Governor Palacios and Lt. Governor Apatang NDEAM 2023 proclamation signing
John Cabrera, second from right, delivers his welcoming remarks during the Proclamation Signing Ceremony for National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) at the Governor’s conference room on 9/28/23. Also in photo are Honorable Governor Arnold Palacios, Honorable Lt. Governor David Apatang, and OVR Director Jimbo Rayphand (partially hidden). This year’s theme is “Advancing Access and Equity: Then, Now and Next.”

Welcoming Remarks by SRC Secretary John Cabrera

Good morning everyone. My name is John Cabrera. I am the Secretary for the State Rehabilitation Council, I am a Client Advocate at NMPASI and I am also a self-advocate.

I would like to officially welcome you all to the 2023 National Disability Employment Awareness Month Proclamation Signing.

NDEAM is nationally celebrated every October and is dedicated to both raising awareness about disability employment and promoting the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the workforce.

I am moved to be here before you as living proof that disabilities do not have to be barriers to meaningful and rewarding employment. I worked at OVR for 10 years, and have been with NMPASI for 4 years now, with a total of 14 years and counting, being gainfully employed.

I have had the privilege of working in a supportive and inclusive environment, where my abilities are valued over any limitations. My journey has been marked by challenges, resilience, and the unwavering support of family, colleagues, community partners, and employers who believe in the power of diversity and inclusion.

During this month and beyond, let us commit ourselves to the mission of NDEAM, not only in words but in actions. Let us champion the rights and opportunities of individuals with disabilities, ensuring they can fully participate in the workforce and contribute their unique talents to our communities and industries.

I extend my gratitude to all of you for being here today, for your dedication to the cause of disability employment, and for your unwavering support. Together, we can build a more inclusive and equitable future where every individual, regardless of their abilities, has the opportunity to thrive and succeed in the workplace.

Thank you for joining us as we celebrate NDEAM and let us continue to work together to make meaningful change happen.


 

Proclamation Speech by SRC Vice Chair Preston Basa on Brief History of NDEAM and Rehab Act

preston-basa.jpgPreston Basa, Vice Chairperson, CNMI State Rehabilitation Council (SRC)Hafa Adai & Tirow,

Today, I would like to share a brief history on National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The NDEAM serves as a platform to bring attention to the importance of creating inclusive workplaces that provide equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities. It encourages employers to hire, retain, and promote people with disabilities, recognizing the unique skills and perspectives they bring to the workforce. Throughout the month of October, various organizations, employers, advocacy groups, and government agencies across the nation conduct events, workshops, and outreach programs to educate the public about disability employment issues and promote a more inclusive workforce.

A couple of days ago, we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of this law. On September 26, 1973, this important law was passed to ensure that people with disabilities have equal opportunities and access to various aspects of life, just like everyone else. Before this law, life was often much harder for people with disabilities. They faced discrimination, and it was tough to get an education or a good job. Imagine a world where some doors are open to you, but others are closed simply because of who you are or the challenges you face. The Rehabilitation Act was designed to change that and open more doors for people with disabilities.

A key part of this law is Section 504. It said that places that got money from the federal government could not discriminate against people with disabilities. They had to make their places and programs accessible to everyone. This was a big deal because it meant that people with disabilities could be a part of everything, just like everyone else.

The impact of this law has been huge. It led the way for laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is still in effect today to make sure that everyone has a fair shot. Thanks to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, we have more accessible buildings, better job opportunities, and more inclusive schools. It is a law that keeps making life better for everyone.

Fundamentally, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is all about ensuring that people with disabilities are not left behind, that they have the same opportunities as everyone else. It is about removing barriers and opening doors.

With that said, let us remember and celebrate this important step in our journey toward a more inclusive and fair society, where everyone, no matter their abilities, can pursue their dreams and live life to the fullest. Together, we can ensure that every individual has the chance to shine and contribute their unique talents to our society.

Thank you and have a wonderful day!




Closing Remarks by Susan Satur, Secretary, CNMI Statewide Independent Living Council

susan saturSusan Satur, Secretary, CNMI Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC)In closing, we would like to take this opportunity to…

Thank our Governor and Lieutenant Governor for all the continual support provided to the disability community.

