DARS

LaPearl Smith helps bring employment to those with disabilities 

 

Within the Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services (DARS) is LaPearl Smith, who is the business development manager for Northern Virginia. 

According to its website, “DARS offers no-cost services to employers across Virginia to help with their employee recruiting, screening, training and retention efforts.” Smith noted that DARS is hosting different events throughout October to honor National Disability Employment Awareness Month. 

Smith, who currently lives in Winchester, is in charge of connecting with businesses to expand their workforce to include people with disabilities, as well as helping participants in the DARS program to find employment.  

“My role is kind of like a link between the business community and our field office, again, engaging with businesses, finding, you know, what their needs are, and, you know, looking to create partnerships that will open doors of opportunity for our candidates to be hired,” she said.

Smith said that another big part of her role is educating businesses about misperceptions that might be had about hiring people with disabilities. She noted that she has seen improvements in those misperceptions in her time with DARS, but her work continues.  

“Things are better than they were but there’s still — getting our message out and being available to answer those questions and be available to educate and share information is what our staff endeavors to do. And it’s just creating those partnerships and you know, supporting the business community and our and our workforce partners and creating a diverse and inclusive workforce,” she said. 

She first began her work with DARS 22 years ago, when she was staffed as a placement counselor in the Winchester office. 

“Basically what I would do is work with the counselors and helping participants to find employment. And a large part of that was going to talk with businesses about our agency, our services and the goal of helping to open doors of opportunity for our candidates to be employed with those businesses,” Smith said. 

Smith recognizes that anyone could be put in the position of having a disability — and that all it takes is one accident or event to happen. She also noted those involved with the businesses she has worked with often know someone with an intellectual disability. 

“​All it takes is one event for any of us to become a person with a disability, you know, that one car accident, that one falling down a flight of steps, that one being witness to a school shooting that, brings on, you know, post traumatic disorder or some other mental health, you know, challenge that one bout of depression or bipolar disorder, whatever it may be,” she said.

Faith is something that Smith finds present in her work, saying, “Part of what I see as my Christian value is to give service.” She finds it rewarding to help others become gainfully employed. 

“Nothing makes me happier than when one of the candidates that our agency has worked with, you know gets that job, whatever that job may be … it’s exciting, it’s thrilling. I mean, it’s — in many ways — it’s life changing for a lot of people to be able to be self-sufficient … And to know that our agency has played a part in helping to facilitate that, for that individual, it’s very refreshing and inspiring for us,” Smith explained. 

Smith graduated from Shenandoah University and has done graduate work at James Madison University and George Washington University,” according to her profile on the DARS website.

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