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“We’re responding to the need, but the humanity that comes out is a true gift.” These words of Nancy Albin, Vice President of Los Angeles Habilitation House (LAHH), define the unique fruitfulness of their non-profit organization that offers employment for adults with disabilities.
The idea for LAHH began, of all places, at Disney, where Nancy and Guido Piccarolo (now LAHH’s CEO) met in the Finance and Accounting Department. While not disparaging the work that happens in big for-profit companies, Nancy and Guido both felt compelled to do something different with their God-given gifts.
Guido grew up in Milan, Italy, where he did some charitable work with people with disabilities. This experience created a place in his heart for this population, which was further cemented by witnessing a non-profit in Oregon that assisted persons with disabilities. There he met people who were happy to contribute to society through jobs that let them discover themselves and their own gifts.
LAHH is launched
Together, Guido and Nancy started Los Angeles Habilitation House in 2007, as a non-profit organization that usually employs anywhere from 18-25 persons with disabilities. Employees receive training and support to engage in steady work in fields such as administrative services, janitorial services, porters, floor care, and more.
But what Guido and Nancy offer is more than just a job — it is the possibility to build a life, and to help prevent those with disabilities from becoming isolated. First and foremost, they want each person to know that they have value. In the words of Guido: “You have dignity, a value that is absolute.”
The actions of their former employees make it clear that this message has made its mark. Past employees reach out about all sorts of things — from a reminder about how to clean a floor well to discussing the latest sport news.
Understanding the human heart
One client, Patrick, passed away and his father was sure to write to Guido and Nancy. His words were simple but encapsulated their mission: “You understood the heart of Patrick.”
At LAHH, each employee is seen as a person first and always. Nancy explains that they post jobs and potential employees, or their loved ones, reach out to see about filling the position. It is only after the employee is brought on that a closer look is taken at their particular disabilities, with the intention of helping each person to receive the appropriate support and accommodations.
Take Evan, for example:
He most recently worked in retail but was not treated very well. So, he and his counselor, Vivi, were on the lookout for a new job, and she reached out. Our first impression of Evan was that he had a big desire to work and was a sweet and gentle person. We hired Evan to work on the carpet cleaning team. In order to help him remember the tasks and steps, he received job coaching for his developmental disabilities. Evan was able to move to a different janitorial team within LAHH and work as a custodial specialist.
When we asked Evan, “How’s it going at work?” he shared, “Here there is no judgement or discrimination. Everyone is kind with me.”
Evan lives with his aunt who is also a great source of support for him in life skills and money management. We communicate regularly with her to get feedback on how to better (Evan’s) work environment or anything else we need to hear. His aunt shared: “Evan tells me that everyone (at LAHH) is so wonderful and patient and he can ask questions. Mike, the supervisor, is great. Evan is more comfortable with the routine and path to (follow) each day. I am so grateful he has this job and you guys.”
“Whatever you did for one of these …”
On their website, Nancy and Guido share the impact of their approach:
We have found that employment, coupled with training before and after hiring and a supportive work environment at the workplace, helps each person discover, use, and improve their talents, their desire for creativity, and ultimately for knowing and becoming more themselves. This approach has also shown to be linked with longer career experiences, i.e., maintaining the job.
Guido also says that at the heart LAHH’s work are the words of the Gospel “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
As they come to know each person they serve, Nancy explains that she discovers something she couldn’t have predicted — that this work is a gift to her own life. Guido and Nancy have helped many others maximize their gifts and contribute to society, but their response to the very real needs they saw also enabled them to use their talents and to see the face of God in each person they serve.