This dynamic program began with three Polus Center employees, each of whom have experienced their own journey with blindness. Will McNamara, Rick Ely, and Josh Pearson saw a need and recognized a program that teaches professional communication and teamwork could inspire and motivate students who are just learning how to be confident with themselves and their unique talents. Through working closely with students, it became apparent that some were discouraged by the stigmas that exist in many workplace settings. The 70% unemployment rate among blind and low vision individuals can be an intimidating statistic for students and young professionals alike as they seek out a meaningful career.
Prior to the start of the pandemic, Polus Center employees sought to encourage their students to seek out careers and higher education. These programs included visits to colleges and job sites. Once these programs were put on hold, efforts became focused on assisting students as they transferred into virtual learning environments. As society at large has transferred to online work and communications, this opened opportunity to create a training program for interns that would teach the teamwork and meaningful skills needed to ignite their passion and drive to find their way into the working world.
Will McNamara became involved with the Polus Center following his own vision loss. Will has been involved with Mass Eye and Ear Institute, and helped spread the word of vison loss through running with the MEEI team in the Boston Marathon. While he felt passionate about these programs, he desired to become more actively involved with helping others reach their full potential.
Following a lengthy career as a Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Rick Ely became involved with local programs in the Springfield area where he is able to interact and coach students as they grow comfortable with their own vision loss. He worked with students as they learned a wide variety of skills that went far beyond his interactions with students prior to this program.
“I then realized that I didn’t want to go back to being a TVI, because I felt like I didn’t have enough time with each student to make meaningful difference.” RE
Both Josh Pearson and Rick Ely are passionate about the world and art of radio and realized that teaching audio production to participating students would be a transferrable skill that would lead to a real world job. The idea expanded to other forms of media, ultimately leading to the collection of podcasts, written articles and short film interviews featuring gainfully employed vision impaired individuals from a wide variety of careers.
”I very firmly believe in community and getting people what they need. What do I wish I had at 15, 18, 23? One of those was realizing that there’s just no blueprint in how to find a job as a blind person.” JP
Josh notes that he first realized just how intimidating the world of work is for students when one oof his students admitted that they were not motivated to find a job as they believed that working in the real world as a blind person is not realistic. In an effort to inspire students, Josh and Rick realized that by connecting with working professionals who are blind, these students can realize that blindness does not limit their abilities to follow their passions.
Creating a dynamic team of individuals to lead these students was a crucial part of the process. Through networking with other Polus Center employees, and workshop leaders that specialize in interview techniques, writing, and community outreach were all essential elements to ensure the success of a program like Trades Win. Donna Glick, who had recently retired from the Huntington Theater in Boston, helped design and facilitate the series of workshops taught before the students began conducting interviews. Writer Kate Chadborne joined the team to lead students in the process of creating written interview profiles that came from interviewing working professionals. The Foxfire program of Georgia that teaches similar skills to high school students (and whose Foxfire book series inspired this concept) also participated. Huntington Theater professional Marissa Jones assisted in the creation and execution of workshops that taught students how to interact with interviewees, ask meaningful questions, and present their results in a polished piece.