#ChangeMakers in the Disabilities Community: Karen Wald

With a passion for the inclusion of individuals with all levels of ability, Karen Wald knows the importance of giving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to use their knowledge and skills in a work environment.

It is through her work with the non-profit organization LaunchAbility that Karen is able to see her passions realized. As one of the only programs in North Texas to focus on inclusive employment for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), LaunchAbility concentrates on disability hiring and strategic talent management.

“Regardless of what their abilities are,” Karen said, “we are going to lead them to maximize their independence either through life skills training or hopefully through vocational training so that they are employed with full time jobs with benefits.”

Karen Wald interacting with the HIPsters at My Possibilities Campus for Higher Learning in Plano // photos Kathy Tran

As the senior vice president of corporate affairs and chief of staff for Alliance Data, Karen Wald is able to see LaunchAbility’s efforts from an employer’s point of view as well. Alliance Data employs four LaunchAbility clients at its corporate headquarters in Plano.

“When I come into this building and run into one of our associates who is a LaunchAbility client,” Karen said, “I feel a profound sense of responsibility to make sure the idea that they can work in a company like Alliance Data is a reality. That’s why I fight really hard for LaunchAbility and that mission to continue.”

At Alliance Data Karen oversees human resources, which includes talent recruiting and retention, and diversity and inclusion. “Ten years ago the responsibility of community service rolled up under me, and because that was also now my job function at Alliance Data, I became more involved with the organization.

“At that time I took a seat on the board, and my initial involvement was observing and learning what was going on in the organization just as a board member. Over time I became secretary of the board, and from 2014 to 2016 I was board president.”

Although she no longer served on the organization’s board, Karen remained involved with LaunchAbility. Last year, she approached the boards of both LaunchAbility and My Possibilities, another Plano-based non-profit organization that serves the community of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The time was right, she said, to combine LaunchAbility’s services with the continuing education and vocational training services that My Possibilities provides.

“What’s really cool is that they serve primarily the same clients,” Karen said, “but by adding the supported employment piece that LaunchAbility provides along with what My Possibilities provided to [their clients], we truly had an opportunity for adults who come out of the school district and enter in to what their life will be like after school.”

According to My Possibilities Executive Director Michael Thomas, Karen’s contributions to the merger were significant. “Karen is the definition of a champion, not only for My Possibilities but for the IDD community as a whole,” he said. “With Karen’s support and guidance, My Possibilities and LaunchAbility successfully merged in January 2018, creating a continuum of services offered for folks with various abilities. We are excited to have her continued support.”

It is evident through her commitment and dedication to LaunchAbility and its clients that Karen sees an opportunity for all parties involved.

“What I have seen,” she said, ”and I will tell everyone of our associates who work or come into contact with any of the LaunchAbility clients, is that they are without a doubt the most dedicated, hardest working, most loyal employees we have.

“There’s a great joy in working with someone who does a great job and wants to come in and do a great job. We would all like to work alongside people like that.”

 


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