Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Celebrating Our Dedicated Staff!

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 Terrell, Dawn Scott (Manager), Chris Lavach (Vice President).  All team members were recognized for their ability to go beyond the call of duty for leadership and for growth!

Northwest Team













Rosemary Louk wins the Star Performer Award!


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Now Hiring!



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 and the individual to ensure the individual receives the support they need.

Human Resources Manager
The Choice Group seeks a highly competent Human Resources professional with a passion for people and an entrepreneurial spirit to establish an internal Human Resources office at our administrative headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. The ideal candidate will have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and build relationships with our talented staff, encompassing up to 100 professionals supporting opportunity and dignity through employment for individuals with disabilities throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

New ADA Rule for Movie Theaters

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 new regulation is more than six years in the making and since the Justice Department first signaled in 2010 that a rule would be forthcoming, the agency said it has received more than 1,500 comments on the issue.

“The disability community and movie theater industry provided comprehensive insight on this important regulation,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the agency’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department’s regulation establishes a nationally consistent standard and ensures that, in theaters across the country, people with hearing and vision disabilities can fully enjoy watching movies with their families and friends.”

To comply, theaters must make equipment available at a person’s seat so that captioning or audio description is only available to the individual who requests it. In addition, movie theaters are required to notify the public of the availability of such technology and have staff on hand to assist with the equipment.

Theaters that show only analog movies are exempt from the new mandate. There are also exceptions for circumstances in which complying with the regulation “would result in an undue burden or a fundamental alteration.”

The new rule will take effect Jan. 17, 2017 and movie theaters must be in compliance by June 2, 2018.


To view the original article visit DisabilityScoop.com

Thursday, November 17, 2016

10 Tips for Maintaining Mental Health Through the Holidays

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.


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 if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.

2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.

3. Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can't come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.

4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

Try these alternatives:

  • Donate to a charity in someone's name.
  • Give homemade gifts.
  • Start a family gift exchange.

6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That'll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.

7. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.

8. Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.

Try these suggestions:

  • Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.

9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Some options may include:

  • Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
  • Listening to soothing music.
  • Getting a massage.
  • Reading a book.

10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.


Don't let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.

To view the original article, click here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

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



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 waiting lists for DARS services if they receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  The Social Security Administration has developed the Ticket to Work program to offer support to disability beneficiaries whose goal is to transition off cash benefits to employment and self-sufficiency.  The Choice Group is a service provider (Employment Network) in the Ticket to Work program.  In an effort to offer services to SSI and SSDI beneficiaries across the state, we are promoting Ticket to Work services in a variety of ways:

1) DARS clients:
Under the Partnership Plus program, we are able to offer ongoing supports to SSI and SSDI beneficiaries whose cases are closed successfully by DARS if their goal is to work their way off cash benefits, while still having the option to keep their medical benefits.

2) Individuals who are not DARS clients:

  • We can help eligible individuals understand the effects of earned income on their benefits and their eligibility for any work incentives, determine a vocational goal, develop a resume, prepare for interviews, request accommodations, transition into jobs that are a good match for their skills/interests/abilities, and provide ongoing supports for a total of five to seven years (depending on the program).  If the individual is on a DARS waiting list, and DARS subsequently contacts them to offer services, we will collaborate with the client and DARS to “unassign” the Ticket and facilitate a transfer to DARS services.  
  • The Choice Group is also part of an exciting new Social Security initiative to reach out to beneficiaries in the Commonwealth to provide them information about the Ticket to Work program and offer them the opportunity to participate.  

3) Administrative Employment Networks:
The Choice Group welcomes the opportunity to work with other service providers who are not Employment Networks under the Ticket to Work Program.  The Tickets are assigned to us, we provide administrative support and mentoring to the service provider, and the service provider continues to support the beneficiary transitioning to employment and self-sufficiency.  This is an excellent way service providers can learn about the Ticket to Work program, and offer their clients the option to participate, without becoming an Employment Network.

4) Federal Contractors:
Under recent amendments to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, federal contractors have goals to recruit, hire and maintain employment of individuals with disabilities throughout their organizations.  The Choice Group can help by referring them qualified applicants, as well as supporting current employees with disabilities so they can successfully maintain their employment.

5) Referrals:
The Choice Group actively provides information about the Ticket to Work program to a variety of community partners so they can pass it on within their networks and to their clients as appropriate.

