This month, we are excited to spotlight one of our longtime employees, Landscaping and Grounds Maintenance Supervisor Vernon Herndon! Vernon celebrated 20 years of service with NW Works this year, through our AbilityOne team.
Born and raised in Washington, DC, Vernon spent more than two decades with the National Parks Service as a groundskeeper at locations such as Hains Point and Rock Creek Park. After 21 years, Vernon was eligible for retirement, but he “was still young and just riding it out.” Vernon chose to return to work, heading to Upper Marlboro, Maryland to join the nonprofit organization Melwood. Like NW Works, Melwood provides vocational training and recreation opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Vernon joined through the AbilityOne program, a federal initiative to provide adults with disabilities opportunities for employment.
“Once I gave them my resume, they hired me the same day, right on the spot,” Vernon recalled. He says he spent more than a decade with Melwood as a groundskeeper at both the Secret Service and the Food and Drug Administration.
Vernon Joins NW Works
In 2002, the AbilityOne Food and Drug Administration contract was awarded to NW Works, Inc. and Vernon chose to join the organization. From then on, he became an integral part of NW Works. Vernon was responsible for directing his team of groundskeepers, ensuring they had the materials they needed, training the individuals with disabilities he worked with, and even getting his hands dirty making flower beds with his team.
When working with individuals with disabilities, he keeps in mind that many of the individuals may have never done grounds work. With each new hire, Vernon spends a month training and completing the work alongside the individual. Then, he tailors the individual’s responsibilities based on their abilities and interests.
“They have been improving every year I’ve been with them,” he said. “All of them are hilarious. It makes the day go by fast and we always work together as a family.”
More than Just Colleagues
While it may be common for coworkers to call each other family, Vernon means it. His brother, who has a disability, previously worked for NW Works through the AbilityOne program on a contract at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Vernon says he still helps to care for his brother and even recently helped him to move into senior housing.
That personal connection fuels the work he does with adults with disabilities. He recalled working at Melwood with a young man who struggled to count. Vernon and the individual spent time together after work, practicing until the young man was able to count independently. But he adds that he was not the only one doing the teaching.
“Be patient, listen, because they also can teach you,” he said. “My mother-in-law tells me that you’re never too old to learn, so I’ve been learning from them.”
When Vernon is not working, he says his favorite thing to do is spend time with his family. Whether it is a spontaneous trip to Memphis or Vegas with his wife, or even chauffeuring his youngest daughter to one of her many extracurricular activities, he says he is happy to do it.
“I’ve been blessed,” he said of his family. “You got to enjoy it while you can.”