Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Sweet Taste of Success

Darius G.
Darius C.
Frozen treats 

The Sweet Taste of Success

The development of Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) continues across the Commonwealth.  This initiative, mandated by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), is for students in high school.  The Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) has approved six different services in Pre-ETS, depending on the needs of the students.  One of these is After-School Pathways.  It typically takes place in high schools, with a curriculum that focuses on pre-employment and four of the five core areas outlined in the WIOA:
  1. Job exploration counseling
  2. Work readiness training to develop social and independent living skills
  3. Counseling on post-secondary education and training opportunities
  4. Instruction in self-advocacy

Prince William DARS Counselors Leslie Diaz and Deana Holinka partnered with Christy Stegman and Tiffany Brown to develop a creative and fun opportunities for students this summer.  The classes are typically an hour in length and held once per week for 8 weeks.  For this series, however, the team received approval to hold two workshops in different geographic locations.  Each one was two hours of classes per day for four days.  

The first workshop took place in Sweet Zen7 Healthbar in Bristow, the home of healthy ice cream made to order before your eyes, and involved two students.  The Owner-Manager, Letty Cintron-Patterson, offered the use of their back room for the classes, as well as interaction with their staff, which resulted in the following creative experiences:
  • Classroom focus on resume development and completing applications.
  • The opportunity to conduct an informational interview with the staff, a young adult who described how he got his first job, his transition to employment, the expectations on the job site, things he has learned, how to be prepared, etc.
  • Class participants were able to observe the staff at work, working the machines and preparing frozen treats which they were able to sample.
  • Digital portfolio was created including resumes, sample cover letters, applications, interview information, tips on appropriate workplace attire, interviews, work rules, post-secondary education and training options, and ways to self-advocate in school and work.
  • At the end of the series, students received a certificate of achievement and celebrated with ice cream from Sweet Zen7 Healthbar with their choice of base, natural flavorings, and fruit mixed and frozen in a big bowl before them, complete with the magical, swirling clouds from the liquid nitrogen! See photos at graduation of Darius G. and Darius C. 

The second workshop was held in the conference room at the Virginia Career Works (formerly the Virginia Employment Commission) in Woodbridge, where four students learned about pre-employment and the same four core, WIOA areas in a similar four-day workshop.   The Choice Group teams around the Commonwealth continue to look for creative, engaging ways to respond to the WIOA requirements of Pre-ETS and partner with DARS to bring unique and potentially life-changing experiences to students in transition. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

Travis Behind the Scenes

Travis began working with his vocational counselor, Nolan, in January 2019.  Travis was looking for a behind-the-scenes job, working away from customers, with predictable and repetitive job duties that suit his skills.  He has extreme anxiety and being around people he does not know is uncomfortable for him.  After about a month of exploring possible positions with Nolan’s support, Travis was employed in his current position as a part-time dishwasher at Arby’s.  

It is a perfect fit!  Travis really thrives in his position because he is always early and doesn't miss a shift.  He also doesn't leave until the job is done and is very thorough.  Travis received the Champion of Professional Development 2019 Award at the Department for Aging & Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Champions of Disability Employment Awards Ceremony and is now able to complete his job duties independently.  Nolan continues to check with him and his managers at least monthly, and is available for additional support if needed.  Travis was able to get his driver's license, prior to this job, and enjoys the freedom and independence that comes with being able to drive allowing him to get to work early and be a valuable team member at Arby’s.  Travis states that with The Choice Group and Arby’s help he has conquered a lot of his anxiety issues and sees himself working at Arby’s for a long time.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Christian Found His Voice

Christian's counselor, Ali, has been with him since the 2018 school year in order to help him gain employment. She says that not only has he been a model employee, but he is now a leader within Project SEARCH and encourages others as well.

Christian works at a grocery store as an attendant, but the interview process wasn't easy. Since Christian has a speech impediment, he required assistance but never gave up, practicing every day. Not only that, but he also helped his other classmates practice for their interviews as well. He got called back for three different interviews and landed the job!

Christian is excelling at the store now, and is currently working up the nerve to ask to be cross-trained. His favorite part is assisting the customers directly. He runs the Facebook support group for his classmates and is an advocate for the Project SEARCH program, talking to anyone who will listen about what a great thing it was for him.

Ali says, "When Chris began project search he barely spoke - he was polite and well mannered but struggled with advocating for himself. Throughout the year as Chris became more confident he not only began advocating for himself but began to advocate for the other students as well." Congratulations, Christian!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Meredith Shines at Virginia Diner

Meredith started working with her vocational counselor, Nancy, in 2012, to acquire assistance in job placement. Meredith lives in Wakefield, Virginia, which posed problems because of its rural nature and lack of job opportunity. She also didn't have access to a car and needed a job within walking distance-- and she found just that.

Virginia Diner is a long-standing old-fashioned diner in Wakefield, and it happens to be Meredith's great-grandaddy's. She had her heart set on employment there. It was perfect; she walks to and from work, and her mother works close by and can check up on her. Meredith currently works there as a busser-- her job includes cleaning tables, restocking items, and making sure the restaurant runs smoothly.

Nancy says, "[Meredith] loves her job and enjoys making her own money. Meredith loves to stay busy." In fact, she excels at her job, earning Employee of the Month in January 2015 and she received a gift card as a reward. Nancy also notices improvement, stating, "Meredith has improved with staying focused on her job duties. It has made [her] a more confidence and independent person."

