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Showing posts from 2016

Celebrating Our Dedicated Staff!

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There is no doubt about it, the team we have at The Choice Group works hard all year round!  With over 100 counselors and supporting staff throughout Virginia, you couldn't find a more dedicated crew to finding and retaining employment for people with disabilities.  That being said, we like to recognize those who continually give their best throughout the year!

Richmond Region


DaVonne Garner wins Rookie of the Year!


Angela Volkening (left) wins Employee of the Year for Richmond Region and Amy Wells (right) wins the Stretch Award!

Hampton Roads Region


In order from left to right: Amorita Clark wins the Advocate Award, Katherine Edwards is recognized with the Helping Hands Award, Ericka Neville (Manager), Rachel McGregor wins Employee of the Year for Hampton Roads, Robin Metcalf (President).

Central West/Charlottesville Region


In no particular order: Buddy Blatz, Carolyn Nicholson, Cherelle Grady, Heather Gilman, Kate Gaiepy, Michelle Gagnon, Romanayah Opincar, Tiffany Taylor, David Te…

Now Hiring!

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The Choice Group is now hiring for two positions! Join our hardworking and dedicated team in a rewarding job that assists people with disabilities in finding meaningful work throughout Virginia.

Workplace Assistants 
Would you be interested in helping someone be successful at their job? Do you know someone who is good with people and would like to provide some extra support to someone with a disability who is working? There is a new Medicaid Waiver service called “Workplace Assistance” that does just that. Workplace Assistance is for individuals with a disability who are working, who need more than typical job coaching services to maintain their job.  Services would include providing supports related to non-work skills needed for the individual to maintain their employment, supports to make and strengthen community connections, and/or safety supports to ensure the individual is healthy and safe at work.  The Workplace Assistant will be working directly with the Vocational Counselor an…

New ADA Rule for Movie Theaters

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While not quite in time to enjoy all the Hollywood Holiday film releases, this new rule will take effect January 17th of next year, still a terrific time to catch those Oscar buzz movies!

Movie Theaters Target of New ADA Mandate
By: Shaun Heasley 
Dec 5, 2016

The Obama administration is implementing a new regulation that will require the nation’s movie theaters to do more to accommodate people with disabilities.

Under a final rule published in the Federal Register this month, theaters will be required to provide closed captioning and audio description for any digital movie that is distributed with such accessibility features.

Though the Americans with Disabilities Act has long mandated auxiliary aids and similar accommodations at public facilities, the U.S. Department of Justice said it moved to clarify the obligations of movie theaters in response to widespread complaints from the disability community about the lack of captioning and audio description at cinemas across the country.

The…

10 Tips for Maintaining Mental Health Through the Holidays

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We've all experienced holiday stress or depression at some point.  Here is a practical guide on how to manage it.  Simply making time for yourself can make a huge difference.  Happy Holidays, truly!

Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping Stress and depression can ruin your holidays and hurt your health. Being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support can help ward off stress and depression.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests — stress and depression. And it's no wonder. The holidays present a dizzying array of demands — parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few.
But with some practical tips, you can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.
Tips to prevent holiday stress and depression
When stress is at its peak, it's hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially i…

Ticket to Work Program, how to make it work for you

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The Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) assesses the disability-related limitations of Virginia residents with disabilities who apply for services and assigns them to one of several categories according to the severity of their limitations.  To maintain a balance between the number of applicants for services and the number of open cases they can serve effectively, DARS closes categories and establishes waiting lists as needed.  This process is called Order of Selection.  Currently, applicants in all categories are being placed on waiting lists.  This has happened before.  As they are able, DARS Counselors offer services to applicants to reduce and eliminate the waiting lists.  Individuals currently seeking services are encouraged to apply and will be served as soon as possible.  It is important to note that DARS continues to serve thousands of open cases across the Commonwealth.

The Ticket to Work program may offer another alternative to those who are on …

Tidewater Autism Summit

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Rachel McGregor from The Choice Group and Rita Dee with Norfolk Project SEARCH attended the Tidewater Autism Summit in Virginia Beach last Saturday!  Their goal was to provide information on The Choice Group's supported employment  and vocational counseling services to families, individuals and other professionals in the field!

Nathan is a Valued Employee & Coworker

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When meeting with Heather about telling his story, Nathan insisted his manager, Tracey, be in the photo with him!
Nathan is a very personable and hardworking individual.  He has been working at Arby’s in Fredericksburg since March of this year, and his Choice Group Counselor, Heather, along with all of his coworkers agree that his smile and laugh are infectious.  
As a Utilities Maintenance Worker, Nathan’s tasks include keeping the dining room and kitchen areas tidy.  When he first started training, Heather was there to show him how tasks were to be completed— his previous experience with cleaning and maintenance certainly helped!  This method of training, as opposed to verbal direction, helped Nathan to learn and be successful in his position.  Together, they created a checklist for him to follow when cleaning the dining area.  This always helps him to thoroughly and efficiently complete the task, something that is very important to Nathan.  He greets guests and helps his coworkers …

Williow Lawn Craft Beer Harvest Benefits The Special Olympics!

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Willow Lawn will host its Third Annual Craft Beer event on November 4th from 6-9pm: Craft Beer Harvest benefitting The Special Olympics. The event will take place in the Square at Willow Lawn and the parking lot adjacent to the stage. This event will feature 14 craft beers, food samples, live music from Richmond’s own The Jangling Reinharts, contests, kids’ games & crafts, fun giveaways, prizes and more. 
Beer will be available for $6/each. Craft Beer Harvest Beer Glasses will be available for purchase for $15 and includes one drink ticket. Proceeds will benefit Special Olympics Virginia. Additional event features include a Stein Holding Contest at 8pm, a $1000 shopping spree prize drawing as well as a Kids Zone with games and crafts. 
Beer List: 1. Palm King Southern Tier - Pumpking  2. Legend - Winter White  3. Ardent - Honey Ginger  4. Starr Hill - Last Leaf  5. Strangeways - Albino Monkey  6. O'Connor - El Guapo Agave  7. Lickinghole Creek - Magic Beaver 8. Legend - Brown…

Federal Hiring Goal for People with Disabilities Exceeded!

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When the nation was celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2010, Obama made a pledge to increase the amount of people with disabilities employed by the Federal Government.  They've exceeded their goal and employees with disabilities currently make up 14.41 percent of the Federal workforce! Advocacy and implementation of inclusive hiring are among The Choice Group's highest goals, and we love to share good news when we hear it!  We've come a long way since the signing of the American's with Disabilities Act and we've come a long way since 2010!  There is still more work to do, however, but we are happy that the issue of inclusion is now on the forefront of the major issues that face the nation today, and we will continue to advocate for this cause!


Feds Exceed Disability Hiring Goal
Published October 28, 2016
By Michelle Diament

Six years ago, President Barack Obama set an ambitious goal to ramp up hiring of people with disabilities…

Transitions: Supported Employment & High School

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The Choice Group works together with students, their families, schools, the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, and Community Service Boards to provide services to support a successful and timely transition from school to work.

In this photo, Vocational Counselors with The Choice Group (from left to right: Laura, Becky, and Ian) are attending a local high school transition fair in Woodstock, VA to speak with students, parents, and teachers about our services, such as benefits counseling and job coaching with assessments and supported employment.  We enjoy sharing information with the families and recognize the importance of having access to information and resources early so students can begin preparing for bright futures!

Thank You to Portsmouth YMCA!

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My region-wide staff meeting was scheduled for yesterday at the Portsmouth DARS. As we continue to grow (my region is as 20+ staff members!), it is getting more challenging to find a good location and time/day for everyone to meet, especially since I have people coming from Williamsburg, Eastern Shore, and Surry.

We showed up at 8:45am for the 9am meeting and learned that the Portsmouth DARS, where we were holding the meeting, had unfortunately experienced some flooding over the weekend with Hurricane Matthew and it was not safe to meet there.  I started brainstorming and thinking of other places in the community that could accommodate us so last-minute.  I called the YMCA on High Street and when I explained what happened, they immediately said we could use one of their classrooms and allowed us to use their facility free of charge!

This allowed us to hold the meeting as planned and for me to disseminate important information to help my counselors do their job.  It is very unlikely …

Job Accommodations Help Agata Get the Job Done!

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Agata lost her vision a few years ago which prevented her from working. She worked hard to become allocated to this change and once she was ready, I worked with her to conduct assessments to see what types of work she would enjoy. We conducted three assessments in food production and the last one went so well, Melinda at Sugar Fix in Ashland allowed Agata to come in and work as an intern! This experience is invaluable in assisting Agata with becoming acclimated to working again. Agata’s tasks include cutting cookies, greeting customers and assisting with folding boxes. Agata has a passion for baking and cooking. She comes from a Polish family and loves making Polish food at home. Due to Agata’s loss of vision, people may think that cooking may not be possible, but with the appropriate accommodations and modifications she can! I have truly enjoyed working with Agata and Sugar Fix Bakery. It is wonderful that Ms. Melinda has given us this opportunity. With the skills that Agata is lear…

Improving Transportation Through Collaboration

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The Choice Group is involved not only with clients and employers but we work side by side with our communities in order to overcome obstacles we face when seeking to further disability employment opportunities.  One of our biggest obstacles is transportation.

A lot of our clients rely on public transportation or arranged transportation (CARE van), and in the Culpeper, Virginia, public transportation is less widely available than in cities. The Choice Group is working in collaboration with agencies, companies, and nonprofits that are all trying to improve transportation in the Culpeper County, Fauquier County/Warrenton, Madison County, Orange County, and Rappahannock County areas.  We are meeting monthly and working towards developing both ridership surveys and employer focused surveys and we have already shared these surveys with a variety of employers, chamber of commerce committees, and economic development offices throughout these areas.

We are hoping to gather enough information …

Liz's Success as a Teacher's Assistant!

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Liz's bubbly personality made her perfect candidate for teacher's assistant at YMCA Child Care! She's been working there for 5 years now and is a model employee. When first learning the job, her Choice Group counselors worked with her, taking the burden of training off of the employer. Improve your business on so many levels and work with The Choice Group on finding your next great employee!

David's Testimony

After a terrible accident, David is now needing to re-learn a lot of skills.  Working with his Choice Group counselor, he found a job he enjoys doing and receives all the support he needs with on-site job training and cognitive techniques to stay organized.

Isaiah Williams' Success Story!

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Isaiah Williams was hired right out of his internship at Project SEARCH.  When first working as a Cafe Porter in Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, he learned many essential job skills like interacting with coworkers and customers and following step by step directions, which really helped him in getting comfortable in his work environment and excel at his position!

After Isaiah was hired, he was asked to assist other Project SEARCH participants as a mentor.  He was the perfect candidate because he is very skilled and intuitive about what newer interns need work on and where they are succeeding.  His consistency and dependability make him an excellent natural support, teaching the valuable skills that are necessary to be a good employee.  Often times simple things like knowing when to take breaks, or not taking food from the cafeteria are skills not yet learned by young adults transitioning from high school into the workforce.

Isaiah loves his job and in his spare time goes to local Th…

On-site Job Training Helped Virginia Gain Confidence

On-site job training and continuing support helped Virginia gain the confidence and skills she needed to get a great job that she enjoys.

Gaining Real World Experience Through Supported Employment

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One of the objectives of the Project SEARCH program is to give individuals without previous job experience an opportunity to build their resume with meaningful real-world skills.  Bridging the gap between educational services and adult services for young adults with disabilities is where Project SEARCH and The Choice Group have formed an advantageous partnership.  Our counselor, Rachel McGregor, is a transition counselor and Project SEARCH specialist and works very closely with many Norfolk Public School graduates who wish to apply for Project SEARCH internships.

