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Diversified Opportunities, Inc., of Wilson observed National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October with its 43rd annual open house and awards day luncheon on Halloween.
There to help celebrate with DOI, which provides vocational training and job placement for individuals with disabilities or disadvantaged circumstances, was a crowd of some 300 attendees, many from local businesses that have benefited from the workforce the company has trained over the years.
“Today we had an opportunity to say thank you to our community for 43 years of outstanding support,” said Executive Director Cindy Harrell. “The longtime success of Diversified is a direct result of this community’s willingness to hire persons with disabilities in both their businesses and as a non-traditional labor partner supporting their production needs. Celebrating all this with 300 guests certainly made this a wonderful day for us all.”
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield as well as state Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield took time away from the campaign trail to appear at the banquet. Butterfield, who won re-election to an eighth term Tuesday to represent the 1st Congressional District, was the featured speaker.
“It’s so critical to our local economy to have all segments of our community included in the workforce, and Diversified Opportunities has been a key player in making sure all of our citizens are fully integrated into the local workforce,” the congressman said before his public remarks. “Wilson is beginning to thrive. I can feel the economic growth taking place in Wilson and all our citizens … must be fully integrated into our new economy.”
Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose gave the welcoming remarks and quoted U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, who stated that a workforce that empowers everyone benefits all. Also present was Betty Jo Shepheard, a staff member for U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. Butterfield said he counts Shepheard among his best friends in Washington.
The congressman said he’d been “looking forward to this day,” as he took the microphone from master of ceremonies Clay Johnson. Butterfield ruminated that “there is a lot of history on Herring Avenue,” where DOI sits now and was once U.S. 301 that ran through Wilson.
Butterfield thanked those present, the stakeholders (“That’s a word we use in Washington”) in Diversified Opportunities and spoke of inclusion and diversity in the workforce as an imperative in the 21st century.
Butterfield also drew the biggest laugh of the day when, after praising Rose for his work as mayor, related a story about meeting an elderly woman from his neighborhood growing up not long after he had been elected to Congress. She stopped him in Food Lion and marveled at Butterfield’s accomplishments.
“She said, ‘Boy, I am so proud of you! If your parents could see you now,’” he recalled. After offering him some advice, the 90-year-old woman told him, “If you keep treating people right and keep working hard, you’re going to be the mayor of Wilson one day!”
Among the award recipients were DOI Employee of the Year Michael White; Triumph Award winner Billy Ray Ellis, a former DOI trainee who has worked at Bridgestone/Firestone since 1992; and Sentinel Award winner Judi Thurston, executive director for the United Way of Wilson County.