State Employees Honored for Work to Increase Employment

Thursday, March 19, 2015 | 7:21am

Tennessee only state with two employees recognized by federal program

NASHVILLE—Employees from the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development received national recognition for their work in increasing employment opportunities for Tennesseans living with intellectual disabilities.

Amy Gonzalez, State Director of Employment and Day Services for DIDD and Susie Bourque, Director of Policy and Special Projects for Labor and Workforce Development were both named State Ambassadors for the U.S Department of Labor’s Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program (EFSLMP).  Tennessee is the only state to have two ambassadors named through this program.

Gonzalez has led DIDD’s employment efforts for the past two years.  In that time, she has more than doubled the number of community-based providers participating in the Employment First movement and helped successfully reduce the number of people in sheltered workshops.  

“Amy’s passion and dedication to increasing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities is contagious,” DIDD Commissioner Debra Payne said.  “She has inspired others throughout the state to embrace systems change and make integrated employment the first and preferred option for people receiving and seeking DIDD services.”

Susie Bourque has been the Labor and Workforce Development lead in the Disability Employment Initiative for the past three and a half years and has worked with the state for 27 years. Her collaboration with the Tennessee’s American Job Centers and their partners opened the doors to employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

“Our department is in the business of putting people to work, and it’s especially gratifying when you can affect the lives of folks with employment barriers,” Burns Phillips, Commissioner, Department of Labor and Workforce Development said. “I’m very proud of Susie Bourque, DIDD and the recognition of their great work.”

The mentor program gives participating states funding to help implement their strategic plans to increase integrated employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.  As ambassadors, Gonzalez and Bourque will use their special knowledge to help other states as they work to change how employers look at people with disabilities.

In a letter announcing the first round of ambassadors, Serena Lowe with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) said, “Your collective records provide an extraordinary motivation not only to peers in your state, but also others who are in the midst of addressing challenges and trying to improve employment outcomes and socioeconomic advancement for youth and adults with disabilities.”

In June 2013, Governor Bill Haslam established the Tennessee Employment First Initiative in Executive Order number 28.  ODEP named Tennessee an Employment First Core State in December.  Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, Illinois, Alabama and Arkansas are among the 14 other core states for FY2015.

Find more information about Tennessee’s Employment First efforts.

Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities