State workers recognized for helping New Mexicans find jobs amid pandemic

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Businesses are looking to fill positions now, but this time last year many businesses were downsizing or even closing because of the pandemic.

Counselors, techs, and other employees at the state’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (NMDVR) worked to help New Mexicans living with disabilities find and secure employment. They had a tough time last year with fewer jobs to go around.

"We serve people with disabilities. We help them find employment, to overcome barriers in their life and help them become rehabilitated back into society," said Patricia Sainz with the NMDVR.

"There’s a lot of different things we can do. We can help them by paying for training, vocational training, college," said Kayla Damron. "We can help them by funding a small business, we can help them by just finding the job."

Damron is a NMDVR counselor and supervisor for other employees in Clovis, Roswell, Hobbs, and Carlsbad.

On top of her work, she’s been mentoring others in her office.

"We have still continued to provide services, but it’s been in a different way," Damron explained. "It’s also been very emotional, you know, for a lot of the employees, and it’s hard to do the job without being in front of the person."

Many people in the department are juggling large caseloads and sometimes hundreds of clients.

Sainz is a NMDVR tech based in Albuquerque with multiple caseloads of hundreds of people.

"We had a lot of clients that, you know, found jobs right before COVID hit, and then due to restaurants closing, you know, clients lost their jobs," Sainz said.

Helping clients was often tougher in a virtual environment.

"There’s been some that are really, really good with the online environment, and then some of them that just can’t, can’t do it," Damron said.

"It was challenging for all of us," Sainz said.

But it’s what they did – despite those challenges – that has the state recognizing Damron and Sainz for their work.

"Every year we ask for nominations for who’s going above and beyond in the agency," said Tracy Agiovlasitis with the New Mexico State Rehabilitation Council.

Damron and Sainz were nominated by their peers for going above and beyond.

"Something can happen to somebody in their life, and then they can no longer do the job that they ever did. And so then, oh gosh, where do I turn from here? And to me, it’s just a real example of people supporting people," Agiovlasitis explained.

"I’m really honored. I’m really, really honored," Sainz said.

"It’s been a difficult year, but it’s also been a time where we’ve had to grow closer in a different way," Damron said.

Now that more businesses are opening up, they’re ready to keep pushing forward and take on the next challenge ahead.

"This is really hard work, and it takes heart," Agiovlasitis said.

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