If you would like to get more information about The Choice Group’s Ticket to Work services, please visit our website or call our main office at (804) 278-9151 or toll-free at 1-877-374-5312.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tidewater Autism Summit


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!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Nathan is a Valued Employee & Coworker

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 wherever he’s needed, and his other duties include stocking the drink station, washing dishes and taking out the trash.  However, greeting and assisting guests has become his favorite, especially when he sees “regulars” walk through the door.

Heather now does follow along visits once a month.  She sometimes assists with learning new tasks (last month it was filling the sauce dispensers) and answering any questions he may have such as when it’s appropriate to ask for time off versus an adjusted schedule. 

During his employment, she's noticed his improvements in job performance, but also that he seems to be coming out of his shell.  He has developed great working relationships with his managers and coworkers.  Upon her last visit, Nathan, along with the rest of his coworkers, was excited to tell the story of how they surprised him with a birthday party when he came into work one day! Complete with cake, cards, and gifts, his coworkers kept saying how happy they were to do something for him on his special day.  Tracey, one of Nathan’s managers spoke to Heather about how valued he is at Arby’s not only for the work he does but his always positive personality.  

Nathan shares his infectious smile and humor throughout the many activities and organizations he’s involved with in his community.  Just last summer, Nathan competed in the Special Olympics on a softball team who won the gold!  Of course, he brought it in to show everyone at work! 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Williow Lawn Craft Beer Harvest Benefits The Special Olympics!



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 Ale 
9. Isley - Choosy Mother PB 
10. Hardywood Singel 
11. Devils Backbone - Vienna Lager 
12. Center of Universe - Slingshot Kolsch 
13. Bold Rock - Virginia Draft 
14. Ardent – IPA 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Federal Hiring Goal for People with Disabilities Exceeded!

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. Now, the administration says it has surpassed even its own expectations.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management said this week that the federal government added more than 154,000 employees with disabilities between fiscal years 2011 and 2015, including 109,575 permanent part-time or full-time hires.

That’s above and beyond what Obama pledged in 2010 as he honored the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At that time, Obama issued an executive order calling on the U.S. government to be a model employer by hiring an additional 100,000 people with disabilities within five years.

With the gains announced this week, total federal employment of people with disabilities is at 264,844, a figure that accounts for 14.41 percent of the government’s workforce, according to an annual report produced by the Office of Personnel Management.

That means there are now more people with disabilities working for the federal government — the nation’s largest employer — than at any other time in the last 35 years, officials said.

“This administration has consistently demonstrated a commitment to providing equal employment opportunities for Americans with disabilities,” said Beth Cobert, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management. “We remain committed to supporting the federal government’s efforts to be a model employer for people with disabilities, and I look forward to continue building on our progress.”

To view the original article, visit DisabilityScoop.com

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Transitions: Supported Employment & High School


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!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Thank You to Portsmouth YMCA!



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 that we could have rescheduled for another day and had everyone join us.  Major kudos to the YMCA for helping us out!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Job Accommodations Help Agata Get the Job Done!


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 learning she will surely be prepared to begin looking for work in a permanent position very soon!

Angela Volkening
Vocational Counselor

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Improving Transportation Through Collaboration


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 with these surveys to apply for a grant that will assist with funding both the expansion of current transportation options and creating new options all geared towards supporting people in getting to work. We are all very excited not only about what this means for these job applicants but also for these rural communities working together towards a common goal!

If you're a consumer and would like to participate in the survey, follow this link:


If you're an employer or a large area business and would like to participate in the survey, follow this link:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Liz's Success as a Teacher's Assistant!



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!

Monday, September 19, 2016

David's Testimony

video

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.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Isaiah Williams' Success Story!


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 Therapeutic Recreation to participate in their dance program!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Friday, September 9, 2016

Gaining Real World Experience Through Supported Employment



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 entered the Project SEARCH program in September of 2014.  Working for SODEXO at the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in southwestern Virginia as a Trayline operator.  Rachel was there through the original job training when Katara decided that position wasn’t the right one for her.  They worked together, along with SODEXO on finding her another position as a dishwasher that supported the Trayline.

Throughout her internship, Rachel was there for Katara during on-site training.  They worked together on breaking down tasks into smaller steps.  Katara learned how to accept constructive criticism from management, following instructions and getting used to a professional environment with other individuals.  Having no previous job experience out of high school, she found that this job was a great match for her!  She gets along with all of her coworkers and loves getting the job done.  Katara was officially hired on staff in April of 2015!

