Shining Stars of Vocational Rehabilitation Winners Honored at State Capitol

For immediate release
Date: October 15, 2019
Contact: Colorado Department of Labor and Employment
Amelia Tenne at 303.318.8004 or Cher Haavind at 303.318.8003

(Denver) -- Today at the Colorado Capitol building in Denver, Colorado, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s (CDLE) Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) held it third annual Shining Stars of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) ceremony, honoring five workers with disabilities, five disability advocates, and five employers who have shown a remarkable commitment to increasing employment of people with disabilities. 

Colorado Governor Jared Polis and Lieutenant Governor Dianne Primavera attended the event, where they both took photos with the awardees and lauded CDLE, DVR, and the awardees’ work to make Colorado a state where everyone who wants to work has the opportunity to do so.

“We chose to hold our Shining Stars of VR event during Disability Employment Awareness Month because we know that when we create inclusive and accessible workplaces, everyone wins,” said Kristin Corash, Director of DVR. “Workers with disabilities can use their considerable talents, employers benefit from the skills these workers bring to the workplace, and our communities become better places to live and work.”

“Alongside and with input from our partners, our department is committed to creating an economy that elevates all of Colorado,” said Joe Barela, Executive Director of CDLE. “Our mission to serve people with disabilities would not be possible without the support of remarkable people like our Shining Stars recipients.”

The event comes at a time when people with disabilities continue to face considerable barriers to employment: twenty-one percent of Coloradans have a disability, but only 29 percent are participating in the workforce, compared to 75 percent of people without a disability, according to KOAA News5 of Southern Colorado.

The event follows Governor Polis’s proclamation declaring October as Disability Employment Awareness Month and is one of a series hosted by CDLE and DVR. 

To help address the barriers people with disabilities face, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) helps employers understand the many skills and unique talents people with disabilities can bring to an organization. They also provide people with disabilities one-on-one job counseling, interpreter services, assistive technology, transportation, and more

Awardees include:


Philip Ramsey: Philip Ramsey, of Arvada, works the third shift as an inventory specialist in a store. He advocates on behalf of himself and his colleagues. His contributions to the workplace are greatly valued by his coworkers who say they enjoy working with him because of his sense of humor, his friendliness, and his work ethic. 

Ayslan Webb: (Photo) Ayslan Webb from Johnstown has been an active participant in DVR’s School to Work Alliance Program, also known as SWAP, since her junior year in high school. Having helped her family with childcare growing up, Ayslan knew that she wanted to find a job working with children. Working with her SWAP specialist, Ayslan was connected to a local daycare, Sunshine House, who provided her with an 320-hour paid work experience. Through the program, DVR was able to pay for her hours on the job as well as a career coach. Described as “incredibly sweet and personable,” Ayslan excelled in her new role and honed important life skills. Impressed by Ayslan’s work ethic and personality, Sunshine House offered her a full-time job in December of last year.

Joe Salazar: (Photo) Joe Salazar came to DVR in 2016 looking for a job. Over the next two years, with the support of his career coach, he improved his orientation and mobility skills and learned more about assistive technology. According to those who know him, Joe is a model of perseverance, accountability, adaptability, and determination. Joe worked around the clock pursuing job opportunities, and, after completing a paid work experience at the Arc Thrift Store in Colorado Springs, was offered a job there as an ambassador. 

Taylor Wofford: (Photo) Taylor Wofford of Milliken is passionate about animals, so DVR worked with her to find a paid work experience at Milliken Animal Clinic prior to her senior year of high school. During her time there, she developed hands-on skills while working alongside veterinarians and staff. She learned how to care for the animals before and after surgery, how to restrain animals in preparation for surgery, how to help staff administer blood draws, how to give vaccinations, and more. During her senior year, she volunteered at the clinic. As graduation approached, she reached out to DVR to see if she could complete another paid work experience, but in a more senior role. The people at Milliken Animal Clinic were excited to have Taylor come back to work with them and after her paid work experience, Taylor was offered a full-time position. She has continued to gain and develop skills in her chosen career path. 

Jeannette Laird: (Photo) Jeannette Laird of Colorado Springs lost much of her hearing due to extensive cancer treatment, Jeannette came to DVR to get hearing aids so she could attend job fairs, interviews, and other job opportunities and hear and understand what those around her were saying. With her corporate experience in high-level management, Jeannette was looking to re-enter the workforce. After obtaining her hearing aids, Jeannette found full-time office work. Those who know her admire her positivity, determination, and composure.


Carlos Santos: Carlos Santos, an independent-living coordinator with the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence in Summit County, spearheaded the creation of a program for transition-aged youth with disabilities, who decided to call themselves Choice of Life. He organized and coordinated opportunities for the group, including career exploration guidance and job shadowing. He also helped them hone and gain important life skills like cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping, in addition to connecting them to fun outdoor activities like adaptive skiing and kayaking. Carlos has been instrumental in galvanizing local organizations to better serve transition-aged youth with disabilities. He helped start the Summit Transition Advisory Group, which includes representatives from DVR, workforce centers, Summit High School, Mountain Mentors, Colorado Mountain College, the Easter Seals, and the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence. Those he works with say that they are fortunate to have such a dedicated partner and advocate.

