one of our wonderful community partners and the special guest organization for this blog post on highlighting Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Liz Pfennig, with Tommy Nobis Center, brings important insight with an impactful Q&A.

Tommy Nobis Center has been serving Cobb County and the surrounding communities for over 46 years. Their mission is Empowering People through Employment, serving persons with disabilities through their three pillars of educate, train, and employ. Tommy Nobis Center has had an intentional focus on youth through their Early Youth Employment Services (EYES) Program helping those in high school be more
employable once they graduate. Most recently Tommy Nobis Center has opened The Academy, a year-long program, offering young adults the education and support they need to find individualized, meaningful, and successful employment in the communities where they live.
Liz Pfennig has been the Director of Programs at Tommy Nobis Center for the last 3 years. Holding an undergrad in Social Work and a Master’s in Public Administration, she has focused the last 15 years on community-based services for persons with disabilities, mental illness, and substance use. 

Have you seen any correlation between individuals with developmental disabilities and their mental health? 

Absolutely! Developmental Disabilities and Mental Illness, unfortunately, are not exclusive of one another. Many individuals with disabilities have life stressors as any other person. They can suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses just like those who do not have a developmental disability. Life can be hard for a person with a disability. While we are thankful for past legislation for equality through efforts such as ADA, there is still difficulty in navigating a challenging world. The stressors of bullying and social media pressure affect those with disabilities just like any other youth of today. Tommy Nobis Center has strategically focused on services for youth and young adults.

How do people with disabilities need additional support and advocacy? And how can a community member be involved? 
Persons with disabilities are just as capable as others to be contributing members of society. Persons with disabilities are your co-workers, actors, athletes, authors, beauty pageant winners, business owners, and more. Cobb County is very fortunate to have a plethora of services for persons with disabilities and those with mental illness, but navigating those services can be daunting. Tommy Nobis Center would love to see

Cobb County and surrounding communities support persons with disabilities as they reach their employment goals. This can be provided through various ways – volunteering at Tommy Nobis Center or other non-profit organizations serving persons with disabilities, employment opportunities within your own business or corporation, financial support to NPOs, such as Tommy Nobis Center through annual giving, sustained giving, or car donations, as we work to break down stigmas and find employment for those we serve.

At the Tommy Nobis Center, how does an individual’s mental well-being impact their success in finding meaningful employment? Is there anything that the Tommy Nobis Center does to support their mental well-being as well as their employment? 

A huge component of recovery from mental illness, substance use, and disabilities is having purpose and belonging. We believe that employment provides persons with a purpose each day. Employment gives people a reason to get up and get dressed, the satisfaction of doing a good job, and a feeling of being a contributing member of society. Additionally, Tommy Nobis Center offers weekend activities once a month through our ConNect initiative so that those we serve can feel a sense of belonging in a safe
environment where they can be themselves and build social connections.
Unfortunately, we have observed the negative effects of mental illness on a person’s employment as well. We work incredibly hard to educate and train individuals while helping them find individualized employment opportunities. Persons have successfully navigated the application, interview, and orientation process, only to find that the stress and anxiety related to work have impacted their success. Our Academy program is a year-long program providing ongoing support leading to successful employment. If that means we need to take a pause from work to assist individuals in getting connected to additional community resources to focus on their mental health needs, we will do all we can to help. Ultimately, we want all those we work with to be happy and healthy so they can maintain successful employment.

What are some success stories you may have of individuals with disabilities that you have worked with at Tommy Nobis Center? 

We are incredibly proud of the success of the persons we serve. It’s difficult to highlight all of the successes, but I will share a few.
Tommy was our first participant identified for our Academy program. Tommy graduated high school in 2019 and for the last 5 years, he has had a difficult time finding employment. He would spend his days at home alone while his mom and dad went to work, and all of his efforts to find employment or services for employment were met with hurdles. Tommy was very interested in computers and IT services, but he lacked any work experience in the field. Tommy’s parents considered sending him out of state to a program to help him find employment until The Academy at Tommy Nobis Center came along. Tommy successfully completed the educational phase of The Academy in September and was placed in an internship and eventual employment position working for Click IT Marietta. Tommy has spent the last 6 months learning web design and will be getting his first customer account in the near future. Tommy has a job to go to each week with a schedule to meet his abilities. Tommy is learning new skills and has a
sense of pride in himself for all he has accomplished in less than a year.
We have had several Academy participants recently hired through Cobb County School District Food and Nutrition Services. Through a connection with Autism Speaks, CCSD Food & Nutrition staff are provided online education based on working with persons with disabilities. They have recently hired four of our Academy participants who are working in various school cafeterias preparing meals for students each day. This has been an extremely successful partnership between Tommy Nobis Center and CCSD Food &
Nutrition and we wish more large employers would follow their lead to employ persons
with disabilities.

Cobb Collaborative appreciates Tommy Nobis Center’s partnership and their work in supporting and empowering people with disabilities. For more information or ways you can help, visit https://tommynobiscenter.org. Visit our website, cobbcollaborative.org to find additional resources, specific for those with disabilities and general mental health resources.