By Maria Cook
Students in the DECA program at Carmel High School learn professional skills, such as how to interview and manage a company, but now some of its members are going beyond the classroom to make an impact on local businesses and people with special needs.
Claire Given, a CHS senior and member of DECA, is part of a three-person team that created The Ability Campaign, which seeks to encourage Carmel businesses to hire more employees with special needs.
She said the campaign was inspired by a speech given by Shelly Henley, owner of No Label at the Table, a Carmel bakery that employs people on the autism spectrum, at a Best Buddies event. Given is also a member of Best Buddies, which pairs special needs students with student “buddies,” like Given.
“(Henley) came to speak at the banquet, and it really inspired me to create this campaign,” Given said. “We already have existing relationships with local businesses, so we thought, ‘What a great idea.’”
After emailing local business owners and speaking at a OneZone monthly luncheon, Given’s team has reached out to many local businesses, encouraging them to hire employees based on their abilities, rather than their disabilities, Given said. Several business owners agreed to help conduct mock interviews with special needs students at a DECA networking event this month to help them sharpen their interview skills.
“The statistic is that 80 percent of people with intellectual disabilities are unemployed, and our idea is that we want to change that in Carmel and elsewhere,” Given said.