Lynette Loyd: DVR employee Lynette Loyd shows incredible commitment, high energy, and compassion to her job serving Centennial Mental Health Center’s clients. According to those she works with, she excels at helping her clients create and execute their career plans so they can find and keep good jobs. Her creativity leads to innovative ideas to assist clients. Her dedication to following up with clients is remarkable. She excels at reconnecting with people who’ve left our programs due to family issues, problems with transportation, and other factors, encouraging them to resume their career plans. Lynette’s superior customer service and obvious passion for her work inspire both her coworkers and clients. 

Candis Gaerte: As a job placement provider, career coach, personal adjustment trainer, and interpreter for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, Candis Gaerte serves as a model advocate. In her work at DVR in Denver, she uses her collaborative and positive attitude to advocate for her clients, whom she supports by connecting them to public resources to help them maintain their employment, independent living support, and more. She excels at seeing her clients holistically and is great at helping them gain confidence and autonomy.

TJ Carlson: (Photo) In his position as a job placement vendor at DVR in Golden, TJ Carlson works tirelessly to help his clients find jobs or find better jobs. His team describes him as creative, ethical, kind, and fun to work with. They say he brings a collaborative team spirit to his work. They also commend him for his advocacy; recently he found out that a manager refused to consider a client for an interview based on their request for a stool while working at a cash register. TJ reported this behavior which influenced a change in practices. By speaking up and addressing injustice directly, TJ serves as a model for us all.

Julie Cook: (Photo) Julie Cook is a Disability Resource Coordinator with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center. Through the Disability Employment Initiative, Julie has worked to eliminate programmatic barriers facing people with disabilities. She has also helped streamline access to services for job seekers with disabilities and has developed a resource center in the Colorado Springs DVR office to provide job seekers with seamless support and services as they search for a job. The resource center offers visitors current labor market information, information on employment trainings, up-to-date job listings, community events, and more. She has been instrumental in the development of the center’s Employer Forum and helped create the Abilities Job Fair in honor of Disability Employment Awareness Month.


John Julian, John Julian Painting: John Julian started his John Julian Painting business more than 25 years ago in Summit County. In the summer of 2017, he decided to host a paid working experience for a highschool student with severe anxiety and limited work skills. The student’s anxiety was so severe that he almost didn’t show up for his first day, so John worked with the student to help him develop work skills and confidence. When the student graduated from high school, he wanted to learn a professional trade that he could use to build a career and approached DVR to learn how he could pursue this dream. After offering him on-the-job training, he and his team went above and beyond to help this young man build his skills and speed, providing mentorship and transportation. John had never had an employee with a disability and was proactive in seeking input and advice on how he could best help this young man. Exceeding all of John’s expectations, John hired him as a permanent employee, providing him with year-round job security in a community where most jobs are seasonal.

Milliken Animal Clinic: (Photo) The Milliken Animal Clinic has been a model partner and supporter of DVR clients for years. The partnership began when a DVR employee established a working relationship to provide clients with paid work experiences. Since then, the clinic has offered employment opportunities for SWAP clients still enrolled in high school. The clinic has been easy to work with and have encouraged all of their employees on their career journeys, giving them the skills they need to become successful veterinary tech assistants. Another award winner, Taylor, loved the experience so much, she continued to work at the clinic as a volunteer after her paid work experience had ended. They were so impressed by her work, they hired her on as a permanent employee as soon as she graduated high school. Their flexibility and understanding with DVR’s clients make them a fantastic asset to the community.

Steve Bigari and Kevin Reiss, Synq3: (Photo) Steve Bigari, CEO of Synq3, a premier provider of restaurant automation, technology, and off-premise solutions, worked closely with HR Director Steve Bigari, to develop a pilot program specifically for DVR clients. Thanks to their inclusive policies, employees can either work onsite or from home using a computer and headset provided by Synq3. Steve and Kevin have brought in assistive technology staff to learn how they can incorporate such technologies to create a more accessible workplace. As of today, they’ve hired a dozen DVR clients and have continued to work closely with DVR in Colorado Springs to increase that number. Kevin continues to support DVR’s mission as a presenter at the DVR conference and as a panelist at the Employer Forum for Disability Awareness Month. Both Steve and Kevin want to encourage others to hire people with disabilities, using their pilot program as a potential model.

Shannon Pierce and Tyler Jones, Rib City Grill: Shannon Pierce and Tyler Jones of Rib City Grill in Montrose are great employment advocates for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. Employees are placed in jobs in which they can excel and are given support to learn, grow, and be successful. Rib City Grill has created a positive work environment characterized by high morale, cooperation, and mutual respect. Rib City Grill’s decision to create an inclusive and accessible workforce has given their employees with disabilities the opportunity to gain rich life and work experiences.

Barry Janzen, SketchUp: (Photo) Barry Janzen works at SketchUp, a division of Trimble, an enterprise IT company. Under his leadership, many DVR clients on the autism spectrum have found paths to employment. Working with DVR staff, Barry helped arrange paid internships, which enabled clients to showcase their full range of skills and talents. These internships have often led to contractual or permanent job offers. Barry also has also gone above and beyond in his advocacy for disability employment: he attended DVR’s statewide conference in September, where he shared his experiences working with DVR and the strengths people with disabilities bring to the workforce.