Employer Partner Profile: River North Business Association

The River North Business Association (RBNA) is a chamber of commerce for the vibrant River North community in downtown Chicago. It offers its hundreds of members opportunities for advertising, promotion, networking and learning about best business practices.

RNBA Executive Director Sharon Romack learned about JVS Chicago through word of mouth.  The husband of Miriam Hirsch, Employment Specialist for JVS employment program for persons with disabilities, is active in RNBA, he mentioned it to his wife.  “Miriam Hirsch called us and suggested Hannah Marie Thompson,” Romack said.  “I’m the person who hired her.  We were looking for an intern to write social media.  She was chosen over five or six other applicants because she had skills and a tremendous enthusiasm for the job, and she had done her homework.”

Thompson had graduated from Elmhurst College and was a busy blogger, Tweeter, and Facebook poster – not an unusual candidate for an internship, given her age.  Except that Thompson has cerebral palsy.  She is also non-verbal, uses a wheelchair and uses a DynaVox speech generating device to communicate.

Thompson dove right into her internship and began generating a couple dozen tweets weekly along with Facebook posts, and Romack said the results “were unreal.  In the first five weeks, we added 375 followers on Twitter!” Facebook results also have been very good, and Hannah’s tweets get re-tweeted.  “We’re getting good mileage out of social media.”

Thompson also made herself visible at RNBA functions.

Hannah attends meetings, Romack said, “where she hands out cards asking people to please tweet that they’re at our meeting.  We haven’t yet made the Twitter Top Trenders list, but I doubt that Hannah will stop trying until we do.  And she is scrupulous about mentioning all our member organizations.  She uses an Excel spreadsheet to chart mentions to make sure she includes everyone.”

As usual when hiring someone with a disability, there has been a collateral benefit to RNBA, according to Romack.

“Hannah has broken the ice and helped our organization,” Romack said.  “She’s humanized it.  Focused business people who come to our meetings to network and seem to be all about the money are enthusiastic about her.  She has opened a door, and many of us are more comfortable with people who have disabilities because of her.”

Romack and her membership weren’t the only people to recognize the value of Thompson’s contribution.  At the September 2013 JVS Chicago Annual Meeting, Thompson received the Client of the Year Award, and delivered a stirring acceptance speech, which Hannah has posted on her blog.

“JVS Chicago has been very responsive and easy to work with, and I look forward to hearing about other candidates when we have future openings,” says Romack.  “Working with Miriam showed me that she was a warm and caring professional – not only for her client, but for the employer as well.”

To become a JVS Chicago Employer Partner please visit JVSChicago.org or call 312-673-3400.


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