Rachel continues to work with Katara on a monthly basis through Follow-Along services.  Gaining real-world work experience through these programs and supported employment is integral in guaranteeing these young adults a successful transition from educational to adult services.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Jasmine's Success Story



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 to work!  By the time her internship was completed, Jasmine loved working in the dish room.  Unfortunately, Sentara was undergoing renovations and couldn’t hire her on full time after her internship period was over.  That’s where Rachel came in.

In addition to helping her Project SEARCH clients apply for internships, providing on-site training, and follow-up services, Rachel is out in the community finding opportunities for these talented young interns.  Rachel and Jasmine found a great opportunity working with SODEXO at the local Children’s Hospital doing what she loved.  She has been working for Sodexo in the dish room since April of this year and loves her job!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Calvin is a "Model Employee" at Wintergreen Resorts!

video

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

Friday, August 19, 2016

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



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 of Chesapeake, VA. We met with Melissa, the Assistant Manager, to learn more about the position of a Kid’s Club Attendant.  Anna was so excited when she got the job offer and began working there in April 2012! As part of her job requirements, she has to maintain a First Aid/CPR certification.  She was very nervous about being able to pass this so I attended the course with her the first year.  Every year since then, however, Anna has attended the course independently and successfully passed it all on her own!

At One Life Fitness Anna has to greet parents, remind them to sign in their children, help ease the children’s anxiety when their parent leaves to work out, engage the children in activities, and make sure the child leaves with the authorized parent.  Anna really enjoys her job and says that working with the children is her favorite thing to do there. Anna especially likes holding the babies and playing with the younger children.  Anna also says she is thankful for The Choice Group for helping her become successful in reaching her goals.

One Life Fitness really seems to ”get” Supported Employment.  They have been great partners in helping Anna remain successful at her job. They take the time to meet with me every month when I stop by to visit Anna and also reach out to me if there is information I need to know to help Anna with her job.  One Life Fitness has a been a great support for Anna and they treat her like family. Melissa and Paula, Anna’s supervisors, always compliment Anna’s punctuality, attendance, and dedication to her job.

I have enjoyed working with Anna and her family over the past five years.  I am impressed with the growth and confidence I have seen in Anna and can’t wait to see what other accomplishments she will achieve in the future.


Ericka Neville
Manager -Hampton Roads

Nina's Success at MCV!

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


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sade Elliot Worked Hard to Get Where She Is!


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 very hard to get where she is!

Enjoy the View!


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!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Monday, August 8, 2016

Supported Employment means Working with Employers, too!

video

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!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ticket to Work Virtual Job Fair

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 are a Ticket to Work participant
- You are using your Ticket to get services from an approved Employment Network (EN) or your state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency
- You are ready to work

How to register:

- Fill out the consent form found at www.choosework.net/vjfconsent
- Give the form to your EN or state VR agency to keep on file
- Register at https://vts.inxpo.com/Launch/QReg.htm?ShowKey=32842

Once your eligibility to participate is verified, your registration will be confirmed. If you have participated in a past Virtual Job Fair, you still need to sign a new consent form and register.

You can download the flyer online at: https://choosework.net/Assets/uploads/VJF/2016-08-24_VJF_Beneficiary_Flyer.pdf

Not sure if you are a Ticket to Work participant? Need help finding an EN or state VR agency?
Call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 (voice) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY). Agents are available Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET.

Assistive Technology - The Virtual Job Fair environment will be screen-reader friendly.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Rewarding, Fast Paced Career Opportunity as Vocational Counselor



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 employment will be considered.

Specific job duties include:

* Assess client skills and abilities and requirements of specific employment situations for the purpose of job/client matching;

* Write Individual Service Plans (ISP), for each client outlining all goals, objectives and methods of evaluating goal attainment;

* Maintain required documentation on each client;

* Prepare written reports in the appropriate format for the referral source on a monthly, quarterly, or as-needed basis;

* Communicate with employers at local businesses to develop employment opportunities for specific clients with severe/most severe disabilities;

* Assist clients with application and interview process and coordinate arrangements for job placement;

* Train and counsel clients, in competitive employment, using systematic instructional techniques, compensatory strategies, job adaptation/modification and positive behavioral support techniques;

* Monitor and evaluate client work performance by collecting skill acquisition and production data and obtaining feedback from client, employer and coworkers, providing additional training or intervention as needed;