When she first starts working with a client, Rachel is there from the very beginning of the internship application process.  She determines along with her client what positions may be a good fit to apply for, they work together during on-site job training and when the year-long internship is complete, Rachel helps her clients find stable employment.  Katara Rodgers, one of Rachel’s recent clients, is no exception!

Katara ent…

Working With Employers

We work with employers to make sure their needs are being met and our client is a good fit for the job!

Jasmine's Success Story

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Jasmine is just like any fun-loving young woman.  She loves shopping, sports (basketball in particular), watching movies and listening to music. When it came to real world job experience, Jasmine expected a lot from herself— she wanted to work.  When Rachel McGregor of The Choice Group started working with her, she applied for a Project SEARCH internship at Sentara General Hospital and got a position in the dish room of their cafeteria.  She loved it!

She found that at work there was always a task to be done in the dish room at Sentara and it often became fast paced!  Jasmine has a bright personality, loves to tell jokes and goof off, which didn’t always go over well in the classroom, but her energy translated into an enthusiastic work ethic during her Project SEARCH internship.

During her internship, she learned patience.  Being a hard worker she learned to complete tasks in their proper steps as well as patience when working with others.  She also learned how to take public transit…

Calvin is a "Model Employee" at Wintergreen Resorts!

Calvin found a wonderful job where he is happy and appreciated at Wintergreen Resort.  His direct supervisor says Calvin is a "model employee!"

5 Years Strong with The Choice Group - Anna's Success Story!

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I began working with Anna in the fall of 2011.  Anna had been working at another job in retail but was not getting consistent hours so DARS agreed to refer her to The Choice Group to find another job.  Anna has several younger nieces and nephews and decided that she would like to work around children.   Anna was also active in Special Olympics so it was important for her to be able to continue participating in these activities during her free time.

While looking for a job, Anna and I met several times a month to talk to employers, submit applications, and attend interviews.  Anna was always on time and followed through with everything I requested of her.  Anna is also lucky to have a great support system at home and I made sure to keep Anna’s mom updated with our progress.  Likewise, Anna’s mom would also pass along any suggestions she had or information that would help Anna be successful.

In March 2012, we were able to arrange an interview at One Life Fitness in the Greenbrier area …

Nina's Success at MCV!

Nina's bubbly personality and people skills make her perfect in the busy MCV Hospital Environment! She loves her job as an elevator operator!

Sade Elliot Worked Hard to Get Where She Is!

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Sade Elliot is a hard worker, but very shy.  She began working with The Choice Group’s Rachel McGregor in September of 2014 when she began her Project SEARCH internship at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.  She began working in the Endoscopy Department as an Anesthesia Attendant, which requires a lot of skill!
Sade has always been a determined individual.  During a typical work day, she has a wide range of duties to perform.  Her tasks include anything from flipping beds and cleaning monitors to preparing the recovery area, entering patient data and assisting with paperwork.  Her managers quickly took notice of skills during her internship.  They saw that once she starts a task, she will get the job done.
When her internship ended, her managers saw how valuable she was to the department and created a position just for her! In addition, she has been asked to be a mentor for other Project SEARCH interns and new employees.  When asked about her job, Sade just says that she has worked ve…

Enjoy the View!

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One of our counselors caught this beautiful sunrise at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital on the way to begin Job Site Training with a client. Our ‪Vocational Counselors‬ interact with a variety of people, places, environments, job sites...you name it! It's one of the reasons this job is so rewarding. It's nice when they get to take a moment and enjoy a view like this!

Raymond's Success at RVA's own Bill's Barbecue

Find out how Raymond found success with The Choice Group by finding work at Richmond's own Bill's Barbecue

Supported Employment means Working with Employers, too!

