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Mohegan Sun partnership helps place disabled in jobs at casino

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Mohegan — For graduates of the Mohegan Sun Inclusion Program, the odds are pretty good.

Despite having disabilities — physical, emotional, developmental and otherwise — they’ve got a better than 80 percent chance of securing entry-level employment at the casino, according to Bernadette Valentine, who directs the program for Community Enterprises Inc., a nonprofit that forged a partnership with Mohegan Sun four years ago.

Since then, scores of job-seekers with disabilities have landed work at the casino as cashiers, cooks, reservationists, ushers, valet dispatchers and wardrobe attendants, and in such departments as security, information technology and marketing. More than 100 current Mohegan Sun employees have come through the program, Jeff Hamilton, the casino’s vice president of human resources, said.

If more people knew about the program, the numbers would be even more impressive, Valentine believes.

Some welcome recognition will come April 15 during the 2015 Disability Matters North America Conference at Simmons College in Boston. At the event, Mohegan Sun will receive one of three "Steps to Success” awards being presented to “those companies … on the journey of innovation, action and transformation relative to individuals with disabilities, whether as employees, customers or both.”

Hamilton said Mohegan Sun is proud of its record of hiring people with disabilities and was eager to partner with Community Enterprises, which runs the inclusion program from office space in Mohegan Sun’s Eagleview Employee Center. Community Enterprises screens the applicants, most of whom are referred by the state Bureau of Rehabiltation Services, and conducts three or four weeks of customer-service training in a classroom setting. The participants who advance are placed for up to six weeks in a paid position with a “coach” who provides as much mentoring as is necessary.

Some 65 to 70 percent of those who start the program find jobs at the casino, Hamilton said.

It works, he said, because all Mohegan Sun staff are invested in the program.

"It’s not just the guy in HR," or Mohegan Sun executives Bobby Soper or Ray Pineault, he said. “It’s the shift managers, our lower-level leadership and team members. It has to be that way. ... Anyone can give someone a job, but if they’re not successful, it’s not going to help the business or the person.”

Community Enterprises also partners with Mystic Aquarium on a job-training program that places people with disabilities in seasonal positions.

Based locally in Gales Ferry, Community Enterprises originated decades ago in Northampton, Mass., and now has offices throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Oklahoma. The model for its on-site training programs was a Walgreen’s distribution center in Windsor, where workers operate high-tech machinery. Programs are also in place at Walgreen’s retail locations and at HomeGoods stores. Other collaborations are in the works.

"We have seen where work is so therapeutic,” Valentine said. “If people with disabilities can get over that hump of finding a job, they’re going to be so much better off. It’s about having a purpose in life, feeling good about yourself."

"When people who’ve gotten a job come up to you and say, ‘You’ve changed my life,' that’s your reward,” she said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

Twitter: @bjhallenbeck

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