Horacio Esparza, executive director at the Progress Center for Independent Living. | Courtesy of Progress Center for Independent Living

Sara Capetillo is working full time expanding the right to work for people living with disabilities, including herself.

Capetillo has a condition known as Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita and because of it depends on a wheelchair and ventilator to live and work.

 Even so, with her abilities she has earned two graduate degrees, and is now the seemingly tireless and charismatic Bilingual Employment Advocate at The Progress Center for Independent Living’s Forest Park location. She oversees its job-readiness and internship programming.

 “Right now, what we have is an internship where people come here.  But, my idea is to utilize the business owners in Forest Park to help our candidates get other skills that are not necessarily office skills,” Capetillo said.  “Some of our consumers want to launch a job search, and we are not set up to be a job placement service, so, if these people can get a shot at an internship with a local manufacturer, for example, they can be evaluated by an actual on-site person who knows the gist of what is needed to hold a job in that industry, and as an intern, that is a huge part of the job-readiness experience.”

On board so far, and helping Progress Center get to that end game is John Conversa, director of manufacturing at Ferrara Pan Candy Company.  He was among the first business people to become members of Capetillo’s newly formed Community Partnership.

It is a grass roots initiative that began in the form of a community brainstorming breakfast and is now blossoming into a movement, thanks to the buy-in of a growing coalition within the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce.

“Sara and her people are developing a database of qualified candidates, and our hope is that it will be ready to distribute to area business owners by early November. So afterward we can say hey, if you are looking for these skill sets, we have them here,” Conversa said.  “Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes, and there certainly would be a person who may not be a good fit in a manufacturing environment.  But in other cases, there would be opportunities to work at our company, and there are possibly jobs to be filled in accounting and IT.  I could certainly see that being a fit.”

Joel Foster, a member of the Forest Park chamber, has become a champion of the work the Progress Center is doing. He is also the Community Partnership liaison to the Forest Park chamber. 

“Our goal with the Community Partnership is to build a sustainable model that can be used here, as well as taken by the Progress Center to expand their employment efforts with people with disabilities in nearby communities,” says Foster.

Horacio Esparza, the center’s executive di rector, adds that “We are celebrating 25 years of having the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), but I think we have more not to celebrate because still, over 60 to 70 percent of people living with a disability do not have a job, and are still living in poverty.  We have been working very hard with people with disabilities, and we do have people with disabilities who are ready to work.  We now need the employers to get on board.”

Progress Center for Independent Living

Address: 7521 W. Madison St., Forest Park 60130 

Satellite office at Moraine Valley Community College; 12940 S. Western Ave.
(3rd floor), Blue Island 60406

Phone: 708-209-1500

Website: www.progresscil.org

Leadership contact name: Horacio Esparza, executive director

Statement of purpose: Progress Center serves all the suburbs in the Cook County area.

Progress Center is operated by and for people with disabilities.

Our mission is to provide people with disabilities the tools they need to become independent.

How long have you been in existence? 27 years

Useful donations other than money: Medical equipment and any other medical accessories.

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....