Thank you to the CNMI community for becoming more involved and supportive of hiring people with disabilities.

Thank you to all the Disability Network Partners! Always appreciate this amazing team.

Lastly, please come to the ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly renovated disability training and resource center next Friday, October 6th at 10:00.







alyssa babautaAlyssa Babauta, far left, starts off in the reading of the Proclamation for 2023 NDEAM 

“Advancing Access and Equity: Then, Now and Next” is this year’s theme for our National Disability Employment Awareness Month of October.  This year’s theme was chosen to celebrate the passage of the Rehabilitation Act a half-century ago and its importance in prohibiting discrimination based on disability in employment by federal agencies, federal contractors and recipients of federal funds, and in the delivery of federally-funded programs and activities. We will use this theme to remind ourselves of the valued contributions people with disabilities make in our Nation’s workplaces and to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a major milestone in our Nation’s ongoing quest for access and equity for all Americans.

 
 glory legaspiGlory Legaspi, second from left, participates in the reading of the Proclamation for 2023 NDEAM.
 

Workplaces welcoming of the talents of all people, including people with disabilities, are a critical part of our efforts to build an inclusive community and strong economy. In this spirit, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is recognizing National Disability Employment Awareness Month this October to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of people with disabilities. Activities during this month will reinforce the value and talent people with disabilities add to our workplaces and communities and affirm the CNMI’s commitment to an inclusive community.


 
 nicolas torresNicolas Torres, Chairperson of the CNMI Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC), joins his peers in reading the 2023 Proclamation declaring October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).
 

Along with the rest of the United States, we will continue to advance access, equity and full inclusion of our people with disabilities by supporting the activities of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation under the Office of the Governor in partnership with the State Rehabilitation Council, Statewide Independent Living Council, and all other stakeholders.

 

National Disability Employment Awareness Month Proclamation Flyer Image

heartIF in fact one could actually die of a broken heart (figuratively speaking), I don’t think I would have made it past the Summer of 1990 — teenage sweetheart problems at the end of my Junior and beginning of my Senior years in high school. Of course, my heart was much stronger then, younger and without the brittle scars from decades hence. I imagine the survival rate for wounded hearts north of 50 years old are exponentially less when in the throes of a cardiac event, a fancy way of saying, “matters of a broken heart.” I have heard it said that a heart attack feels like an elephant sitting on your chest so heavy such that all you want to do is die. I wouldn’t know what an elephant on your chest feels like. I haven’t had a heart attack… yet…but I do know what it feels like to want to die sometimes. Sadly, my heart has been under attack more often than I’d like to admit — the price some of us pay for giving it away too easily. I’d say that feels more like a bottomless vortex in the pit of your stomach sucking the air and everything about you inward like you might implode into yourself. In a downward spiral, it’s all you can do to keep your head up enough to catch air (thinner with every new labored breath).


And no! This is not a cry for help — just an observation and a precautionary tale from an old man with his share of downs picking up pieces of what once was a vibrant heart runneth over with childlike innocence and love. Neither goodness nor mercy followed in all the days of my life. Perhaps karma plays a role or maybe some of us are just unlucky with whom we choose to have hold our hearts. Sometimes even the gentlest-looking hands turn out to be cold, hard stone cloaked in a thin layer of silk.


For many of us who spent any of our formative years living in Chuuk (at least in the 70’s and 80’s), the idea of going all in for love was instilled early with a draconian sense of all or nothing. That coupled with a skewed sense of what it means to be a man and the importance of respect proved to be a dangerous combination. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone, at least among my peers from Chuuk, who weren’t directly affected by someone killing themselves “for love” (or rather for no love I suppose). At a relatively young age, I saw my share of guys having the noose cut from their throats as final proof of “how much they loved her.” I was nearby also when they found the unrecognizable remains of a young lady who didn’t want to leave any doubt about her love for a boy who didn’t reciprocate her feelings.


