Following is an interview with Andrea Todaro, who is the owner of Innovative Placements, and is teaming up with WNYJobs to host a career fair at the Buffalo Central Library on October 26.
Buffalo communities have been bolstered in recent years by the influx of refugees, and immigrants. As a base of community pride, and the people of Buffalo being as welcoming as they are, these new populations have been embraced, and we have seen them thrive. Many local periodicals, and media outlets have highlighted their success stories, and the businesses benefiting by hiring these new Buffalonians.
However, one area of Buffalo’s workforce diversity that is often overlooked is the success of the people in our community who have disabilities, and how Buffalo businesses have worked toward advancing the lives of people with disabilities, providing them new opportunities to be productive participants in our local business community.
One Buffalo born business that is helping this part of our community thrive is Innovative Placements. Owner Andrea Todaro founded Innovative Placements in 2002, and the company has been growing ever since. Now seen in the community as one of the premier agencies for job development, and an advocate for this important demographic, Innovative Placements has helped over 1300 members of the community return to work, or improve their career options.
“This work has been a complete ‘labor of love’ and I haven’t looked back since starting my own company. My passion for helping people with disabilities has propelled me every day for the last 20 years to put my entire being into everything I do,” said Todaro in speaking about what inspired her to branch out on her own, and start her own business, “I was a job developer for human service agencies for six years, and enjoyed it, but I was seeking more a challenge and the ability to create and design my own business. When I first approached ACCES-VR to work with them, they said, ‘The work may not be steady; there may be a lull with referrals and this isn’t necessarily a full-time job. But I thought, ‘I’m just going to do this. I’d been successful at it before, so I felt confident in my own abilities to understand both the needs of employer and job seekers. So I placed the first two clients that I received as referrals, then two or three more, then three or four more. Now, I often work a 50+ hour work-week, sometimes have to turn down new referrals, and have had to hire assistants to keep up the work volume. It’s very, very meaningful work and we’re happy to take on as much as we can.”
A classically trained opera singer, and performer, with a psychology degree from SUNY Fredonia, Todaro has made her mark by exploring, and living the passions of her life. In the process, she built a successful business, and helped others along their own paths in doing so.
“What I find most gratifying about this role is almost not being able to recognize the person we helped place in employment when we meet up with them for coffee a year or two later, or see them propped up against their brand new car with a big smile on their face…it’s a remarkable transformation,” she says, “They’ve taken the reins of their life back again. They’re in the driver seat. At this point, they often return to our workshops, but this time as a presenter who talks about the obstacles and challenges they encountered in their efforts to find employment and most importantly, how they hurdled them and achieved success. It’s amazing to see how securing the right kind of job and following the steps it takes to get there can empower a person so that they’re almost unrecognizable.”
Innovative Placements works primarily through the Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR), and the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB); two programs that are often the first step for qualified persons with disabilities looking to receive assistance with their career goals. After an initial intake with these programs, participants may then be referred to an agency that assists with job placement, such as Innovative Placements, depending upon the types of services they need. With a 94% placement success rate for those individuals who secure employment, and working with hundreds of employers in Buffalo, Innovative Placements has created a solid reputation within these programs, and with the employers, and the participants that they serve.
“The merits of hiring people with disabilities isn’t always understood,” explains Todaro, “You’re going to get someone with a strong work-ethic, someone who is going to show up to work everyday, and who has the motivation to get there and be their very best.”
One bright example Ms. Todaro references is a man by the name of Abu Musa. A single father who came to the United States after escaping the civil war in Liberia, Abu is a shining example of determination, dedication, and diligence. Despite losing his right arm in a war related injury, Abu was able to resettle in Buffalo, however Abu’s education in Liberia didn’t translate as meeting the requirements for most jobs he could perform. Abu overcame incredible odds to earn a Bachelor’s Degree, then a Master’s Degree, and is currently working on his PhD, all while holding down multiple jobs, taking care of his family, and being an active participant, and motivational worker within the refugee, and people with disabilities communities.
Many Buffalo businesses have caught on to the benefits of working within these programs. Innovative Placements already works closely with some of the region’s largest employers, including Wegman’s, M&T Bank, Kaleida Health, Univera just to name a few. Program allowances also provide some financial, and tax incentives to businesses for hiring one of these qualified candidates.
In order to provide their participants with comprehensive services, Innovative Placements also organizes, and runs several different types of workshops and job fairs, to help job seekers get what they need, and employers find the right candidates.
“We find a lot of people get stuck in this paralysis by analysis mode, where they’re over-thinking situations, and challenges, and just can’t get into activation mode. We use tools like workshops, and job fairs to get them socializing, to be reinvigorated with life. Interacting with peers, and participating in workshops helps them develop their own internal GPS; they start making decisions, and seeing what distractions they need to leave behind.”
On October 26, 2017, Innovative Placements will be co-hosting a career fair at the main branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library from 10:30 AM to 1:30 PM. Defined as the Autumn Diversity Career Fair, held in conjunction with National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the fair will be open to all job seekers.
More information on Innovative Placements, and their services can be found at their website at www.ipwny.com, including information on upcoming workshops, career fairs, and career expos.