Institute for Career Development names Diosdado Gica and Joseph T. McDonald III as Co-Presidents
Institute for Career Development names Diosdado Gica and Joseph T. McDonald III as Co-Presidents
The Institute for Career Development, a nonprofit organization that focuses on workforce development, job training and career advancement for individuals with disabilities, earlier this month named Diosdado Gica and Joseph T. McDonald III as Co-Presidents of the organization. Previously, Gica served as ICD’s Chief Operating Officer overseeing programs and operations, and McDonald served as the Executive Director of Development and Communications. Both now share the similar vision of continuing ICD’s work of furthering economic justice for New Yorkers with disabilities.
ICD was founded in 1917 with the mission of serving World War I veterans through vocational rehabilitation. Now, 100 years later, the organization continues to serve not only veterans, but all New Yorkers with disabilities to ensure better quality of life through economic mobility. Under new leadership, ICD will now shift its focus to helping youth with disabilities transition from school to a career.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What made each of you interested and/or passionate about workforce development and economic justice?
Diosdado Gica: I have an education degree, I started out as a public school teacher. Even back then, I was exposed to students with disabilities that were in my classroom. After the public school system, I wanted to be in a nonprofit, and I've always been interested in economic justice through education. That's been the core of my personal and professional mission. Afterwards, I went into the YMCA and I did adult programming. I went to Queens Library and I did adult Education, literacy ESL programming, which is all about helping people with low socioeconomic backgrounds that are not well served get the education that they need to really move up in their career and in life. That naturally led me to ICD because I think people with disabilities, amongst all of the other groups, have the highest unemployment rates in New York City. That's where I wanted to make the most impact personally and professionally which led me to ICD. We can make the most impact with the most disadvantaged group of people in the city.
Joseph T. McDonald III: When I was introduced to ICD, I was really blown away at the immediacy of the impact that was possible. In higher education, you work to help someone through a four, sometimes eight or ten year education and then you hope that somewhere in the next 10 years your alumni are making a difference that you can publicize. At ICD, you can see someone's life change in a handshake, the first time you meet them, and give them the respect that they haven't received ever in some cases. That was so moving for me and it was just a great fit to be able to pivot the expertise that I developed in higher ed to this. Coming from a family that has disabilities, I think we all have a connection with disability in our lives and so I was really drawn to do such meaningful work that could have such an immediate impact. Also, the lack of support for individuals with disabilities or the lack of sort of broad societal understanding and appreciation for the human value that an individual with a disability brings, and the fact that the bias still exists in hiring and across society really seemed like the wild west and it was unfathomable to me that this was the condition. So that's really what drew me to it, and it's kept me at it.
What do you think is the benefit of this co-presidency model?
McDonald: We have worked since last May as the interim co-leaders and what that meant was maintaining our own portfolios of responsibility. Development and communications for me, programs and operations for Dio, and then sort of uniting to manage all of the larger items. We're a small enough organization that we were so hands-on that there was little that we weren't already a part of. Unfortunately, in 2021 due to COVID-19, we had to furlough and ultimately let go of about half of our staff. We became an organization that really felt and still feels too small to have a CEO. When the previous CEO left and we were able to work in that co-lead structure directly with the board for quite some time, it became apparent that we didn't really need that next level up. Maintaining a responsibility of a specific portfolio and then working together with our leadership team for organization-wide initiatives and concerns worked well.
Gica: We’re a small nonprofit. We're in the human services field and the way we do work is very hands-on and so it does not make any sense to really create a corporate structure like a CEO. And it also really takes advantage of each of our expertise. Joseph is really good at and has been doing great work in development, marketing and communications. And my background is really in programs and operations, and I've honed those skills over the years in my professional career. So to me, it's more of a collaborative effort where we oversee the areas that we have the most expertise and have the most passion in. We had just forgotten about that corporate structure because it is not a good fit for us. This is a better fit for us. The idea is still the same, that we work together to really make the most impact for the organization. That's what matters the most at the end.
How has the pandemic impacted the workforce and why do you think ICD is needed now more than ever?
