James P. sorting paper at DDS

James Pankey, an associate at Document Destruction Services, enjoys sorting paper as part of his job.


National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), initiated by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, is celebrated every October.  In many ways, the true spirit of the month is led by grassroots-level observances across the nation. People are encouraged to educate others about disability employment issues and to celebrate the many contributions of the nation’s workers with disabilities. Adelante is proud to play an important role in fostering a more inclusive workforce, one where every person is recognized for their abilities every day of the year. Here are some of the ways Adelante is currently working on employment:


Project SEARCH: Helping Students with Disabilities Find Employment

2018 class of Project SEARCH at Rust

Current Project SEARCH class of Rio Rancho Public Schools


One of Adelante’s most recent employment collaborations is through Project SEARCH, an international initiative whose primary objective is to provide training opportunities through Internship programs that will lead to securing competitive employment for people with disabilities at the end of their Internship. Real-life work experience is provided to students with disabilities aged 18 to 22 years old. Interns complete 10-week rotations at a job site over the span of one year where they work at different jobs to gain skills. Interns are also provided with a support system, including mentors, skills trainers, and other resources to help them gain employment once they graduate from Project SEARCH.

To license a Project SEARCH site in an area, Project SEARCH seeks out a school system that in turn works with a community rehabilitation program, a host employer, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), Developmental Disabilities Support Division (DDSD) and Center for Development and Disability (CDD). Respectively, Rio Rancho Public Schools (RRPS) has worked with Adelante and Presbyterian Rust Medical Center (Rust), DVR, DDSD and CDD for three years. Adelante has been honored to work with the students and staff of RRPS, Rust, and other entities that have made this collaboration possible.

The Project SEARCH interns at Rust are offered a variety of employment learning experiences within the hospital including the OBGYN department, Food Service/Dietary, Patient Transport, and Environmental Services to name a few.

Adelante provides a skills trainer for the Project, and contributes to the interns’ job development when students are ready to begin looking for employment. Melinda Garcia, Director of Employment Services at Adelante, acts as a support to Project SEARCH with RRPS and Rust. She has been key in the development and implementation of the program. Additionally, she gets to do some fun activities with the interns like assisting with bus transportation training, and helping interns select and shop for appropriate work attire. “The goal is to get them as much experience and skill-building as possible so that they’re marketable for the job developers,” says Melinda.

The first year Adelante worked with RRPS and Rust, we really focused on the development of the program and identifying areas that would help us grow. By year two we had a 100% graduation and placement rate. “I think one of the things I love about the program is that it’s manageable. That concentration of really spending a whole year with them, getting to know them, and knowing what interests they have… you don’t always have that luxury with other individuals we serve.”

Melinda has witnessed the success of the program and would love to see it implemented in other areas. “I love the program. I think the world of it.” Melinda and Adelante believe Project SEARCH is successful thanks to one-on-one mentors, substantial support from the Project SEARCH team, and the manageable way the program is set up. We are happy to collaborate on this community employment opportunity and appreciate RRPS, Rust, DVR, DDSD and CDD for all the dedication to this project and commitment provided to making it work.


Adelante Enterprises – Part of the Full Range of Employment Services

 Photo of associate at Adelante Document Imaging with an orange folder


Adelante has a preference and priority for finding people with disabilities jobs in the community with local businesses. However, Adelante also understands the need to model that people with disabilities can be great employees. We work to ensure that even people with severe disabilities can get the support and training they need to be successful at work. Adelante currently employs approximately 250 people with disabilities in a variety of worksites. Every one of the Adelante Enterprises offers a chance for promotion and raises in as integrated of an environment as possible.

Robin Johnson, Adelante’s Senior Director of Business Operations, sees the value of hiring people with disabilities and assisting them in their professional goals. “To me, every person is different and everybody’s level of ability is different,” says Robin. “So I think we [Adelante] have tried to capture as many possibilities for people, based on varying ability, to give them the opportunity to work and get a paycheck like anybody else.”

At each business site, Adelante provides staff members to assist, support, and train people with disabilities on their jobs and to ensure they are successful.


photo of magnet that says "We Support Disability Employment & Affirmative Hiring"

When thinking about why employers should hire more people with disabilities, Robin says, “I don’t think it should be ‘disabilities,’ I think it should be ‘abilities.’ Everybody has an opportunity to do something. We’ve proven that in our business units.”

Moreover, Robin says she loves being greeted by so many smiling faces when she walks out onto the production floors of Adelante’s businesses. “I get greeted with ‘Hi, Robin!’ and smiles and happy people who are thrilled to be there and participating in everything. It’s very fulfilling to me to see people that are happy.” Support staff and the associate employees with disabilities have a lot of fun together while getting work done. Activities and competitions boost production and morale. “There’s lots of cheerleading,” says Robin.

Robin believes that community employers would find great fulfillment in hiring people with disabilities as long as they understand some internal supports are needed. “If you have the right employers who have the right amount of understanding, then it will work.”

Adelante Enterprises has thousands of customers and the general public can support the employment of people with disabilities by utilizing their services. You can reach Adelante’s sales team at (505) 341-2000 or Sales@GoAdelante.org

James Pankey – Associate Highlight 

In celebration of this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Adelante wants to highlight James Pankey. He works at Adelante Document Destruction Services (DDS). Each month the employees of DDS shred over 300,000 pounds of paper for thousands of businesses across New Mexico including law firms, medical practices, and governmental entities.

James has worked at DDS for 2 years, and has worked for many years prior with Adelante Facilities Support Services (FSS).

James primarily works on the sort line at DDS, separating white, mixed, and color paper as it moves down a conveyor belt. The paper is sorted by grade for easier recycling and re-use before it is shredded and baled.

Andrew Hernandez (left) and James Pankey (right) are captured here having fun together at work!

James says that he feels satisfied working at DDS and appreciates that he works in a safe place. Andrew Hernandez, Production Manager at DDS, nominated James for Adelante’s NDEAM highlight. “He does good work.” says Andrew. “He is steady, consistent, follows directions and stays busy.”

Carolyn, James’ guardian, expresses that James’ socialization skills have improved by working at Adelante. He enjoys making new friends and learning alongside others. With the help of Adelante’s support staff, she has witnessed that James transitioned well into his work role. “When he moved to DDS, he had to learn all about colors and sorting. We’ll go out someplace and James will say, ‘That’s office paper,’ or this other kind. He’s color blind, so we thought that might be a problem, but he and his staff have obviously been able to work that out because they say he’s been doing a good job.”

Carolyn believes that employing people with disabilities is important. “James loves to work – it makes him feel good, makes him feel like everybody else. He deserves to work and likes to work. He goes out to stores with his paycheck just like the rest of us.”

Ultimately, Carolyn is grateful for the employment opportunities Adelante has afforded James and other people with disabilities. “We are very thankful. James has worked for many, many years. They’ve been good to him and in turn he has been a good employee.”

In addition to Document Destruction Services, Adelante operates a thrift store, a mailing and fulfillment business, a computer refurbishment and repair service, and several janitorial and maintenance contracts that employ people with disabilities. If you or someone you care for are interested in community employment and want to explore work opportunities at Adelante, email us at ExplorePrograms@GoAdelante.org .