* Provide on-going assessment and follow-along services as needed and authorized;

* Provide Independent Living Skills & Life Skills Training, to clients in community-based, individual settings;

* Prepare written materials for clients, employers and counselors;

* Communicate with referral sources and other service providers on an on-going basis in a holistic approach to providing long-term service to persons with severe/most severe disabilities, including the need for (and use of) authorized hours in advance;

* Perform intake assessments;

* Provide job site consultations and backup support as needed;

* Advocate the employment of persons with severe/most severe disabilities with family members, service providers, and employers through one to one and group presentations;

* Participate in the process of achieving and maintaining CARF accreditation;

* Use a computer and telephone effectively;

* Communicate effectively with clients and staff verbally and in written form;

* Manage time effectively and have availability to work various hours of the day and night;

* Complete paperwork in a timely manner;

* Attend and actively engage in Employer Network meetings;

* Attend and actively engage in Supported Employment Provider Forums;

* Obtain and report relevant ongoing education;

* Participate in appropriate rehabilitation professional associations;

* Assist Director in training new staff;

* Perform other duties as assigned.

Full-time benefits:

401-K/Retirement Plan
Dental Insurance
Flexible Benefits
Flexible Work Schedule
Health Insurance
Holidays
Life Insurance
Sick Leave
Vacation
Short-term disability
Education and tuition reimbursement
Mileage reimbursement
Cell phone

EOE/VEVRAA Federal Contractor - All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, or protected veteran status. Compensation: Compensation is based on qualifications, education, and experience.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Federal Funding Available to State Workforce Agencies

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 prepare these workers for good jobs and build strong ladders of opportunity to the middle-class.”

The grants are the latest in a series of federal funding opportunities in recent years aimed at growing employment among people with disabilities. Since 2010, the Labor Department said it has doled out more than $109 million to 43 state workforce agencies in 27 states in an effort to improve employment outcomes for this population.

State workforce agencies have until Aug. 1 to apply for the funding.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sean Lent's Success Story



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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Ethan's Success Story!



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. He always has a smile on his face and a friendly word for each customer that he encounters.

Wegman's recently recognized Ethan as their Helping Hands Employee of the Month. I believe that his customers and co-workers would agree that he's a true "MVP".


John Callahan
Senior Vocational Counselor

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Companies Find Hiring Those With Autism Has Vast Benefits

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 Williams started noticing the signs when his son was six months old.

The absence of facial expressions. The drift of his gaze. Eventually, the agitation.

The official autism diagnosis came more than a year later, along with the whirlwind of figuring out schools and therapies. Not until his son, Hayden, reached high school and Williams glimpsed him as an adult did a fresh wake-up call hit.

What happens next?

Williams, CEO of suit-maker Hart Schaffner Marx, hopes to help answer that question for the many families worried about the same thing.

An estimated 50,000 individuals with autism graduate from high school every year, entering an adulthood without the supports they enjoyed in childhood.

More than a third find themselves not working or attending school in their early 20s, according to a report last year from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University in Philadelphia. They are said to step off a “services cliff,” with half receiving no life skills or vocational training during that transitional young adult period.

Hart Schaffner Marx, a nearly 130-year-old clothier that counts President Barack Obama among its clients, is making room at its Des Plaines, Ill. factory for what Williams says is a vastly underutilized segment of the workforce, and hopes to set an example for other companies to follow.

“You’re not an island, you are part of a community,” Williams said. “You can choose to be a positive part.”

With the help of a company called Autism Workforce, the suit manufacturer has retooled everything from its employment applications to the signage on the factory floor to fit how people with autism live and think, rather than expecting them to adapt to the “neurotypical” world.”

All tax forms are now color-coded. All applications have small pictures to offer visual cues. Customized job descriptions detail whether a position requires a lot of fine motor skills or will take place in an environment where smells and sounds are strong, so applicants and their parents know whether it would be a proper fit.

Green plants were added to the office for a calming effect. Light bulbs were changed from harsh fluorescents to LEDs. Yellow lines painted on the ground help people navigate the factory floor.

A central feature is a new exercise room where employees with autism do a 30-minute workout before starting their shifts, performing sit-ups and bicep curls under the eye of an exercise coach. The room is designed in blue because it is a soothing color, and has an artificial-grass sensory wall to give users something to touch if that helps.