Saying we glorified suicide for love could be an understatement; in fact, we sing about it. The lyrics of a favorite song among us reads as follows:


“Neneto nemin kopwe kuna ukukun me aparen tongom ei iei epwene solani manawei on efoch senin Okinawa… kone ameiseikok ne un coffee o pwan emeninmen ne fetan lukun peiasei.” 


[Translation: “Look over here girl, so you can see the level and measure of my love for you which is about to steal my life with a rope from Okinawa…enjoy yourself drinking your coffee, smiling and walking around my grave.”]


We have other songs with similar messages — no doubt grim and misguided, but it is in fact the reality of how many of us were influenced and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice as proof of so-called love. One so-called “love expert” from the internet points out, “Love may be the first thing that a person considers when entering a relationship, but it is also the number one reason why one commits suicide.” She goes on to say, "The number one reason for suicide is love. The number two reason for suicide is no love." (M. Dionisio). I call bologna, but will leave this here as food for thought.



I don’t know what, if any, empirical studies exist about the correlation between suicide and mental illness, but it may be fair to say that at any time a person considers ending her life (for anything), that in and of itself is a form of mental illness, at least a mental breakdown of some sort. For many, the struggle with mental illness — sometimes manifesting as anxiety, depressive or other psychotic disorders often accompanied by suicidal ideation — is and always will be internal. External triggers and such only exasperate symptoms which if dealt with appropriately can be laid to rest (no pun intended).


From a work standpoint, mental health issues can be extremely challenging and some of the most difficult to accommodate both for yourself and for others who may be decompensating. It becomes increasingly difficult when in a position authority you have to balance personal struggles with the needs of others around you or with legal mandates defining your responsibilities to the people you serve and your community at large. 


Presently, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation under the Office of the Governor offers eligible people with disabilities services to assist with their employment goals and with independent living. Of this year’s 181 clients for OVR, 21% are eligible due to a primary disability of, “Other Mental Impairments” and “Psychosocial Impairments” — disability causes include anxiety disorders, depressive and other mood disorders, mental illness (not listed elsewhere) and schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.


We are often asked to offer trainings on so-called “disability etiquette” and other “best practices” for working with people who have disabilities and there certainly is a plethora of formalized trainings to that end; however, every person is unique and subsequently the needs are very individualized. Beyond that each person is entitled to their own choices and we, subsequently, are required to support consumer choice — we don’t get to dictate what a person may or may not do.


Of course, personal choice comes with either reward or consequence. Each of us can reap in the rewards of good choices or suffer the consequences of bad ones and, if there is any justice in this world, you and you alone would suffer any consequences of your own choices. Unfortunately, many of us know all too well the lingering consequences for those of us who remain after a person we know takes his own life.


That’s a long, heavy way to arrive at this single point: “Even the strongest hands can lose their grip, the greatest of minds can become cloudy, and the biggest hearts can break. So, be kind, just always be kind” (Unknown). Most of all, please be extra gentle when handling fragile and tattered hearts north of fifty.


For more on vocational rehabilitation services, please contact us at (670) 322-6537/8 or via the internet at www.ovrgov.net/.

Through its Work Based Learning Experience Program, Train Smart wants local companies to take a chance on students with disabilities so they can contribute to society.


“My specialty is working with adults with disabilities. I used to be the transition coordinator for special education and it’s sad that teachers and parents try so hard to educate and train these students and yet come graduation there’s not much for them to do and so they stay home and regress,” said Train Smart founder Josephine Mesta.


She said she’s always been an advocate for people with disabilities, especially students when she worked for the Public School System.


“So when I decided to retire, I made it one of my priorities, training individuals in general who need a little boost to get their feet in the door.”


Mesta served as guest speaker during the Saipan Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting last June 3 at Kensington Hotel.

jmestaTrain Smart founder Josephine Mesta was one of the guest speakers of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce during its monthly meeting last June 4 at the Kensington Hotel. (Mark Rabago)

“What I need from the Chamber is for companies to open their doors so I can show students the different jobs they may be able to strive for after graduation, by visiting their place of employment and having our students experience what it takes to work. So far, I have five [companies] who have agreed to provide the opportunities for these youths,” she said.


