Sunday, February 2, 2014

Project Starfish: Helping the blind find work one job at a time...


FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — In a good economy, people with disabilities have a difficult time finding work. In a poor economy, it’s nearly impossible to land a job.
Robert Branco of New Bedford was born legally blind and knows this all too well.
‘‘I've had large gaps of unemployment,’’ Branco said. ‘‘It’s generally hard for all blind people.’’
Branco, after studying for eight years at the Perkins School for the Blind, earned an associate’s degree in business administration from Bristol Community College, and a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
He’s worked as a health benefits counselor, customer service representative, telemarketer, receptionist and managed an auto parts department.
Branco said that during his last stint of unemployment, he heard about Project Starfish, a new nonprofit organization that helps people who are blind find employment.
Based in Boston, Project Starfish matches those without sight to businesses seeking freelance workers. Some of the projects last for a week, others a month and some much longer.
It’s a new opportunity for employment for the blind and visually impaired, according to Branco.
Starfish solicits startups and small businesses that need skilled people for a variety of positions, such as sales, marketing, social media, content writing, research, proof reading, customer service, operations and virtual administration.
Starfish trains prospective employees who can learn and earn while working on various projects. Starfish helps them write a resume, gain confidence and become employed.
According to Project Starfish, about 83 percent of small businesses and startups go out of business every five years because they don’t have the needed help to stay in business. Meanwhile, 80 percent of the adult blind population is unemployed, making the match a win for businesses and for the blind and visually impaired.
‘‘It’s been rewarding,’’ Branco said. ‘‘I really, really believe in this program. We are given an opportunity a lot of other people don’t give us.’’