We work with our clients as well as their employers, too. We promote inclusive atmospheres within the workplace so everyone can be happy working as a team!

Ticket to Work Virtual Job Fair

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If you are ready to work, register for this Virtual Job Fair today!  Instructions on how to register and participate are below.



Attend the Ticket to Work Virtual Job Fair

When: August 24, 2016

The Ticket to Work program will host its next online Virtual Job Fair on August 24, 2016, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET. This is a national event sponsored by Social Security. The event will connect job seekers to companies that work with the government. These companies have job openings for persons with many different skill and experience levels. They are particularly interested in hiring qualified people with disabilities.

Register for the Job Fair!

At the job fair, participants can communicate with job recruiters online in chat forums and by using one-on-one messages. They can also visit virtual resource booths to ask questions about job accommodations, Social Security work incentives, and legal issues that can create barriers to work for people with disabilities.

You should register if:

- You…

Rhonda's Success with The Choice Group

Rhonda from Charlottesville loves the new found independence she gained from being employed! 

Rewarding, Fast Paced Career Opportunity as Vocational Counselor

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Do you have an interest, education or experience in human services? We have needs in many localities in Virginia. Put your skills and passions to work helping individuals with disabilities and Veterans achieve independence and employment. This is not an office job. Exact hours will depend on your clients' needs. You must have a valid driver’s license, dependable transportation, ability to plan your day and then shift gears, if necessary, to accommodate last-minute developments.

Job Description:

Provide supported employment, life skills training, and related services to persons with disabilities across Virginia. At least a Bachelor degree in a related field and related experience is required. Signing skills are a plus. This position requires a self-starter with computer and time management skills, who can work a flexible schedule. Good driving record and documentation of adequate insurance required. Compensation based on education, skills, and experience. Part Time and Full Time e…

Federal Funding Available to State Workforce Agencies

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This article originally appeared on DisabilityScoop.com



Feds Offer Up Millions to Boost Disability Employment
By Shaun Heasley

Millions of dollars are up for grabs designed to help states improve services for people with disabilities seeking work.

The U.S. Department of Labor said it is making $15.6 million available to states to increase participation by those with disabilities in education and training programs to prepare them for employment.

The funding will be distributed as eight grants ranging from $1.5 to $2.5 million apiece, the agency said.

At least one project will be selected focusing on each of three demographic groups — individuals ages 14 and up with significant disabilities, young people with disabilities ages 14 to 24 and adults with disabilities ages 18 and over.

“People with disabilities have tremendous talents and ideas to contribute to our workplaces, our communities and our nation’s economy,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. “The funding … will help to pr…

Sean Lent's Success Story

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Sean Lent has worked at the Farm Fresh as a Courtesy Clerk in Smithfield for two years this August. He also sometimes helps in other departments when they are short-staffed. The managers love him, and Sean says it has helped him gain confidence and enabled him to purchase things like his cell phone. Sean has been a terrific client and one of the most hardworking clients I have known. Sean’s managers say he is dependable and does a great job. The managers have been incredibly supportive and have hired numerous clients over the years.
Nancy McNamara
Lead Vocational Counselor
Lead Vocational Counselor

Ethan's Success Story!

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I like to refer to Ethan as the "Big Ben" of our local Wegman's. As a diehard Pittsburg Steelers fan, Ethan certainly knows to take this as a compliment. He is approaching the completion of his first year of employment as a Helping Hands Cart Attendant and has consistently demonstrated a strong work ethic and winning attitude on and off the "field".