An ordinary high school student may already have a hard time getting work after they graduate, what more for students with disabilities, according to Mesta.


“It’s much more for students who have challenges or disabilities. It’s harder for them so we want to start them earlier and maybe we’ll have some win-win by the time they graduate high school.”


Mesta said actual workplace experience is invaluable in transitioning students with disabilities to become productive members of society by finding their way in the workplace.


“Workplace experiences provide students with disabilities the knowledge and skills that help them connect what they learn in school onto the worksite. It’s easy for us to say, ‘okay, this is how you can clear this table’ and we can talk about it at school, but until they see the table being cleared, then it registers and sticks. If you have experience with working with people with disabilities, that’s pretty much what we have to do,” she said.


And the carrot at the end of the stick for businesses is they can have the Work Investment Agency or Office of Vocational Rehabilitation pay the student with disabilities that they will welcome onboard to train.


She just wants an assurance from businesses though that they genuinely attempt to train students with disabilities and not just take advantage of the free ride afforded to them via WIA and OVR. Finding work for students with disabilities becomes doubly important if you think about the alternative.


“One of the things that I saw after I left PSS is that my students who we worked so hard to train and then deploy when their parents died, it’s hard on the siblings to take care of them.”


As a former Human Resources director at Hyatt Regency Saipan, Mesta said she personally knows of success stories of students with disabilities that thrived after being hired and one even worked for a company for 17 years.


“Guess what, they come to work every day and are never late. As a matter of fact, we have issues when they have to go on vacation as they don’t want to. So, we have to force the issue and tell them they have to go on vacation,” she said.


For more information on Train Smart and their slew of programs like the Work Based Learning Experience Program, call Mesta at (670) 287-9033 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

AS far as training programs go, the Work Experience Training and On-the-Job Training programs through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation under the governor’s office are about as straightforward as they come. The only mystery for me is why more eligible persons with disabilities and employers aren’t knocking on OVR’s doors to avail themselves of the support which can translate to $10,444 in up to a year’s worth of paid labor.

More specifically given eligible, willing and agreeable participants (both trainee and employer), OVR will pay eligible individuals for Work Experience Training at the prevailing minimum wage rate (presently $7.25/hour) for up to 20 hours per week for anywhere from 3 to 6 months.  And thereafter, if the employer is willing to employ them, OVR will reimburse the employer for On-the-Job Training at the same rate for up to 40 hours a week for 24 weeks. In total the employee and employer stand to get 48 weeks of paid labor in the hopes of permanent employment (emphasis on, “in the hopes” — the employer is not obligated to hire the person after the training period, but that is the goal).

Come to think of it, I probably shouldn’t be too surprised and it may not be such a mystery at all why we don’t see more interest in these programs.  I’ll take a stab at a few possible reasons here for whatever it’s worth.  It’s natural (maybe even advisable) when pointing a finger at an issue not to acknowledge the three other fingers pointing back at yourself and perhaps this will be a break from tradition, but given plenty of blame to go around I’ll be the first to admit that much of it falls directly on ourselves; in fact, let’s start there.

 

Government bureaucracy. Let’s start with government bureaucracy.  Yeah…I said it and for emphasis I’m talking about myself and other bureaucrats who work in government with the general government systems in place.  For a variety of reasons, we have not done a very good job with instilling confidence in the rest of those who look to the government for help.  Put another way, government has a long-standing reputation of being slow, if not unresponsive, and inefficient (with time and resources).  OVR is no exception, so we have our share of disgruntled clients.  Wait times (whether you’re standing in lines, waiting for appointments, listening to elevator music on the phone or sitting at home twiddling thumbs) are simply too common.  Most have come to expect that of government — sad, but true.  That in and of itself can be a disincentive for people to seek us out. 

I know better than to make promises, but I can say with some confidence that OVR can be the exception to the norm (if it is in fact a norm).  We are poised with qualified personnel and a wealth of institutional (local and federal government) knowledge to rise above the fold.  Our sitting Governor and Lt. Governor have expressed in no uncertain terms their expectations for us to ensure and/or restore “fiscal stability, more efficient government operations, and improvements in the delivery and responsiveness of public services.”  Personally, I would love nothing more than to be a part of making that happen, not just for OVR but for our government in general.  What we need is more consistent buy-in to the real intent of what we offer both from potential employers and from eligible individuals with disabilities who truly want to work.

