PITTSBURGH, PA- Highmark, Inc. has hired the first Bender Consulting Services' Elizabeth Project employee, Justin Hucko. Justin started working at Highmark in the position of Mail Clerk II on April 19, 2004, and is both doing a great job and enjoying his work.

Joyce A. Bender, CEO of Bender Consulting Services, Inc. (Bender Consulting ) and Bender Consulting Services, of Canada, Inc. (Bender Consulting C), established the Elizabeth Project in 2003, in an effort to further the employment of people with cognitive disabilities, in competitive areas. The Elizabeth Project, named after a young woman with Autism and other cognitive disabilities, Elizabeth Rooney, was started by Ms. Bender to help many Americans with cognitive disabilities into visible, competitive positions. Bender Consulting partnered with Byron Falchetti, President of Standard Property Corporation/Highmark, Inc. to create this competitive opportunity for Justin. Specifically, Justin's Supervisor in the Incoming Mail area, Ms. Dianna Bevan, and Mr. Paul Long, Director of Facilities Management have identified the competitive employment opportunity, to open the door for people with cognitive disabilities.

"Highmark is one of the very few companies that I knew would be open to hiring people with cognitive disabilities into competitive areas. Highmark once again helped me launch a national program, the Elizabeth Project, without having to "sell" them on the value of including people with disabilities in the workplace", said Joyce. Highmark's commitment to the competitive employment of people with disabilities is demonstrated from the senior levels of management.

"As a result of our partnership with Bender Consulting Services and the innovative Elizabeth Project, we were able to place Justin Hucko in our Incoming Mail West support unit. Justin has been with us for two months and he is a happy and productive employee," said Byron Falchetti, President of Standard Property Corporation/Highmark, Inc.

Tammie McNaughton, Director of Corporate Staffing and Workforce Initiatives of Highmark, Inc., leads the effort from a Corporate Human Resources perspective. "Highmark employs people of all abilities. I am proud that we support the Elizabeth Project and the employment of talented individuals like Justin. He has proven himself as a valuable member of our workforce, with his positive attitude and professional approach. Justin inspires all who work with him."

Justin was referred to Bender Consulting and the Elizabeth Project through Achieva, Inc., another valued partner, in the effort to identify qualified candidates with cognitive disabilities. Formerly ARC Allegheny, this non-profit organization provides a number of programs and services to children and adults with cognitive disabilities and their families. These include early childhood cognitive development and employment services. In addition, Bender Consulting is working with its customer, Bayer Corporation to identify other candidates who might benefit from the program.

Ms. Bender has epilepsy and a hearing loss. In 1985, she had a life-threatening accident due to epilepsy, which caused an intracranial hemorrhage that required subsequent brain surgery. Against all odds, Joyce recovered from this accident that left her with a 60 percent hearing loss in one ear and a realization that she had epilepsy. As a result of her personal experience, she developed a passion for helping people with disabilities. Out of that passion, she founded Bender Consulting , in September 1995. Since then, Ms. Bender received national recognition in June 1999, by winning the President's Award from President Clinton at the White House. The award is the highest honor given to an American who furthers the employment and empowerment of people with disabilities. In addition, in October 2003, Joyce received the Bush Administration's New Freedom Initiative Award from Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.