Helping the Light Bulb Go On


Recently Promoted Director of Employment Services at Options For All, Brian Nero, Helps Disabled Individuals Find Meaningful Employment

In nearly 16 years in his industry, helping disabled individuals secure and maintain meaningful employment, Brian Nero has been through all the emotional highs and lows that come with helping these clients on the job. The biggest thing he has learned, he said, is patience.

“We will teach a client something,” Nero said. “They may not get it right away and you know they know it and understand it and you want it so bad for them. But you also learn that you have to back away and watch them figure it out. And once they do, I think that is the greatest thing. You can actually see the light bulb go on.”

In a field that was challenging even before COVID-19 spurred massive unemployment, the 39-year-old Nero is a standout – good enough at what he does that he recently was promoted to Director of Employment Services for Options For All, a San Diego-based, statewide non-profit that helps intellectually and developmentally disabled adults. “In this industry, people will often go out and beg a person to hire someone from our population, kind of a, ‘Hey, let me tell you why in spite of their disability, they are someone who you should consider hiring for the greater good,’ said Ken Barnes, CEO of Options For All shared with GB Magazine.

“Brian and his team’s approach is: ‘We have some phenomenally talented people who just happen to be disabled. They are fantastic workers and you should absolutely hire them.’ That is why I wanted Brian. I want that attitude to spread across the entire enterprise, and throughout all of our new Employment Services division.”

A San Diego native, Nero earned a bachelor’s degree before going to work in his field shortly out of college. He joined OFA roughly three years ago as a program manager in the supported employment group for the San Diego region. Barnes, who became CEO early this year, was serving as an OFA board member when Nero was initially hired. “There are very few employees whose names make it into a boardroom meeting and he was one of them,” Barnes said.

As manager of a program that had lost money the previous five fiscal years, Nero grew it significantly. His success revolves in part around believing in the approximately 300 employees that OFA currently serves. “I think the biggest thing is just educating the business community on this population and how great of employees they are,” Nero said.

Nero has also worked hard to bring new opportunities to OFA, including getting the agency approved to work with the independent federal agency AbilityOne, and striking a deal with Microsoft to make OFA the exclusive provider of supported employment services in the greater San Diego area. “That kind of work and initiative will get you promoted,” Barnes said.

Nero’s next challenge: Expanding what he did in the San Diego region as a program manager to OFA’s other service areas in Silicon Valley and the Inland Empire. He is very optimistic he can do some good. “I really believe there is a lot of room for growth in our other regions and California as a whole,” Nero said. “The good thing about our agency is that we are not tied down to certain geographic regions.”

He will be working with a boss who also sees value in the people they serve, with Barnes banning the support of sub-minimum wage certificate jobs for clients shortly after he became CEO. It speaks to one of the main things Nero and Barnes share: their human rights view. “Disabilities do not make people worth less from a fiscal perspective than other workers,” Barnes said. They are people Nero loves to help.

“Every day, you are helping people live a better life,” Nero shared proudly.

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Esteban Villanueva