 

Welfare culture. There is a pervasive sense of entitlement in our society due in large part to generational dependence on welfare programs — a welfare culture or welfare state of mind, if you will.  And, our people with disabilities are not immune to it; in fact, all too many are brought up to think very little beyond government handouts as their primary, if not only, option.  Given a choice to receive something for free or go to work and earn what you get most will choose the free option.  This is especially true when it comes to receiving a Supplemental Security Income check versus getting a job and receiving a paycheck.  The truth is that a monthly SSI check (at $914 for an eligible individual or $1,371 for an eligible individual with a spouse) is nearly the same amount (maybe even more depending on deductions) as a paycheck for someone working full-time at the minimum wage rate — it’s hard to blame anyone who chooses the SSI option.  Still, the harder truth is that the prescribed “federal poverty level” is still higher than the SSI rate which (by the way) also comes with an asset limit.  The point being that conceding to life on SSI is essentially a commitment to a life of poverty.

Of course, I am not without empathy.  I understand the added challenges to competitive employment for people with disabilities and the fear of losing benefits through gainful employment; nonetheless, if we are ever going to break the cycles of dependence, employment must be part of our ongoing discussion and, essentially, OVR must provide needed supports to eligible individuals in order for them to obtain or retain gainful employment.

Disability stigma. Sadly, people with disabilities are most often viewed by what others perceive they cannot do more than what they can do — disability discrimination is a very real thing.   Many employers (I dare say most employers) dismiss even the mere notion that a person with a disability especially those with visible, severe disabilities could offer any value in the workplace.  The common assumption is that any person with a disability must be a basket case – of course, we all know what it means to assume. 

Truth be told, attitudes are the real problem — both the attitudes of the job seekers and the job providers; in fact, the same is true regardless of whether or not disability is a factor.  Breaking into an already meager job market requires genuine effort, a certain amount of luck and, to be clear, a sense of responsibility to be qualified for the work at hand. And yes, people with disabilities also have a responsibility to be qualified.

For more information, please contact the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation at (670) 322-6537/38 or online www.ovrgov.net or on Facebook.com/officeofvocationalrehabilitation/.

nmc students ovrNorthern Marianas College students Amelia Cabrera, left, and Shianne Santos.

 

nmc students ovr 2Northern Marianas College students Amelia Cabrera and Shianne Santos with Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Case Services Manager Arlene Yamagata, right, and OVR Director Jim Rayphand.

 

Northern Marianas College students Amelia Cabrera and Shianne   Santos, completed an eight-week internship with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation of the Office of the Governor as part of the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in education with an emphasis in rehabilitation and human services. The students spoke briefly about their experiences at a professional development session on their last day.

 

Cabrera pointed out, “I really didn’t know anything about OVR before coming here, but our professor wanted us to step out of our comfort zone and I’m so glad I did.  I feel like I have a much better understanding of services available to people with disabilities.”

 

 Santos echoed a similar sentiment, “To be honest, of all the places I wanted to do my practicum, OVR was not one of them.  But I’m grateful for the time and grace shown throughout this experience — I learned a lot.”

Both students had opportunities to learn more about the vocational rehabilitation system, its history, purpose and, more importantly, the direct services available to eligible clients with disabilities. 

Case Services Manager Arlene Yamagata reiterated the importance and need to carefully consider the eligibility criteria. “First, of course, a physical or mental disability and that the disability presents a substantial impediment to employment.  Then we make a determination of whether or not the person would benefit from VR services. Not all people with disabilities would benefit from VR services due to the severity of disability, but we do have members of our community that need extra support and services to realize their employment goals which is exactly OVR’s mission.  We want to see everyone succeed in life and become productive and contributing members of our island community.”