In her free time, Meredith participates in the Special Olympics, playing goalie and captain in soccer, co-captain and shooting guard in basketball, and plays partners and singles in tennis. She has won gold medals! She also assists teachers at a local preschool and babysits her two nephews. Way to go, Meredith!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Jorden Joins Roses

Jorden and Nancy began working together at the end of October 2017.  Jorden lives in Capron and the nearest town with employers is Franklin.  As part of the vocational services process, Nancy arranged an opportunity for Jorden to explore what a Courtesy Clerk does, and Jorden really enjoyed the experience.  The primary purpose of this experience was to give Jorden the opportunity to “try on” a position to determine if the job duties were those he liked and would be capable of doing.  In the process, however, it demonstrated to the manager firsthand how capable he is at doing all required job duties, which worked out well!  The manager of the Farm Fresh in Franklin was impressed.  Although Jorden is personable, he may have had difficulty conveying his abilities in a standard interview.  In this situation, the Manager spoke with Nancy and Jorden after the assessment about open positions, and offered Jorden a job. 

Unfortunately, the Farm Fresh in Franklin closed, and Jorden was forced to look for new employment.  With Nancy’s support, they were able to locate a similar Courtesy Clerk position at Roses in Franklin before his last day at Farm Fresh.  Jorden left Farm Fresh in mid-May 2018 and went straight to work at Roses in Franklin from there! He is hard working, always on time, and detailed and task oriented. He is dependable and it is clear to his coworkers and supervisors that he enjoys his job. His current Manager, Tammy, stated that "Jorden is a joy to work with."

His job duties include collecting carts, dusting and mopping the store, trash removal, cleaning windows, watering plants, cleaning the restrooms, restocking merchandise, unloading the truck, and assisting customers as needed.  Jorden was honored with a monetary award by the District and General Manager at Roses in Franklin for his hard work and dedication. He has also received a raise this past summer. Recently, in addition to being a Courtesy Clerk, he helps unload the truck on Thursdays. 

Nancy continues to support Jorden by maintaining good communication with him, his mom and managers. Nancy has noticed that Jorden has become more personable and states that he feels like a more fulfilled person contributing to society. Jorden is also a lot more interested in learning and trying new things. For example, he asked his mom to learn how to do things at home, such as the laundry and ironing so he can get his uniform ready for work on his own. He also makes his own lunch and snacks for work. He uses checklists at home that he created to help him learn these things. This is a transferable skill he learned from using a task list at work to learn his job. He now no longer needs a task list at work to complete his job duties.

In his free time, Jorden participates in bowling and swimming yearly in the Special Olympics. He participates in the Hope and Happiness program quarterly where he attends social activities like dancing and ballgames. He enjoys watching NASCAR and the Discovery channel. He loves to draw and paint NASCAR race cars and characters from TV shows, such as Total Drama characters on the Cartoon Network.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Ethan's Employment

Ethan and his Vocational Counselor Nancy McNamara began working together in late 2015. Ethan showed a great interest in working in the food service industry, but he did not have a work history and lives in a rural area with limited employers. Ethan has difficulty answering questions and articulating his abilities in an interview, so Nancy advocated for working interviews. The Owner at Don Pancho's Cantina in Franklin determined Ethan would be an asset to them and decided to give him a chance.

Ethan does well in his job because he is friendly and hardworking. Management always makes note of how much the customers love Ethan. They also can always depend on Ethan coming to work on time with a great attitude. His current tasks are to buss tables, clean the parking lot, and host. Hosting includes greeting and seating people and giving them menus, bringing them chips, salsa and silverware.

Nancy maintains monthly communication with the Managers and Owner of Don Pancho's, as well as with Ethan and his mom, to ensure everything is going well at work. Nancy, his Managers and his family have seen that Ethan has become a much more sociable and responsible person since he began work. He is currently working to save money to go on train trips which he enjoys.

In his free time, Ethan goes on train trips and participates regularly in the Special Olympics in bowling and swimming. His employer sponsors him every year in the Special Olympics Polar Plunge! He also enjoys going to the Tides baseball games.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Trivette's Sweet Success

Trivette and her Vocational Counselor Nancy McNamara began working together in the summer of 2015.  Trivette was interested in a position in the food industry.  Although Trivette did not have any prior work experience, and lived in a rural area with limited employment options, they were able to find her a job as Lobby Attendant at the local Dairy Queen, where she started in September of that year and is still working there four years later.  Nancy describes Trivette as hardworking, responsible and reliable, three qualities in demand by employers.  

Trivette works hard and always strives to do her best, which had helped her to excel in her position. She recently received a raise and promotion to Food Prep Worker, where she is doing an amazing job.  Instead of cleaning the lobby, restrooms and parking lot, and interacting in a welcoming and positive way with guests, she is now responsible for food prep for salads and sandwiches.  When not involved in her primary functions, she continues to take care of trash removal and refilling the ice.  She is a busy employee!

"Trivette has grown a lot since she started working. She has matured and become a more responsible person and has also grown socially. She is less shy and more able to communicate effectively" says Nancy.  Trivette also is now able to contribute financially to bills in her home, including food and her cell phone.  Nancy has noticed that Trivette appears to be much happier now that she is employed and part of a team at work.  Nancy continues to support Trivette by communicating regularly with her, her aunt and her managers.  If Trivette needs support, Nancy helps her problem solve and understand expectations at work. 

In her free time, Trivette enjoys attending church, going out to eat, and shopping.  She especially enjoys spending time with her godbrother, taking him to the park and playing games with him.