 Ethan began job assessments with me in 2015 and I quickly noted both his eagerness to learn and willingness to work. It was not long after beginning job development that Ethan interviewed for and was offered his current position at Wegman's. Despite this being his very first job, Ethan showed a high level of initiative and resolve through his initial training and was soon working independently to collect carts, greet customers and assist with carry-out orders. The Helping Hands position is a tough one as employees work outdoors in the summer and winter months, but Ethan has not once complained about his work. …

Companies Find Hiring Those With Autism Has Vast Benefits

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According to a report cited in this article, more than a third of individuals with autism aren't working or continuing education into their early 20s due to a "services cliff," that basically leaves them high and dry after high school with no vocational training or life skills during that early adulthood transition.  This is something that The Choice Group has fought to provide through programs like Project SEARCH and other outlets like on-site training from our vocational counselors.  It seems that many companies are taking note of this growing void and taking steps to make job positions more accessible to the one in 68 children that are diagnosed with autism and grow up to be valuable employees.

Jordan Allison, 21, who has autism, works as a swatch and button specialist in the special order department at Hart Schaffner Marx in Des Plaines, Ill. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS)


Companies Find Hiring Those On The Spectrum Has Vast Benefits
By: Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

Doug…

Kristopher Morris Finds More Than Success!

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Kristopher Morris has been working in Charlottesville at a well-known pharmacy & convenience store for almost 6 years!  Rosemary, a Choice Group vocational counselor, has been working with him since December of 2010 (when he got the job!) and notes a big difference between back then, and now.

When they first started working together, Kristopher had misgivings about joining the workforce.  Customer interaction gave him anxiety due to a hearing impairment.  He didn’t want to answer phones and definitely didn’t want to drive to work.  However, he told Rosemary that he was interested in photography so they both decided that a photo lab was a natural place to start.  Rosemary found a position open at the national drugstore chain in their photo lab, and it was close to Kristopher’s house so he didn’t have to drive!  She helped him apply and interview and he got the job that same month!

He began working running the photo lab and troubleshooting photo lab machine problems.  He eventually…

George Sanders found success through Project SEARCH

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Many of The Choice Group’s clientele are young adults that are transitioning from high school into employment.  One of the great programs we work with is Project SEARCH.  It’s an internship program where recently graduated students and young adults gain real world job experience, where they might not have had any before.  Participants must apply and interview for the internship positions much like any other job or internship.  It helps them build resumes for future positions as well!  While it’s not guaranteed that each participant will receive a job where they interned, if a student displays a great aptitude for the job, a great work ethic or attitude, often times they will be hired after the internship period is over.

That was the case for George!  When George Sanders came to the Project SEARCH program, he already had experience in the stock room, so after applying for an internship at Sentara Heart Hospital, they put him to work managing the 3 different store rooms in the Cardiac …

Chesapeake Program Provides Career Training for Student with Disabilities

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We are so happy to partner with Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, Virginia DARS, Virginia Department of Education, specifically Chesapeake public schools who are all working toward making Project SEARCH a success!  It is such a great opportunity for many talented and wonderful students in the area looking forward to bright careers ahead of them.  We already have so many success stories of students' accomplishments with Project SEARCH and we can't wait to facilitate even more!



Chesapeake program provides career training for students with disabilities
By Lisa Perkins and Julie Green

This year Chesapeake Public Schools entered into a collaborative relationship with Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, The Choice Group and the Virginia Department of Education to bring Project SEARCH to the school division.

Chesapeake Public Schools Project SEARCH is a school-to-work transition program that takes place entirely at Chesapeake Re…

How Michael & Son Changed My Life

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From the Blog of Michael & Son, comes one of our client's stories about how she found success!



How Michael & Son Changed My Life
By Shadi Tahrawi

My name is Kimberly Martin and I work as a Customer Service Representative at Michael and Son Services. Never in a million years would I have thought I would be in this place right now. A place where I can help others and also help myself. At one point I could only imagine this, looking back over my life and hearing people say “Kim, you can’t work anymore” and doctors saying “your health is not good anymore”, as this was being told to me, my mind was saying “God, you got this and I can’t just stop living”.

For seven years my mind was so congested, because all I knew was how to get up and go to work. I didn’t know how to just sit and do nothing. As my mind wandered, I went into a deep depression. I would not leave the house unless I needed to go to the store or pay bills. Life for me was over. One day I was sitting on the side of t…