 

Established in 1975, OVR is a state and federal partnership agency placed within the Office the Governor to increase employment and promote independence among eligible individuals with disabilities throughout the CNMI.

OVR Transition Specialist Sam Santos commented that more people should know about OVR and our efforts in “providing employment opportunities or carving out career pathways and filling in the employment gaps for people with disabilities with the unconditional belief that they can and should also work.”

 

OVR receives federal grant funds to provide vocational rehabilitation services to assist eligible individuals with disabilities to prepare for, secure, retain, advance in, or regain competitive integrated employment within their strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice. 

Services include, but are not limited to: vocational rehabilitation counseling and guidance, information and referral, physical and mental diagnosis and restoration services, vocational and other training services, job search/placement assistance/job retention services, supported employment services, post-employment services, rehabilitation/assistive technology, and school-to-work transition services. Services are individualized and provided in the context of an approved Individualized Plan for Employment.

OVR consumers may be required to financially participate in their rehabilitation program.

Yamagata said: “We hope to see students like Amelia and Shianne consider careers in vocational rehabilitation or other disability-related professions after college.”

OVR clients to be included in employer work plansFrom left: Rose Ichiuo, VR counselor; Arlene Yamagata, VR case services manager; Jim Rayphand, VR director; Manny Iguel, Department of Labor job placement officer; Annie Marciano, VR counseling clerk; and Sherraine Flores, VR counselor aide.

 

 

REPRESENTATIVES from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, otherwise known as OVR, met with Department of Labor’s Job Placement Officer Manny Iguel, to discuss opportunities for people with disabilities to be included in employer work plans for hiring more U.S. citizen workers.


Iguel asked for the meeting and explained that he would be asking employers to include OVR as a resource for finding potential employees in working toward meeting the requirement for no less than 30% U.S. citizen workforce for any given company. Among other things, he wanted to be sure that OVR would be amenable to meeting with employers and to working with them to make suitable placements. He added further that he believes some employers are still hesitant to hire people with disabilities due to uncertainties about how their disabilities might affect work performance, but added, “It doesn’t change the fact that they still need to show good faith effort to meet the 30% minimum hires of U.S. citizens. I’ll be telling them to come knock on OVR’s doors whenever they have openings.” He hopes “OVR can assist in helping them to understand how our people with disabilities can be successful employees.”


OVR’s Case Services Manager Arlene Yamagata explained that OVR has in theory expanded its customer base to include employers: “Because without our employers there would be no jobs for us to place our primary consumers of people with disabilities into. We need to work with employers as well to educate and assist them in the process of job placement for our clients, if we want to them succeed.”


OVR receives federal grant funds to provide vocational rehabilitation services to assist eligible individuals with disabilities to prepare for, secure, retain, advance in, or regain competitive integrated employment within their strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and informed choice. Services include, but are not limited to: assessment for determining eligibility and vocational rehabilitation needs, vocational rehabilitation counseling and guidance, information and referral, physical and mental diagnosis and restoration services, vocational and other training services, job search/placement assistance/job retention services, supported employment services, post-employment services, rehabilitation/assistive technology, school-to-work transition services, etc. Services are individualized and provided in the context of an approved Individualized Plan for Employment or IPE. OVR consumers may be required to financially participate in their rehabilitation program.


Yamagata will serve as point of contact for employers wishing to explore options for hiring individuals with disabilities through OVR. She added, “From experience, we’ve seen job announcements published where employers have no intention of actually hiring anyone other than to renew their current staff. For the sake of time, we hope to identify those employers who are serious about hiring and not just going through the motions to satisfy a logistical requirement.”

 

OVR Director Jim Rayphand adds that “OVR will do everything within its capacity to assist employers and employees forge successful working relationships. Ultimately, we will do everything possible and, of course, allowable to make sure that our clients are qualified to do the jobs they want to do. It should be said as well that the consumers themselves have to buy into the process and commit themselves to achieving their respective employment goals. By definition, employment means work and employers want people who will do the work they need for their companies, so our clients need to put in work, if they want to work.”