Research has shown vigorous exercise reduces maladaptive behaviors among kids with autism, such as hyperactivity and aggression, helping to keep them attentive and on task, said David Geslak, founder and president of Autism Workforce, a division of Chicago-based Exercise Connection.

Williams said the investment is a business imperative because autism is a part of the labor force that neither he nor his peers in the C-suite can ignore.

One in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, up from one in 150 a decade earlier likely because of changes to diagnostic criteria. Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by varied symptoms on a spectrum of severity. Some people have cognitive deficits, others have trouble communicating and others are high-functioning but struggle with social interaction.

Williams’ company is among several seeing the value of embracing autism in the workplace, especially for the repetitive and structured tasks that are less dependent on social graces than a detail-oriented and focused mind.

Ford this month kicked off a pilot program funded by the Autism Alliance of Michigan to give individuals with autism on-the-job training in product development, with the chance to be considered for a job.

Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens, which became a leader on the issue thanks to a senior vice president with a son with autism, counts about 12 percent of its distribution center employees as having a self-disclosed disability, many on the autism spectrum.

Microsoft last year launched a small pilot program to hire at least 10 people with autism for full-time positions such as software engineer and data analyst. German software company SAP has made it a goal to have 1 percent of its workforce composed of people on the autism spectrum.

Northwestern University recently hired its first employee from Project SEARCH, a program that puts young adults with autism through three 10-week internships at the university. The employee will be performing clerical and support roles in its office of alumni relations and development.

Other organizations make autism central to their business model.

AutonomyWorks in Downers Grove, Ill. employs 20 associates, all of whom have autism, to perform back-office digital advertising tasks for corporate clients, said David Friedman, founder and CEO.

Friedman, a former president of marketing at Sears Holdings, said he used to run a digital agency and “there was not enough pizza and beer in the world” to keep the neurotypical college graduates he employed engaged while performing similar mundane tasks.

But for people with autism, the job, which starts at minimum wage, lights a path to a future, Friedman said. Turnover is less than 10 percent.

He has seen the impact on his 21-year-old son, who has autism and was so well-supported in high school that his son kept looking back on those glory days once they were over. Since starting work part-time at AutonomyWorks, he has been asking for more hours and pay and taking keyboarding classes at College of DuPage.

“It’s changed his view of his life to be forward-looking instead of backward-looking,” Friedman said.

There is heightened awareness that people with autism have desirable talents, said Brenda Weitzberg, executive director of Aspiritech, a Highland Park, Ill.-based nonprofit that employs 35 people on the autism spectrum as software testers for corporate clients.

Her 37-year-old son has Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism, and works part-time at Aspirtech, which starts employees at $12.

But most of the budding corporate initiatives are small and often target only those with high-level skills, she said.

To address the scope and diversity of autism, “we need every single company to find work that can be done by individuals on the spectrum and accommodate some of the social quirkiness,” Weitzberg said.

At Hart Schaffner Marx, Williams has invested more than $500,000 over the past two years, including wages, to create a model for welcoming employees with autism so that other companies can emulate it.

It was important to get buy-in from his employees, who number close to 700, he said. During the company’s annual summer picnic, Williams asked people to raise their hands if they have a friend, family member or neighbor with autism. He said two-thirds did so.

“That was a game changer,” he said. “Everybody saw what a big deal it was. It wasn’t just a CEO sitting in a conference room saying this is important to me.”

The company now has three people with autism working there.

One is Marice Aiston, 24, whose newly created role as expediter is dedicated to getting made-to-measure suit orders into production quickly. And expedite she does.

Carrying a stack of custom orders and with a white flower clipped into her ponytail, Aiston walks briskly through the factory, arms swinging, zipping past rows of women working at sewing machines and cutting fabrics, to deliver the paperwork to the production team.

Back at her desk, she types with one hand while she holds the other up to block a light on her computer monitor. A Post-it note covers a flashing light on her desktop scanner. Some people with autism have sensory sensitivities, such as to light.

Nearby, 21-year-old Jordan Allison, a swatch specialist with the customer service team, pulls requests for fabric samples. He lines the blues, grays and blacks in a neat row, counting and crossing off the completed orders with a yellow highlighter, leaning so close that his nose nearly touches the page.

At both of their desks are binders with step-by-step instructions for their tasks, with visual prompts, in case they need a reminder. They also have headphones in case a fire alarm goes off.

The third person with autism working at Hart Schaffner Marx is Max Gulias, a 20-year-old independent contractor who shoots training videos.

