Over the past few decades, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation has expanded and diversified. With nearly 20 total enterprises across Pottawatomie County, the Nation provides thousands of jobs and holds the title of the county’s largest employer. As the Nation continues to flourish and positively influence the local economy, CPN seeks partnerships that foster workforce development. One way CPN does this is through a collaboration with the Oklahoma City-based nonprofit Dale Rogers Training Center.

As the oldest and largest nonprofit training and employment center for those with disabilities in Oklahoma, DRTC assists citizens across central Oklahoma, including CPN’s jurisdiction, find career success. The nonprofit’s services help clients foster confidence and independence through paid vocational training and support.

“For some folks, they really need help with soft skills. We’ll do mock interviews, but where we’re unique is that we have the opportunity to help folks who need assistance in vocational training on campus to get to the point where they’re ready to interview and … become advocates for themselves and for others,” said DRTC PR/Marketing Manager Michael Jones.

Mission

On its northwest Oklahoma City campus, the nonprofit houses several of its business entities that offer employment opportunities for its clients, and just like CPN’s varied enterprises, DRTC’s subsidiaries foster self-sustainability.

DRTC places clients where they will flourish, whether that is helping build frames at Wyman Frame; selling or packaging merchandise at Robin’s Corner Gift Shop; acrylic, trophy and promotional creation at Prism Place; or contract work that varies from merchandise packaging to assembling equipment for manufacturing and oil field services use.

The various DRTC enterprises help diversify the nonprofit’s portfolio, which has proved extremely important in years where state support may have decreased.

Although the nonprofit hires clients to work at its headquarters, 88 percent of its work occurs offsite in area businesses, like CPN. These partnerships expand the nonprofits’ service area outside of the Oklahoma City metro, helping reach rural Oklahomans as well.

“Our programs are so integral to the communities because we help individuals become successful and independent in their lives,” said DRTC Employment Services Manager Linda Sechrist. “The focus is on individuals with disabilities, and we want to promote independence, self-sufficiency, and also just to improve their self-esteem so they can become an asset to their community and participate in their community events.”

State agencies refer clients to DRTC where trained specialists help assess each individual’s capabilities and needs.

“Part of what we do is match the skill sets of our clients to what the businesses/employers are looking for,” said DRTC Employment Training Specialist Lorri Elston.

DRTC employees help clients cultivate skills, like learning from past mistakes, to create better futures.

“What we help individuals do is obtain and retain employment within the community,” Lorri said. “We help them do applications, help with the interview process, prepare them, go to the interview, sit in the interview if needed, and then we go to orientation.”

For those who need additional support, one-on-one training is also available.

“At no additional charge to the company, DRTC employment specialists provide support and training on site, which could last for several months in order for the individual to maintain employment,” Michael said.

CPN collaboration

DRTC began working with CPN in 2012. Since then, the Nation has employed approximately 25 of its clients, including Grand Casino Hotel & Resort Greeter Lucas Stuart. Lucas joined CPN’s workforce in 2012 and enjoys creating a warm, welcoming entrance for all who come through the Grand’s main doors.

Lorri from DRTC assisted Lucas with applying and preparing for the interview. She also worked with the Grand’s Housekeeping Department Manager Lorna Perez to provide insight into Lucas’ skillset and interests to find a position at CPN where he could thrive.

“They made this job so I could have it. It was something I did before I even started working here,” Lucas explained. “Originally, a door greeter wasn’t really a thing, but they made it for me.”

Wednesday through Saturday, Grand patrons can find Lucas — usually wearing a lanyard from his favorite comic publishing company, DC Comics — from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. near the Grand’s east doors.

“I have to say, I like a lot of the Batman animated movies,” Lucas explained, then pointed at his Batman bracelet. “I’m more of a DC guy than I am Marvel.”

As for the best part of his job, “It depends, I can’t really say exactly,” Lucas said and smiled.

“Some days are better than others, but that’s normal.”

Lucas appreciates the opportunity to work near his home and meet new friends as well as the support he received from DRTC and CPN’s collaboration.

“That’s one of the benefits too is that when folks get a position they enjoy and they are confident in, you won’t find a more loyal employee,” Michael said. “They love being reliable and that they’re contributing, and a lot of times, they end of up being the super star.”

Impact

Employing DRTC clients goes beyond providing independence. It allows the clients an opportunity to build community connections.

“They want to feel like they matter and that they’re contributing and growing and not just sitting and watching TV. And that’s the answers we get; ‘I want to matter,’” said DRTC Employment Training Specialist Lisa York.

Once clients find jobs and begin developing relationships with those they encounter, they have more confidence and often become key members of their communities. In fact, DRTC clients racked up more than 2,000 volunteer hours last year alone.

“We want to help as many individuals as possible have a job and to have a sense of ownership and identity,” Michael explained.

When asked why they want to work, most clients say their desire to contribute to society inspires them every day.

“They may need just a little more help and a little more guidance, but what we’re really trying to say is, ‘Take the stigma away,’” Michael said. “We don’t even look at diagnosis; we look at, ‘What are your capabilities? What do you want to do with your life?’

“They just need a chance, just like anybody else, and just to not be forgotten.”

For more information on Dale Rogers Training Center, visit drtc.org.