tracy burton and robert graham

Goodwater Mayor Robert Graham, left, speaks at Central Alabama Reach Out Center's luncheon Friday as founder Tracy Burton, right, looks on.

Getting hired can be difficult for someone with disabilities. Thankfully, Central Alabama Reach Out Center connects disabled residents with employers looking to hire.

“A lot of the times we just assist and help them find a job, and once we do that we hope they work there for a long time and be successful,” founder Tracy Burton said.

The center, located in Kellyton, has helped about 1,000 to 2,000 people find jobs in the 10 years since its establishment, according to Burton.

Burton previously worked as a vocation schoolteacher in Alexander City for 15 years and helped students get summer jobs. He said it was his calling to start the program.

“I started out of vocation school myself and I see the need of what the kids need today,” Burton said. “I see the need of the training and the discipline and the work ethic they need and I see a lot of employers are not getting good employees because of these things.”

The center hopes to fill the employment gap in the community. It serves the Lake Martin area and River Region, has helped people as far as Lincoln and Clanton and is talking about helping people in Gadsden and Selma, according to Burton.

“It’s very important to the community because we are small and the community that we serve is vast,” Burton said. “We consider it like one big community, but the thing is to help the employers find good employees.”

Burton said there’s a disconnect between people who don’t know how to get a job or need to have a better work ethic and hiring agencies.

“Hopefully we can close the gap in this area and a lot of other areas getting people to work and to understand the importance of work and being a good employee,” Burton said.

The out reach center held an appreciation luncheon Friday for its employers including Maddix, Walmart, Russell Lands, Russell Medical and more.

Burton told the audience he’s had conversations before with employers who were unsure about hiring a disabled person. He said employers should never say they won’t hire a disabled person because they could have a disabled child or grandchild someday who wants to be hired.

“A lot of times if we hire some of the people, you can find compassion in your heart and if you can really train them you’ll have an employee for your whole life,” Burton said.

Burton also said some of today’s youth are late bloomers and need a chance to be hired.

“They don’t bloom all at the same time,” Burton said. “Just because they’re not makings A’s on honor roll and all that doesn’t mean anything. Give them time. Sometimes they’re late bloomers and you have to realize that, but most of the time they just need a chance.”

Kellyton Mayor Johnny Sharpe wished he knew about the agency earlier because his employer, Jack Walker Machine & Welding was looking to hire recently.

“If I knew I (of the center) wouldn’t have to be searching,” Sharpe said.

Goodwater Mayor Robert Graham served in the Vietnam War and suffers from the effects of Agent Orange. 

“Nobody warned us that it would kill us,” Graham said.

He said after his last term as mayor he would be interested in the agency because he’s disabled and will need help finding a new job.