Call from the Governor’s Office


It’s not often that I get a call from any Governor’s Office for anything, much less a call to join a team of appointees presumably intent on making a positive difference in government and subsequently on having a positive impact in the lives of people in our community at large. Come to think of it, that has never happened to me…well…until a little over a week ago when I received a call and was asked if I’d be interested in “helping out with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation,” otherwise known as OVR.

“Really?” was my initial suspicious and halfway sarcastic response. I almost, but didn’t follow it up with, “Very funny! Who put you up to this?” In fact, a small part of me is still expecting a few of my friends to jump out of the cabinet, if you will, with cameras laughing and yelling, “We got you! It’s a prank! Hahaha!” It would be an “epic” prank, if somehow even the governor was in on it.

The truth is that the affairs of our government are no laughing matter. And, for the past nearly 30 years that I’ve lived here, all I could do was watch from the outside looking in, offering little more than cynical drops of pointed commentary via articles such as this one or espousing know-it-all bits of wisdom around the proverbial, backyard picnic table. The idea that I might actually get the chance to put direct action to my years of yammering from the sidelines feels a bit surreal, but also feels right and is an opportunity that I could not refuse. Inasmuch as I never expected to get called up for such a task or get back in to this line of work, it is in fact an area of government that I feel confidently qualified to handle. Coincidentally, in my former job with the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems, Inc., otherwise known as NMPASI, we administered a federally mandated program essentially tasked with being the “watchdog” for OVR.

In terms of size (both in staff and funds), the Vocational Rehabilitation program is a fraction of what other appointees are having to navigate, but it’s purpose—namely to increase employment and promote independence for individuals with disabilities—is far-reaching.

In this, my first week on the job, our counselors prepared and we subsequently authorized approximately $15,000 in tuition and on-the-job training support for 12 eligible individuals with disabilities in support of their Individualized Plans for Employment. Now, imagine for a second what a tremendous help these funds (ranging from $600 to $2,500 each) must be for the individuals due to receive them and how much closer these get them to achieving their work goals—just an example of the kind of support (in these cases monetary) that is available here and an illustration of why OVR exists.

Beyond that, there is a general consensus, rightfully, among the staff that all of us are only here for the primary purpose of helping eligible individuals who come to us for assistance. One representative from the Governor’s Office who brought me over to meet with the OVR staff on my first day very eloquently spoke about the importance of what OVR does and pointed out that his brother is an individual with a disability. “I want to thank you on behalf of the governor and myself personally for all that you do. My brother, as some of you may know, is an individual with a disability and OVR has very much been a part of his story,” he said to all of us. “Please keep up the good work and don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of help in any way.”

Many of us would likely agree that having a job is generally a good thing and most of us might also agree that having a job for which you wake up each morning wanting to go in for makes it even better. Given that our work at OVR is specifically to help people with disabilities obtain and/or retain jobs, it makes sense that we ourselves should value and be excited to go to work each day. In order to sell any product which for OVR is supplemental support and the prospect of being employed despite having a disability and despite (in many cases) being able to collect nearly equal pay in government benefits, we need to emulate wanting to go to work ourselves. It is much easier to sell something that you believe is important. So, for better or for worse, that’s where my role as the new director begins.

Generally, I hope to do this from three simple starting points:

(1) Fostering a “safe” working environment: Everyone who works here should treat people and expect to be treated with dignity and respect. Inasmuch as we need to treat our clients and the general public with care, we need to do the same with each other;

(2) Holding each other accountable: We acknowledge and encourage genuine friendships among the staff with the understanding that real friends hold each other up, but also hold each other accountable. We don’t do each other any favors by turning a blind eye to things we know should be corrected just because we are friends; and

(3) Being present (in body and mind): If we are to succeed in our mission, it is important that, as much as possible, each of us is present at work both physically and mentally. Our days on the clock should be spent working in support of or to improve our services—noting too, that for purposes of our line of work, spending time and speaking with each other can be an effective way to better our services.

Nobody is more surprised or thrilled than I am about being selected for this role. I am genuinely grateful for this opportunity and excited about going to work each day. For lack of a more profound way to put it, I get to help people to help themselves—such an honor. Also, I hope to help make OVR a positive, memorable part of many more life stories in the CNMI… [to be continued]

Jim Rayphand is a former executive director of the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc. and recently ventured into a startup fishing business.


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