April Lyn Pinch-Keeler's life is devoted to MVLE. The Springfield-based nonprofit organization helps people with disabilities join the workforce, and Pinch-Keeler, now president of MVLE, takes its mission to heart. Before sitting down for an interview about her work, the Arlington resident showed off MVLE's new Springfield training center on Fullerton Road, where clients can connect socially, receive job training and physical and occupational therapy.
How did you come into this line of work? I actually started volunteering when I was 10 years old, back in Pennsylvania. I just fell in love with it, kept going back, and by the time I was 17, I kind of ran that program for the summer. Then I went to school at Slippery Rock University and from there I went to Boston and did behavior management programs and was there for about seven years ... and then I’ve been down here 16 years, three and a half with another organization and the last 13 with MVLE. I’ve been director of job training, director of programs, vice president and I’ve been president for almost three years.
How did you become involved in MVLE? As I said, I started as director of job training. My background was reviewing quality services in Boston for both residential and vocational. I was program coordinator for another organization that did job development and marketing and that’s what I started here, back in ’94 and help them to begin to build their supportive employment program, and to begin to take school graduates ... so we started to build the supportive employment program and increase referrals and now we average about 12 school graduates just for supportive employment program. Community employment is what it’s now called.
How would you describe MVLE’s mission? MVLE’s mission, in our tagline, is "creating futures one person at a time." The mission is providing an opportunity for people to be in the right service model; basically, to be in the community or to receive supports in a quality-of-life program. It’s about people first. It’s not thinking, "Oh, well, you have this disability, you need to fit here," it’s really about taking [clients'] abilities and making it work.
Family: I have a husband and three kids, all teenagers. They all go to Yorktown High School and they all are very active.
Hobbies: It’s really MVLE. From a social network to getting our mission out there, it’s really a 24-7 job. But it’s a way of life, the way I see it, more than a job, because every opportunity equals another opportunity for us. I used to do job development a lot, and when I’d be at the mall I'd see the "Help Wanted" signs so I’d always write that down. And now, in this position, it’s more about helping educate communities.
Community concerns: I think that people with disabilities are seen as "missing something," that they can’t be a part of things and people with disabilities are not disabled in all areas of their lives. Allow them to show you ... it’s all about abilities. We make adjustment for the so-called “normal” to adjust to their strengths in employment, but we won’t afford people with disabilities the same. I think all people should be treated with dignity and respect. This is part of our society that people just don’t want to get comfortable with, and yet they make up the highest number of unemployment. And people’s basic human needs are no different, they like the same things. They enjoy going to movies, being part of life, and it takes education.
What are your plans to get this out to the community? For the past three years, it’s really been about rebuilding our infrastructure and preparing ourselves for the future. And now, it’s about getting to people who make decisions about these people’s lives in here for tours. I met with [Supervisor] Michael Frey [R-Sully] a couple weeks ago, and I’m going one by one, one at a time, and bringing the message to them and inviting them here to take a tour. We have two rehab facilities, one across the way, which is on Boston Boulevard, and another one in Chantilly ... and here. What I’d like to do is build this as a business center, that is, just like InstyPrint and other companies, this is our mail and fulfillment center. I want to bring commercial and government contracts here to help diversify funding sources so we’re not solely reliant on the government and federal funds, that we can pay a portion of our way. But we can’t do it completely ourselves, it’s going to take time.
How did you start volunteering? It was a summer camp. It was the only thing in small rural Pennsylvania that had continuance of special education classrooms, so I went in and volunteered there. You can only play with a ball so many times in the summer with a bunch of boys that it was time to say, "I need something else." What is the last book you read? The last book I read was "The Notebook" by Nicholas Sparks. Excellent book ... that was my beach book.
Personal goals? I would say to help MVLE build more financial security. And send three kids to college that don't come back home to live. The oldest boy is looking at Elon, Roanoke and Marietta. The junior flat-out wants UVA. It's where she wants to go, and she's working her butt off to get there. And the secondary one wants either Boston College or Elon. It's going to be Boston College, and she's going to freeze cause she doesn't like cold weather. And I guess I enjoy sports, watching sports, watching them play. My middle daughter plays basketball and soccer and the other two do crew so it keeps life busy and entertaining.
— Lea Mae Rice