NMTech and OVR Sign MOUNorthern Marianas Technical Institute Chief Executive Officer Jodina Attao, second right, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Director James Rayphand, left, with NMTEch marketing and outreach coordinator Benjamin Babauta, second left, OVR's Arlene Yamagishi and Sam Santos after the signing of a memorandum of understanding at the NMTech campus in Lower Base on Monday, March 13, 2021.

 

THE Northern Marianas Technical Institute on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to provide job opportunities to individuals with developmental disabilities.

 

The signatories were NMTech Chief Executive Officer Jodina Attao and OVR Director James Rayphand. Joining them in the signing ceremony were OVR staffers Arlene Yamagishi and Sam Santos.

 

Noting that March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, Attao said working with the OVR will allow a smooth, hassle-free transition for OVR consumers who want to take classes at NMTech.

 

She said OVR will cover the tuition of its consumers who will receive educational training and possible job placement services in their chosen career in the technical field
 

Many people with disabilities are interested in trade classes such as automotive technology and culinary arts, Attao said, adding that two OVR consumers are currently taking classes at NMTech.

THE authorizing federal law for the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation requires that we set aside at least 15% of our basic support/supported employment federal funds to provide "pre-employment transition services" to "students with Disabilities who are eligible or potentially eligible for VR services."  As such, we are looking for creative ideas and/or proven ways to deliver pre-employment services accordingly.  We welcome proposals from qualified vendors/contractors to provide Pre-Employment Transition Services for high school students with disabilities. Required activities must include one or all of the following:

 

1) Job exploration counseling

Job exploration counseling may be provided in a classroom or community setting and include information regarding in-demand industry sectors and occupations, as well as non-traditional employment, labor market composition, administration of vocational interest inventories, and identification of career pathways of interest to the students. Job exploration counseling provided on an individual basis might be provided in school or the community and include discussion of the student's vocational interest inventory results, in-demand occupations, career pathways, and local labor market information that applies to those particular interests.

 

2) Work-based learning experiences

Work-based learning experiences in a group setting may include coordinating a school-based program of job training and informational interviews to research employers, work-site tours to learn about necessary job skills, job shadowing, or mentoring opportunities in the community. Work-based learning experiences on an individual basis could include work experiences to explore the student's area of interest through paid and unpaid internships, apprenticeships (not including pre-apprenticeships and Registered Apprenticeships), short-term employment, fellowships, or on-the-job training located in the community. These services are those that would be most beneficial to an individual in the early stages of employment exploration during the transition process from school to post-school activities, including employment. Should a student need more individualized services (e.g., job coaching, orientation, mobility training, travel expenses, uniforms or assistive technology), he or she would need to apply and be determined eligible for vocational rehabilitation services and develop and have an approved individualized plan for employment. These additional services must be charged TO VR expenditure separate from the funds reserved for providing pre-employment transition services.

 

3) Counseling on postsecondary education options

Counseling on opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or postsecondary educational programs at institutions of higher education in a group setting may include information on course offerings, career options, the types of academic and occupational training needed to succeed in the workplace, and postsecondary opportunities associated with career fields or pathways. This information may also be provided on an individual basis and may include advising students and parents or representatives on academic curricula, college application, and admissions processes, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and resources that may be used to support individual student success in education and training, which could include disability support services.

 

4) Workplace readiness training

Workplace readiness training may include programming to develop social skills and independent living, such as communication and interpersonal skills, financial literacy, orientation and mobility skills, job-seeking skills, understanding employer expectations for punctuality and performance, as well as other “soft” skills necessary for employment. These services may include instruction, as well as opportunities to acquire and apply knowledge. These services may be provided in a generalized manner in a classroom setting or be tailored to an individual's needs in a training program provided in an educational or community setting.

 

5) Instruction in self-advocacy

Instruction in self-advocacy in a group setting may include generalized classroom lessons in which students learn about their rights, and responsibilities, and how to request accommodations or services and supports needed during the transition from secondary to postsecondary education and employment. During these lessons, students may share their thoughts, concerns, and needs, in order to prepare them for peer mentoring opportunities with individuals working in their area(s) of interest. Further individual opportunities may be arranged for students to conduct informational interviews or mentor educational staff such as principals, nurses, teachers, or office staff; or they may mentor individuals employed by or volunteering for employers, boards, associations, or organizations in integrated community settings. Students may also participate in youth leadership activities offered in educational or community settings.

