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State network names employees of year

Thomas R. Fahey Jr. of Clearwater has been named Employee of the Year by the Governor's Employment Alliance. Alana Muto was named Supported Employee of the Year. The alliance is a statewide network of service organizations and agencies including Pinellas Private Industry Council, the Florida Rehabilitation Association, Abilities Inc. and Pinellas Association of Retarded Citizens.

This is the seventh year of awards recognizing people with disabilities and companies that employ the disabled.

Fahey, a paraplegic since 1966, works at the Florida Job Service's Clearwater office as an employment specialist. He was wounded during the Vietnam War and received the Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal and National Defense Service Medal. He worked as a veteran's counselor and manpower specialist for the state of Maine Job Service.

He was nominated for being a "living example of one who has overcome great odds in maintaining . . . tolerant attitudes toward others, whatever their condition," according to his supervisor's nomination.

"I feel proud to have won," Fahey said. "I hope we represent all handicapped people well. We make good employees."

Muto, an employee of DGR Inc. in St. Petersburg, started her position last year with a job coach and now works independently at the manufacturer of intra-ocular lens implants used in ophthalmic surgery.

Optek, a Pinellas Park ophthalmic equipment manufacturer, was named Employer of the Year.

The company, which makes optical processing and graining equipment, was cited for hiring five disabled workers from supportive employment programs during the last five years.

Optek corporate secretary Nancy Hodges said the company was approached about two years ago by Boley Business Services about possibly finding jobs for some of its clients with mental disabilities. Boley manages a variety of psycho-social rehabilitative programs for people with chronic mental illness.

"We have many departments where we could bring in trainees, so we said "sure, send us some,' " she said.

Hodges is no stranger to disabilities. Her husband, Lee R. Hodges, has been on the board of UPARC, and they have worked with the organization for years.

"Optek has been great," said Sherri Thompson, a supportive employment training specialist at Boley. "They recognized that some job functions weren't right for some of our people, so they changed job descriptions and continued to work with them."