Bobby Dodd Institute

Wayne McMillan, president and CEO of the Bobby Dodd Institute, likes to point out that there are only two places you’ll find the name of the legendary Georgia Tech football coach: on the campus stadium, and on this organization.

Dodd was committed to helping people with disabilities, and the institute was founded in his honor as a part of the Atlanta Alliance for Devel-opmental Disabilities in 1965. It was first called the Bobby Dodd Center, and though its name has changed, its mission has not: helping people with disabilities and disadvantages maximize their potential through economic self-sufficiency, independence and integration into society.

The institute focuses on job training and finding employment opportunities that allow people to make a living wage and live independently. “Like all members of society, people with disabilities want to be contributors, not takers,” McMillan says. “We get people ready for work and into jobs.” The Institute offers several programs, including Work & Progress, which combines hands-on job training with social enrichment activities for people with severe developmental disabilities, and Explorers, a high-school program for teens 16 and older.

“Usually a young person will stay in special ed until they’re 22, look for a job without any success, and then come to us,” McMillan says. “We started Explorers to do some preventive work and get them ready for employment at 18 or 19 instead of 22 or 23.”

Last year, the Atlanta-based organization helped 205 people find jobs, and worked with 600 others in its programs. Its annual budget was $6 million; there are plans to triple the institute’s size in the next five years.

Employment opportunities come through private businesses and the institute’s own ability to create jobs – it contracts to provide mailroom, switchboard, janitorial, packaging and fulfillment services for private industry and government.

But with a 65 percent unemployment rate among those with disabilities in Georgia, more private-sector jobs are needed. McMillan says a study of 200 Atlanta employers showed many thought accommodating the disabled would be expensive. “The truth is, most accommodations cost less than $500, and many cost nothing at all,” he says.

And the benefits are great. McMillan notes that every dollar invested in vocational rehabilitation generates a return of $6, as people move off of assistance programs rolls and become taxpayers. Individual businesses gain loyal employees, with below-average turnover rates.

McMillan is eager to spread the word among potential employers. “We do disability education with potential employers free of charge,” he says. “We just need work and jobs.”

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