University of Vermont

CDCI Community Partner Profile: Michelle Paya

Michelle is the Director of Supported Employment at Champlain Community Services (CCS). She told us a little about how she wound up on the career path that brought her to this position, what motivates her, and what she sees ahead.

Career and Background

My name is Michelle Paya and I live with my husband in Georgia Vermont and have the blessing of two adult sons. My husband and I own a small business together and engage in car racing and equine sports for our hobbies. I worked in the for-profit industry for the majority of my adult years with a concentration on accounting and human resources. I have always been drawn to working with people and supporting others in finding fulfillment in their lives. In 2007, I sought out a career change with the want to impact my community and joined Champlain Community Services (CCS) as their job developer.

I am currently the director of supported employment services at CCS which include three continuum programs. Bridging, which is a pre-vocational program supporting youth to engage and learn from their community as they transition from school to adulthood. Providing youth experiences within independent living, career exploration, community connections, and advocacy. School2Work is a more intense vocational based support where we identify interests and seek out work opportunities for smooth transitions from student life to work life. Way2Work is our adult employment program where we provided long-term supports to adults with disabilities to secure, sustain and fulfill their desire to work.

Why Supported Employment?

Given my past work history and entrepreneurship – supported employment seemed to be a match. Understanding employee needs for businesses and how to identify strengths and how to best use those strengths in an employment setting, seemed to come naturally. Most folks find their greatest successes in employment, our adult friendships are generally found within our jobs, a continuum of learning is a key element and one finds their self- identity by their work. When you meet someone for the first time there are three ordinary questions – where do you live, how many children do you have and what do you do for work? And frankly, CCS saw something in me that attached me to their employment program.

Motivations and Successes

My motivation is to support individuals to see the best in themselves, to know they belong and have a place within their community. Everyone has something to offer and the exploration of that is so exciting and rewarding, not only for the participants but for those that experience it. I have many stories of success for both the individual we support and the business we partner with. It is powerful to see an individual find success in work after being told they were not employable or work worthy. Part of the CCS mission “Where everyone participates and belongs” – that is motivating.

What do I want to celebrate? The change in our community where diversity is becoming the norm.


What's Ahead

There is an identified need – with a value and desire to help all those in need. CCS continues to seek creative ways to maintain a level of excellence in the work we do, providing essential supports to a vulnerable, underserved population. Lack of funding is no surprise and certainly is a challenge, however, we continue to explore ways to diversify our revenue streams to build and promote community engagement.

We're working to continue to educate on the power of diversity, support more individuals to find their best-selves and empower our community to accept and recognize what one has to offer. That is a strong community.