August 28, 2007

National disabled workers group honors Brooks

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — As superintendent of building services at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Bradley Jay Brooks has numerous commitments.

But a special dedication — and one integral to the University's operation — is resulting in national recognition for Brooks' efforts. He will receive the National Rehabilitation Association's Organizational Award during the group's annual conference, Sept. 6-9, in Tucson, Ariz.

In May, Brooks received the Illinois Rehabilitation Association's Rehabilitation Service Award — equivalent to employer of the year — for his commitment to hiring people with disabilities and seeing they receive the necessary support.

Brooks said he is "very humbled and honored," by the recognition. He read the notification letter several times and thought, "How could this be?" And he prefers to shift the focus to others who deserve the recognition.

"I'm very, very pleased to see the precious employees we have be able to receive an opportunity to be recognized for their outstanding accomplishments," he said. "I wish it was their names on the award rather than mine because they truly are the stars in our operation."

A statewide initiative, the Supported Program seeks to provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Brooks' efforts enabled 17 people to find work on the SIUC campus out of 39 people in the program in the state.

"The individuals we have been able to hire through the Supported Program are some of our finest employees in our operations," he said. "Their work on a daily basis is vital to the recruitment and retention of our wonderful students."

Building services provides custodial responsibilities for all of the classrooms and buildings on campus — more than 100 buildings, or about 5 million square feet — on a daily basis, Brooks said. He oversees about 120 full-time employees and about 300 total workers, counting student employees.

"The only part I played is being the lucky manager who was able to have the privilege of hiring these employees," he said.

SIUC also deserves recognition "for being such a welcoming institution to folks who do not have disabilities but, rather, special abilities," Brooks said. "I would also like to note the State University Civil Service System is farsighted and visionary in its approach to bringing in individuals who have significant challenges into their system."

Astrid Mosely, vocational supervisor for the Southern Illinois Center for Independent Living in Carbondale, initially nominated Brooks for the statewide award. In May, Mosely noted that Brooks' efforts go beyond just hiring the employees, but also working with the employee to see they received the support they need to succeed at work.

David N. Ross, chair of the Illinois Rehabilitation Association's awards committee, forwarded Brooks' nomination for the national award. Ross is a rehabilitation services supervisor with the Illinois Department of Human Services' Division of Rehabilitation Services.

"It's an outstanding award for somebody helping persons withy disabilities get hired for jobs," Ross said. "We are really proud of people who are willing to help people with disabilities find employment."

Brooks and his wife, Mary Jane, live in Carbondale. He plans to attend the awards ceremony and banquet on Sept. 8.