Wendy Rogina, the president and CEO of Vocational Improvement Program, Inc. (VIP), along with her husband, Rick, vice president and CFO, have built a thriving, private non-profit organization dedicated to serving people with disabilities by providing them with meaningful work opportunities. Recently, they sat and talked with Labor Today Magazine’s Jeff Allen about the success of VIP, their plans for the future, and, why, in their opinion, employing people with disabilities is a win/win strategy for the community.
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Wendy Rogina rarely says no to a job opportunity for one of VIP’s clients. “Whether it is a graveyard or a swing shift, we try to make it work as best as we can.” Flexibility and support for employers and clients are principles the Roginas hold in high regard. Respect, choice, and recognition are tenets they live by. For the staff members at VIP, they offer competitive wages and benefits, opportunities for advancement, and an open door policy. “We ask our staff for all sorts of input,” she says, “because we feel they are at the forefront. They can help us to make the best changes and go in the right direction.”
Vocational Improvement Program, Inc. serves dozens of major businesses from three facilities located in Hesperia, San Bernardino, and Rancho Cucamonga. With major customers like Nestlé, Sears, Toys”R”Us, Pechanga Resort and Casino, Vons, and Home Depot, VIP’s success is evident.
VIP, Inc. was established in 1986, to support people with disabilities in the workforce. Wendy says the concept of employing people with disabilities was still “pretty new” in the 1980s. It was a belief they shared first hand: People with disabilities are a valuable resource that can make a difference. And “Seeing is believing,”, so they regularly bring prospective employers to job settings to see their clients in action. “You have to get a real feel for what people with disabilities can bring to the workforce, and see the capabilities they possess.”
The Roginas built VIP, Inc. with the goal of not relying solely on state funding. Rather, they modeled their new company after existing “labor” agencies, except that VIP would exclusively use a specialized workforce. Even with tight competition, they saw the true value of what VIP offered employers seeking to fill entry-level/ high-volume repetitive job positions. Initially, they had to overcome the stigma that people with disabilities would be more of a burden than an asset. The Roginas and VIP accomplished this by hiring a comprehensive training and support team to assist their many clients and growing list of employers. Now, with 150 staff members and an exceptional board of directors to back them up, VIP offers employers a wide range of services, including diversity training, job coach classes, and much more.
Now, Wendy says the feedback is the same coming from both the small mom-and-pop companies and the large corporations. “They find true value in the employees that we are bringing to them. They find that they come well prepared to do the job. They have good work ethics. They’re extremely dependable, and turnover is minimal.” The Roginas are visibly impressed with the workers they represent. They proudly speak of their clients who work cheerfully alongside their mainstream counterparts; not complaining, paying attention to detail, and working extended hours when needed. “We don’t sell the sympathy part of what we do. We sell the fact we are a competitive, cost-effective labor force,” Rick says.
It happens “almost automatically,” Wendy says, that having persons with disabilities in the workforce raises morale. “We hear that time and time again,” she says.
When asked what sets VIP apart from other agencies and why they have been so successful, Rick Rogina says, “Typically it’s our staff and our training. It’s our guiding principles that we implemented from day one: We respect, we promote (and) we reward our clients from the beginning.” For the businesses and corporations that use VIP, their workers come prepared and VIP continues to support them with services such as transportation and training.” Rick says. “VIP has got it covered … whether it’s one group of three clients and a working team leader, or dozens and dozens of our clients working at one facility.”
Looking toward the future, the Roginas feel VIP, Inc. can adequately serve the Inland Empire and the greater Southern California region from their three existing facilities, however, they have their sights set on service expansion. VIP plans to initiate advanced vocational training for individuals with disabilities who are exiting the school system and desire support for entry-level positions. “Again, we can better meet the employers’ demands … by providing them with a more qualified individual,” Wendy says.
The Roginas are clearly proud of what they have accomplished, and what VIP, Inc. has to offer their clients, staff, employers, and the community. “Our clients are very capable of doing more than entry-level jobs,” Rick Rogina says. “With 700 currently in our program … it’s the number of lives we‘ve touched. We’ve had several thousand (clients) over the years. VIP’s like a big family. I hear it daily from our staff (and) our clients, ‘We don’t want to work anywhere else other than VIP.”
— Sean Reynolds