written by DEI co-chairs Kristal Poland and Jenesis Gibson
When most people think of DEI, we think of racial, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination but rarely do we think about discrimination against disabled persons. For this month, our DEI focus is the world of ableism. Ableism is defined as discrimination in favor of abled-bodied people. Here at Volunteers of America North Louisiana, we are committed to serving the most vulnerable. Sometimes the most vulnerable are our clients with disabilities seen and unseen.
We took some time out to speak to co-workers with different perspectives around disability services. The conversations were eye-opening and inspiring on different levels. Our first conversation was with Donny Jackson, Vice President of Disability Services. We learned that a staff of over 130 direct support workers provides services to over 60 clients requiring varied levels of care. Donny’s program can be considered the “hospital that never closes”, where clients are not patients but family. Donny’s eleven years of leadership has transformed disability services into a place where all people have the right to live as independently as possible. Donny would love to see an increase in advocacy for the disabled, as well as a community that provides access to spaces and accommodations for more integrated social experiences.
Our next conversation was with Melissa Godinez, Vice President of Strategic Operations. Melissa is a supermom to four amazing children, two of which have special needs. Melissa shared with us how she finds balance as a working mom, military wife, and fierce advocate for the equity and inclusion of persons with disabilities. Melissa’s journey has been extraordinary and she has poured her thoughts, feelings, struggles and experiences into a personal blog highlighting the ups and downs as a form of self-care. Melissa hopes for a world where her little unicorns, Luke and Claire, can live their best lives. In her work at Volunteers of America, Melissa takes pride in working for an organization that provides quality services to our disabled community. She would love to see more social programs and support for the families and caregivers of the disabled community.
Last, but not least, we stopped for a chat with the friendliest face in the place, LaShauna McKinney our Human Resources Specialist. LaShauna shared with us her journey to Volunteers of America in 2019. After being becoming diagnosed in 2009 with rheumatoid arthritis, God continued to open door after door that led to her rightful place at 360 Jordan. LaShauna has a dual perspective as she receives disability services and provides services for the disabled at Corbitt Lodge. She takes pride in being a part of her Corbitt Lodge family where she provides security with a smile. LaShauna’s words of wisdom for accepting her own disability is, “Accept what God allows and show them how to do it.” A true woman of faith, she practices patience and grace on a daily basis. One of her favorite scripture is, James 1:19, My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Despite the challenges that come her way, LaShauna puts it all in God’s hands. She is an inspiration to us all and epitomizes the mission of Volunteers of America being of service to the most vulnerable.
These three wonderful co-workers are the true meaning of “see the able, not the label”. Every day they commit to changing the narrative around what we like to call the “uniquely abled.” Let us celebrate our differences, for that is how we continue to strive for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“Every human has something to offer this world; the questions is will we create a society that can see everyone’s worth.” – Michael T. Coe