August 12, 2013
"Team Cameron" Builds a Bridge from The Arc to APL
The nameplate outside the office door reads “Cameron D’Aquila.” Inside, working at his computer, D’Aquila handles everything from basic clerical tasks, to database management and report generation, to data conversion and recording. “I’m one of the most technologically savvy people in my house,” says D’Aquila, 20, a part-time, on-call staff member of the Strategic Systems Business Area (SSBA) in APL’s Force Projection Department (FPD).
“He’s very determined and focused,” says his supervisor, Howard Heuberger. “He can do a lot. He’s a special guy.”
D’Aquila, who started at APL on January 14, is the first person placed by The Arc of Howard County at a desk job outside of The Arc offices. The Arc assists individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in achieving “full community life,” where the person can live and work as they choose. D’Aquila’s success at his job comes from his own abilities and talents, from his job counselors at Arc, and from a group of Laboratory staff led by Heuberger, who in May was awarded an “Excellence in Employment” award by The Arc.
Cameron’s route to APL began with a mid-2012 conversation between Heuberger and FPD’s Bob Baker, who has served as director of Howard County Special Olympics for many years. “I asked Bob, ‘What do the athletes do as adults?’” Heuberger says. “He answered, ‘Not much.’”
Heuberger soon learned that the national unemployment rate for the developmentally disabled is approximately 70%. That got him thinking that “maybe we could create something.” He began to research organizations that could help and learned about The Arc. Later that year, while getting gas on Route 108, he saw a woman wearing an Arc T-shirt fueling her car. “I approached the woman [Hope Couser, an Arc nurse] and asked if she could connect me with The Arc because we wanted someone to work at the Lab,” he says. The next day, Bonnie Cronin, director of employment services at The Arc, contacted him. She and Julie Humble, an employment specialist, came out to APL to tour the work environment.
“I worked up a one-page proposal that I took to the business area management team,” Heuberger says. “I told them my idea and said, ‘Here’s the proposal: I need a little overhead for a small salary. I’ll do the rest.’ It was an offer they couldn’t refuse, I guess.”
“APL is the largest [private] employer in Howard County,” says Jeff Kenny, of the Human Resources and Services Department, who heads the Department Service Team for FPD. “We have a natural role to provide community outreach and, when appropriate, interview atypical candidates for positions.” The Laboratory employs two Arc individuals already, in housekeeping positions; Heuberger’s idea was to find a way to have someone perform clerical and other office work.
Humble accompanied D’Aquila to the job interview at APL. “Cameron handled 90–95% of it himself,” Kenny says. “He was prepped, and he really impressed us. The Arc is a great organization, and made this a really easy thing to do.”
Once D’Aquila accepted the job, Heuberger asked if anyone wanted to join a support team; he ended up working with Kenny and about eight other people in SSBA, including Sue Deardon, Jeff Manning, and Kim Perkoski, to form “Team Cameron.” The team helped get everything set up, including finding desk space and a computer.
“I knew we could do it and that enough people would help,” Heuberger says. “And we couldn’t have done it without the infrastructure The Arc has set up. But he’s taken to the job, and people have taken to him.”
Humble and job coach Leonard Djomgoue have helped D’Aquila transition into his position in SSBA; now, Djomgoue stops by every two weeks to make sure everything is running smoothly.
Heuberger downplays his role in D’Aquila’s success, but in a letter nominating him for The Arc award, Humble wrote: “If it weren’t for Howard’s persistence, hard work, and dedication, Cameron would not be sitting at his own desk in his own office while I write this.”
D’Aquila has handled every job Heuberger and the group have assigned him, leading Heuberger recently to reach out across the SSBA for more work. “I like to be really organized and that helps,” D’Aquila says of his increasing work load and technology tasks. “I’m a relatively quick learner. And I’ve always been good at that stuff.”
“This whole project has brought something more to my work experience,” Heuberger admits, “and a lot of it has to do with the person that Cameron is.”