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For Immediate Release

Coronavirus response creates virtual work experience for Easterseals participants at Hamilton Chamber

The Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce has been a central hub for business success for more than a century. The Chamber’s impact ranges from events that connect elected and economic leaders to providing tools for entrepreneurs to launch their businesses.

Chamber President Dan Bates is very passionate about providing opportunity for area youth to develop their own successes as well.

“Hamilton is on a positive path for great success. However, I feel strongly that success will only be maximized if the entire city benefits,” Bates said. “Changing individual’s futures is about opening doors, building positive relationships that take them forward to their full potential.”

Judith Duarte and Aaron Gardner were becoming regular fixtures at the Chamber through a work experience arranged by Easterseals Career Connection in Butler County. Then – the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Easterseals Workforce Developer Jill Cates knew that Judith, an English Language Learner, and Aaron, who is focusing on communication skills, needed to find a way to maintain their growth as the world around them started to shut down. A call to Dan quickly got Judith and Aaron back in their element at the Chamber – through the use of technology.

Jill Cates, Easterseals Workforce Developer, and Judith Duarte, attend an event prior to Ohio's Stay-at-Home orders. Jill Cates, Easterseals Workforce Developer, and Judith Duarte, attend an event prior to Ohio's Stay-at-Home orders.

“Dan was eager to help get the interns involved again and asked that they join their daily staff meetings via Zoom,” Cates said. 

Laura Merrill, the Chamber’s IT Coordinator and Organizational Support for events and special projects, helped Jill set Judith and Aaron up with Zoom access to Chamber events, along with training on the professional guidelines of virtual meetings.

“Shifting the work environment was seamless. We had the technology already, this just forced us to us it,” Bates said.

The technology shifted Judith and Aaron’s focus as they took on new roles for the Chamber’s coronavirus response team. They both watch Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s daily news conferences and reported out updates and impacts on various industries. Judith leveraged her language skills to proofread the Chamber’s Spanish version of its COVID-19 resource page.

This type of business experience is invaluable to youth served by Easterseals Career Connection. The program provides resources to underserved youth in Butler, Clermont, and Warren Counties searching for the breakthrough moment that will help them launch successful careers.

Judith Duarte and Aaron Gardner attended many networking events as part of their paid work experience with the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce before the coronavirus pandemic. Judith Duarte and Aaron Gardner attended many networking events as part of their paid work experience with the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce before the coronavirus pandemic.

“When I attend networking meetings, I learn about other businesses and get a chance to speak in public,” said Judith. “I also enjoy the projects the Chamber has given me to do. I get to work more closely with the staff and learn from them.”

The youth served by Easterseals in the region might have faced some tough challenges before even turning the age of 24, including homelessness, substance abuse, not completing high school, or a skills gap that keeps them from better employment.

Bates says both Aaron and Judith have shown growth in self-confidence while working with the Chamber. “They have both learned professional skills, and how to professionally present themselves. They have also learned that their opinion matters and is valued,” Bates said. “I think they have also seen how we work together as a team and everyone has their role but each individual's participation is important to each successful endeavor.”

Judith is working toward a career in healthcare and is exploring the field through Career Connection. This is her first paid work experience, giving her resume and career goals a major boost. She’s working toward building up her English language proficiency through Ohio Aspire and her workplace skills through OhioMeansJobs’ online tools.

Aaron is focused on a career in the construction industry. He says working with Easterseals and the Chamber has given him a push in the right direction.

“One thing I enjoy the most is just having the experience to meet and work with the Chamber staff and its members,” Aaron said. “They know a lot about businesses, and that means more opportunities for jobs and meeting new people.”

Aaron has completed plastering training through Dayton Job Corps. Easterseals Career Connection is also helping him gain paid work experiences, resume and interview training, work attire and Microsoft skills training. He’s hoping that networking through the Chamber will lead to career opportunities in the construction industry.

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