Gica: We closed down like everybody else in March 2020 and reopened in August of 2020. Part of the main reason why we did that was to get ahead of the curve. No other nonprofits in the field had done it, but we felt like we needed to reopen for our participants more than anybody because that's probably when they needed us the most. Most people converted their programming virtually but we know our participants. Our participants don't have computers at home, they don't have Wi-Fi at home, and so we thought it was very important to open and sort of set the tone and the agenda. Many other nonprofits have followed suit and we even had a town hall where we shared some of our best practices in terms of what we did during the lockdown. We learned a lot because nobody knew how to do it when we reopened. And some people who didn't feel comfortable about coming back in person, we wanted to give them options. We bought laptops, tablets and we got WiFi. I remember going to the FedEx office and sending them to our participants so they could participate. We have never done that before, and that was one of the best practices and the lessons learned. It really felt like the pandemic and the lockdown forced us to do things that we wouldn't normally do and it forced the sector to really get together and share best practices considering the limited resources that everybody has.
McDonald: The pandemic certainly made it very difficult for us to deliver the kind of internship experience that our students have come to expect as locations were closing down and there had not yet been the thought put into how to really deliver or manage a virtual internship. That's improving now and we're seeing some movement there and we've had some virtual internships. So that's great, from a placement standpoint, we've had great success. We train in IT, human services and custodial and building repair, and the custodial and building repair students and alumni really saw an expansion of opportunity through the pandemic. As you know, 24-hour cleaning crews were rolled out with the MTA and across the city in order for businesses to operate safely. We've seen some great placements for students in those verticals and great opportunities for advancement, which is something that we're always working toward with our participants. Not just jobs, but career opportunities to excel, to be recognized and to advance so that there's economic mobility and it becomes something that's realistic for our participants and their families.
Why is it important to focus on youth with disabilities transitioning from school to career in your new initiative?
Gica: This is really born out of our experience in serving adults with disabilities. A lot of the people that we serve come to us through the state agency that funds people with disabilities. The missed services, the lack of support system has been going on for a long time. So a lot of it is really trying to go back and trying to fix that. Trying to get them up to a point where they are job ready. And that's a tall order. We've been doing that for many years. We try to catch them before they fall through the cracks. That means not only being there for them after they graduate, but being in the school, getting them ready to graduate. Our goal is to make sure that they have a plan and we're there with them implementing that plan. Our whole idea is not just to refer them to some other organization. We want to stay with them, two or three years, after they graduate, until they get a foothold in their career path into adulthood. That's the whole reason why we're doing all of this and I think it's central to the mission of ICD.
McDonald: One can acquire a disability at any point in life. It's a group that anyone can join at any time and not by choice. But the majority of our participants have had lifelong disabilities and have faced lifelong barriers and biases. And so by moving upstream, we're really looking to get ahead of decades of failure and disappointment. We're very good at teaching the skills and the certifications that we teach at ICD. It's more difficult to help someone overcome decades of disappointment. If we can get ahead of that and help young people to understand their self-worth and gain self-confidence, and develop resiliency, then we will have succeeded. We want them to enter the workforce or the job force or college understanding that failure is a necessary part of growing and learning.
What are you excited about now that you both are co-presidents and what do you envision for the future of ICD?
McDonald: I'm a lifelong learner. I love to use lessons at work and at home with my own two kids. And I just like coming in and seeing the smiling faces and having opportunities like speaking with the media, reaching out to our potential funders, working with our advocacy partners. We were fortunate enough to be invited to be part of the New York City Workforce Policy Strategy Council. We're nailing down our partner schools for this pilot program and we're getting ready to do our advertisements for out of school youth we are seeking help to earn their GED. Soon we'll be out of this building and in the schools, and we'll be just seeing more youth in our own halls. To see it all coming together It's just a really exciting moment.
Gica: For me, the most exciting thing is the next three years. The fact that the board is in complete support of us and that we can actually implement it and prove it to people is the most exciting thing. That's why I'm with ICD and I'm glad to be in this with Joseph. ICD is a one-stop shop. We do everything because it follows our holistic model. We serve the person holistically. We're also an organization that's holistic because we provide as much directly to the participants as possible. So we're not only going to be at the school, we're also going to do vocational training and so on. When somebody comes to us, we can address all their needs. Maybe not everything. but as much of it as possible and I think that's almost like a dream job most people don't get to do and you can see outcomes in real time directly with the participants that we serve. So to me, that is the most exciting thing because it's very new, it's very innovative and we're all in this together.