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Pinellas Park manufacturer is named Employer of Year

Optek, a Pinellas Park ophthalmic equipment manufacturer, has been named Employer of the Year by the Governor's Employment Alliance for its record in hiring and training the disabled. 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.

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 and for its continued efforts working with disabled employees.

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

"We have many departments where we could bring in trainees, so we said "sure,'

" she said. Hodges' 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. Thompson said supportive employment uses a job training coach who helps the disabled person learn the position for which he or she has been hired and stays on the job until the employee feels confident and comfortable enough to function independently.

Thomas R. Fahey Jr. of Clearwater was named Employee of the Year and Alana Muto Supported Employee of the Year.

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 veterans counselor and manpower specialist for the state of Maine Job Service.

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