Joyce (Ciletti ’75) Bender’s life was forever changed in 1985 when she was rushed out of a movie theater on a stretcher. She had unexpectedly suffered from a seizure that caused a bad fall and left her unconscious. She faced emergency brain surgery, which could have taken her life. Joyce emerged from the hospital with epilepsy and hearing loss, but also with a new resolve to help others with disabilities.
Then in 1995, Joyce founded Bender Consulting Services, Inc.—a company that helps people with disabilities obtain competitive employment in areas like information technology, engineering, finance and accounting, human resources in major corporations like Highmark, Bayer and JP Morgan Chase. The company is headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA, and has expanded to 19 other states as well as Canada.
Through her company, Joyce demonstrates that people with disabilities are qualified to work given the opportunity. She points out, “No pity. I don’t want people to think of this as a charity.” Staffed almost entirely by workers with disabilities, her company has experienced a 90% success rate over the last 15 years.
Her passion for serving others began during her time at Geneva College. She majored in psychology and was prepared by Geneva’s high academic standards and Christian beliefs. Geneva encouraged her to use her God-given abilities to assist to others. “Geneva did teach me how important giving back was and how important it was to have a leadership style of servitude,” Joyce says.
Joyce’s efforts have been highly acclaimed through the years. In 2003, she was selected as a Bush Administration New Freedom Initiative award winner. She received this award from Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao, for demonstrating creative and extraordinary efforts in furthering the employment objectives of President George W. Bush’s New Freedom Initiative. Joyce also received the 1999 President’s Award—the highest honor given to an American—by President Clinton.
In 2008, the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh selected Joyce to receive the Tribute to Women Awardee in the Entrepreneur category. In 2007, she was the recipient of ACHIEVA’s Sattler Humanitarian Award, which is the highest honor ACHIEVA bestows. And in 2005, she received the UCP of Pittsburgh’s Gertrude Labowitz Lifetime Achievement Award, which is given to an individual or organization in recognition of their outstanding record of enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities.
But even though Joyce is grateful for the recognition, receiving awards is not her ultimate goal: “You can give me awards forever, but until you are actually employing people with significant disabilities, I’m not making progress.”
Since the founding of Bender Consulting Services, progress has been made. Buildings are now more accessible, streets are easier to navigate and, in 2010, President Obama commemorated the 20th anniversary of the ADA by signing an executive order requiring the government to hire approximately 100,000 Americans with disabilities over the next five years. Joyce’s company was even selected to work with the U.S. Office of Personnel management to help staff a database of Americans with disabilities.
Joyce cannot imagine how different her own life would be if it weren’t for her accident, but, she says, “I can tell you this—it wouldn’t compare to this crusade I’m on.”