Advocate pairs jobs, people with disabilities

Dorothy Kret (Sheila Wilensky)
Dorothy Kret (Sheila Wilensky)

Dorothy (Dot) Kret isn’t your typical matchmaker. For the past 25 years she’s been helping people with disabilities “become employable and employed,” as the DK Advocates mission statement puts it. “My mother always said what my company does is today’s version of a yenta,” she says, using the word in the sense of the matchmaking “Fiddler on the Roof” character. “We match people to jobs rather than to spouses,” Kret told the AJP, noting that some people spend more time at their jobs than at home.

Kret takes her role as a rehabilitation administrator seriously, following the company’s motto, “Realize your full potential with DKA.” As the president and founder of DK Advocates, formerly Dorothy Kret Associates, she oversees programs annually for around 400 people with disabilities. Clients may need more training in current jobs or education in specific life skills, says Kret, while “around 90 percent want paid jobs to be able to support themselves.” Many who have completed DK’s training programs work in paid positions in the local catering industry, office and warehouse management, or for DK’s most long-standing employer, the Pima County Attorney’s Office.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. “Disability doesn’t discriminate,” says Kret. “There are just as many people in the Jewish community with autism or behavioral health issues as any other group. And now there are more diagnoses than ever before. Just as with domestic violence, because you don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

The general rule used to be that 10 percent in any population have a disability, whether it’s physical or behavioral, she says. “Now studies say it’s 25 percent. There’s better care now. People are living longer. The highest frequency of major head injuries is from auto accidents. People used to die more often from these injuries. Now they don’t.”

DKA clients in the company’s two culinary training programs make lunch every Wednesday for 40 to 60 people at the Ronald McDonald House. In addition to clients preparing the menu and serving food, says Kret, “it gives them the opportunity to exercise their gratitude muscle. If a 23-year-old single mom [with a disability] sees a 23-year-old single mom whose 3-year-old is pulling an oxygen cart around, it puts the world into perspective.”

One recent DKA success story is a formerly homeless veteran recovering from substance abuse who’s celebrating his one-year anniversary as a warehouse manager. The Arizona Department of Economic Security/ Division of Developmental Disabilities deems an individual unemployable if he’s failed at three jobs, says Kret, adding, an individual’s success “is about expectations.” One DK client worked as a janitor and was terribly bored; when he learned computer skills his attitude changed drastically, she says. People with disabilities can succeed by learning how to fill out applications online, working on interview skills or doing labor-market research on the Internet, says Kret. “It’s more important to see what people can do rather than what they can’t.”

In 2008, DKA, which also has an office in Phoenix, received a Project Hero grant from the U.S. Department of Education that gave jobs to Arizona veterans. In September 2010, “when the economy bottomed out, Congress cut the program,” she says. “We called 500 vets throughout the state and had to say, ‘Golly, we’re sorry.’”

Kret prefers to concentrate on the positive. “Our company is a mitzvah,” she says. Born in Newark, N.J., Kret moved with her family to Phoenix when she was 3 years old. Her family was active in the Har Zion Congregation and Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale. Kret holds a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation from the University of Arizona and a master’s degree in rehabilitation administration from the University of San Francisco.

In Tucson, Kret worked at the Beacon Foundation helping to set up job training programs for four years before moving on to the Tucson Unified School District, which received a grant to establish a sheltered-workshop program. “I set up Project Experience at Tucson High,” she notes. “It’s no longer there. High school kids worked at local businesses and got paid.” In 1984, she started her own business working out of her family’s spare bedroom.

Expanding its services, DKA started Archive Advantage 10 years ago and hires people with disabilities to learn document and photo scanning, digital file management, data conversion and information retrieval. “We help [customers] become paperless, to bring that wedding video you can’t play anymore back to life,” she says.

Providing key-word documentation online is another part of the archiving endeavor. “We’re scanning 300 boxes of everything that the [University Medical Center] received after the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting. There’s stuff that Gabby [Giffords] hasn’t seen yet,” says Kret, “including gifts like a Jewish star from Israel. All of this will be part of the permanent Jan. 8 memorial. It’s important for me personally and for the community.” The pro bono project fits Kret’s credo, “I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to leave the world better than they found it.”

Job fair

The 2013 D.R.E.A.M. Job Fair, which offers employment to people with disabilities, will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 9 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Hotel Tucson City Center, 475 North Granada Ave.

More than 50 local businesses will be on hand to hire qualified individuals with disabilities. Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, along with Rep. Ron Barber and local businessman Jim Click, are co-chairs of this year’s job fair.

For more information, contact Patrick McCarthy at pmccarthy@Beacon Group.org or 622-487, ext. 166.