Cherokee Nation staff recognized for service to Vocational Rehab Program

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TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Two Cherokee Nation staff members were recognized for their service in helping improve the life of Native Americans with disabilities through the tribe’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program during a national conference held recently in Chicago.

Brenda Fitzgerald, program manager for the Cherokee Nation Vocational Rehab Program and Alicia Eubanks, administrative assistant, were recognized by the Consortia of Administrators for Native American Rehabilitation, a national organization serving those with disabilities.

“It was great to see Brenda and Alicia recognized nationally for their service not only to Cherokee citizens, but to all the Native Americans they have assisted,” said Chad Smith, Cherokee Nation principal chief.

Fitzgerald and Eubanks served on a conference hosting committee for consortia members in Oklahoma. A total of 78 tribal nations are represented in the group, including eight in Oklahoma. The Cherokee Nation program is the oldest program of its type in the state. As part of the committee, the pair worked to bring in speakers and coordinated events to help Native Americans with disabilities, including providing employment opportunities and helping improve the quality of life for those they serve.

“What we do is all about service to individuals with disabilities,” Fitzgerald said. “We help them through training, education and job placement.”

On average, the Cherokee Nation program serves more than 250 clients per year, many times placing individuals in full-time positions.

“Our program helps them get off Social Security and back into the workforce doing meaningful work. Some of our former clients have moved on to become managers, and many have become counselors who now help others in need,” Fitzgerald said.

Economic impact studies have shown that every dollar the tribe spends in helping train and place these individuals impacts the area economy as much as $21 in return. By placing 25 individuals in jobs, it is estimated the local economic impact is more than $1.8 million per year.

“Many times, a person we place winds up being a valuable employee. They just need to be given a chance,” Fitzgerald said.