He has created a video the company plans to use to train people in how to fold cardboard boxes, and is working on another that tells new autism hires what to expect.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said after showing off his work.

Gulias’ mother, Barbara Norris Coates, said his self-confidence has grown, and he feels proud to be doing a job that helps other people with autism.

She had worried about Gulias’ post-high-school transition and feared that her son, a creative person, would be pigeonholed into a strictly vocational career.

The company is set to start hiring for a fourth position, a stock associate tasked with folding cardboard boxes. The position, created to improve shipping production, could be appropriate for someone who is nonverbal or lower-performing on the spectrum, Geslak said.

Autism Workforce, which has approval to hire 10 people with autism at Hart Schaffner Marx, plans to next hire in IT, accounting or manufacturing.

Williams said the initiative has created positive energy at the company. It also has improved productivity on the special orders team, thanks to Aiston’s expediting.

Both Aiston and Allison earn the state minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, an important part of the program, Williams said, because people with autism often are relegated to unpaid or token work. Pay can be a tricky line to walk for some families, though, because if they earn too much, they may lose some benefits.

Aiston and Allison were referred to Hart Schaffner Marx by Have Dreams, an Evanston, Ill.-based autism resource organization that serves more than 150 individuals a week.

Kris Johnsen, founder and executive director, said a large gap in adult autism services leaves many people struggling to adapt to the social climate of a workplace. The first wave of young adults who experienced strong autism supports as kids are showing that the traditional developmental disability resources available to them in adulthood don’t quite fit their needs, Johnsen said.

Despite the challenges, Have Dreams, which operates several job training programs that help place people with autism into jobs, has more employers lined up to hire than they have ready applicants.

Johnsen said that’s because once kids leave the school system — and they must at 22 — it is hard to find them. She is certain many are sitting in their parents’ basements, playing video games and filling out applications online that go nowhere, or result in awkward phone interviews.

A lack of education among managers about how to work with people with autism is among the greatest challenges to securing them in jobs, said Ashley Palomino, director of programs at Autism Workforce.

The team put 125 people at Hart Schaffner Marx through training to better understand what autism is. They learned that it takes many people with autism a while to process information, so when a question goes unanswered for a long time, better to wait it out than ask it again and start the processing all over again.

Autism Workforce in May also started a program that brings individuals with autism into Hart Schaffner Marx to have mock interviews with the human resources manager, who gives feedback so they can practice. Human resources is learning how to conduct interviews as well, rephrasing questions keeping in mind that people with autism often take the words very literally.

Ellen Shaw, vice president of customer service and Allison’s supervisor at Hart Schaffner Marx, said some employees were unsure at first whether to approach the new hires. But soon enough Allison would introduce himself to them.

Allison caught on quickly and has been easy to work with, she said. The times he has gotten frustrated, he has told her he needs a moment and walks away, she said.

Shaw said she has been most struck by how badly he wants to be treated like everyone else. When Allison, who works until midday, saw that most people didn’t leave until 3:30 p.m., he told Shaw he should stay until then too.

Allison’s father, Stephen Allison, a lawyer and entrepreneur, said having meaningful work is “a blessing” for his son. The family started a festival vendor business called College Corn, selling ears of corn at the city’s big summer festivals, in order to give Jordan and some of his friends paid work when no one else would, he said.

“Most employers don’t reach and accommodate,” he said. “They take the path of least resistance.”

To view the original article, DisabilityScoop.com.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Kristopher Morris Finds More Than Success!


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 began answering phones and stocking, then assisting customers at the photo kiosk and running the front register!  He even earned the title of Head of Photo Specialist (until this position was removed from all stores).  Kristopher grew in confidence through working, earning Employee of the Month NUMEROUS times according to Rosemary, and earning the title of Top Suggestive Seller quite frequently as well!

With all of his savings, Kristopher was able to buy himself a black Jeep that is now his love. “This is special,” says Rosemary, “because when we first started he was too nervous to drive to work!”  She notes Kristopher’s compassionate, kind and helpful nature among his other great qualities. “If he knows someone is having a hard day, he’ll go out of his way to listen and help them feel better, even if he’s having a hard day himself."

Kristopher is currently in the process of writing his second novel, which we can all hope is full of his great sense of humor and in his spare time, hangs with his dog, a boxer named Ringo.  He loves his job and hopes to be a Store Lead, or even Store Manager one day!