 

For more detailed information about Pre-ETS, interested vendors are welcome to schedule a meeting with and/or email Jim Rayphand at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Sam Santos at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more or may pick up a description of services at the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation located on Delgado Drive, Navy Hill or call the office at (670) 322-6537/38.

FY 2023

(Ending September 2023)

 

Tinian Schedules  Rota Schedules 

 January 23-24

 January 23-24

 February 14-15

 February 22-23

 March 14-15

 March 28-29

 April 19-20

 April 25-26

 May 17-18

 May 23-24

 June 13-14

 June 21-22

 July 19-20

 July 25-26

August 16-17

 August 22-23

September 20-21

 September 12-13

 

Notes:

The venues will be announced later.

Assigned OVR Counselors for Tinian and Rota are Ms. Jane M. Tudela and Ms. Rose Ann B. Ichiuo, respectively.

Schedules may change due to weather, funding, etc.

For any questions, please contact OVR at (670) 322-6537/38/39 or send an email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Program updates are posted on this website.

Please follow CNMI OVR on Facebook and TikTok.

 

Download/View Official Announcement

Through its Work Based Learning Experience Program, Train Smart wants local companies to take a chance on students with disabilities so they can contribute to society.


“My specialty is working with adults with disabilities. I used to be the transition coordinator for special education and it’s sad that teachers and parents try so hard to educate and train these students and yet come graduation there’s not much for them to do and so they stay home and regress,” said Train Smart founder Josephine Mesta.


She said she’s always been an advocate for people with disabilities, especially students when she worked for the Public School System.


“So when I decided to retire, I made it one of my priorities, training individuals in general who need a little boost to get their feet in the door.”


Mesta served as guest speaker during the Saipan Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting last June 3 at Kensington Hotel.

jmestaTrain Smart founder Josephine Mesta was one of the guest speakers of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce during its monthly meeting last June 4 at the Kensington Hotel. (Mark Rabago)

“What I need from the Chamber is for companies to open their doors so I can show students the different jobs they may be able to strive for after graduation, by visiting their place of employment and having our students experience what it takes to work. So far, I have five [companies] who have agreed to provide the opportunities for these youths,” she said.


An ordinary high school student may already have a hard time getting work after they graduate, what more for students with disabilities, according to Mesta.


“It’s much more for students who have challenges or disabilities. It’s harder for them so we want to start them earlier and maybe we’ll have some win-win by the time they graduate high school.”


Mesta said actual workplace experience is invaluable in transitioning students with disabilities to become productive members of society by finding their way in the workplace.


“Workplace experiences provide students with disabilities the knowledge and skills that help them connect what they learn in school onto the worksite. It’s easy for us to say, ‘okay, this is how you can clear this table’ and we can talk about it at school, but until they see the table being cleared, then it registers and sticks. If you have experience with working with people with disabilities, that’s pretty much what we have to do,” she said.


And the carrot at the end of the stick for businesses is they can have the Work Investment Agency or Office of Vocational Rehabilitation pay the student with disabilities that they will welcome onboard to train.


She just wants an assurance from businesses though that they genuinely attempt to train students with disabilities and not just take advantage of the free ride afforded to them via WIA and OVR. Finding work for students with disabilities becomes doubly important if you think about the alternative.


“One of the things that I saw after I left PSS is that my students who we worked so hard to train and then deploy when their parents died, it’s hard on the siblings to take care of them.”


As a former Human Resources director at Hyatt Regency Saipan, Mesta said she personally knows of success stories of students with disabilities that thrived after being hired and one even worked for a company for 17 years.


“Guess what, they come to work every day and are never late. As a matter of fact, we have issues when they have to go on vacation as they don’t want to. So, we have to force the issue and tell them they have to go on vacation,” she said.


For more information on Train Smart and their slew of programs like the Work Based Learning Experience Program, call Mesta at (670) 287-9033 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..