Joining forces to provide a path to independence

By Tatiana Peralta 05/14/2021
Joining forces to provide a path to independence

Three men were recently hired full-time with competitive wages and benefits to work at the Naval Base Ventura County in California. This new journey sets Gary Lewis, Sergio Gonzales, and James Mikhail on a path for long-term success and independence.  

Through the efforts of SourceAmerica®, which connects a network of nonprofit organizations to employment opportunities in the AbilityOne® Program, the impressive trio supports our nation’s military by mowing, cleaning, and maintaining the grounds at the Naval Base. The opportunities are a long-time coming for Lewis, Gonzales, and Mikhail who have demonstrated their skills and abilities at various other job sites previously.  

“These placements are really rare. There are not many employers in our community that provide individuals with disabilities with full-time jobs, competitive wages, and benefits,” said Riki Tamanaha, Employment Services Manager at The Arc of Ventura County. “I wish I could share the excitement these men expressed when they received their first paychecks.” 

Throughout their careers, Lewis, Gonzales, and Mikhail were met with roadblocks and misconceptions about hiring people with disabilities. When The Arc of Ventura County joined forces with VTC Enterprises to collaborate on the Naval Base Ventura County grounds maintenance contract, a whole new world of possibilities opened.  

The nonprofit agencies, federal customer, and most importantly the individuals and their families have seen the effect these jobs have made on these employees. Tamanaha has even received calls from the parents of these gentlemen expressing how grateful and relieved they are to see their sons working fulfilling jobs.  

Gary Lewis  

Lewis held a variety of community-based jobs over the years, but they were all part-time and fraught with challenges due to a lack of employer knowledge about people with disabilities. He graduated from The Arc of Ventura County’s Training for Independent Living program, resides in an apartment, and owns a car.  

With his new job, Lewis has accomplished one of his major life goals. He is now able to take care of his finances with minimal support. “This is the best job and pay I ever got in my life,” he said.  

Sergio Gonzales 

Like Lewis, Gonzales also held several short-term jobs in the past, with no full-time option. After VTC Enterprises hired Gonzales full-time and he received his first paycheck, he decided to terminate his state benefits. Gonzales appreciates his job and continues to work hard. His goal is to save enough money to purchase his first car. 

James Mikhail  

Maintaining employment was a struggle for Mikhail due to a lack of understanding by his employers about accommodating disabilities. VTC staff demonstrated patience, encouragement, and understanding, creating comfort and stability for Mikhail in his new position. “I really like my job and my manager, Art,” he said. “I will work hard because I don’t want to disappoint Art and I love my paycheck!” 

Back at the Naval Base… 

All three individuals work seamlessly together, focusing on doing the job right and impressing those around them with their efforts.  

“I have been rewarded by the gratitude I receive from them,” said Art Gonzales, VTC’s Naval Base Ventura County Project Manager and supervisor to Lewis, Gonzales, and Mikhail. “They thank me every day and say they want to make sure I am happy with their performance because they like their job and don’t want to lose it. They make me smile, and I tell them they are doing a great job and I want them to be happy, too. It’s a win-win for all of us.” 

To learn more about how you can employ people with disabilities at your company, please contact