Thursday, May 26, 2016

Way To Go, Buddy!


Warren “Buddy” Blatz started with The Choice Group over three years ago as a Vocational Counselor in the Charlottesville and Culpeper areas. Buddy has “mad” skills on the golf green and has supported TCG in many VRA sponsored events, playing golf with collaborative agencies across the state. Buddy began as both a Vocational Counselor and as a Work Incentive Specialist and has since supported hundreds of clients in determining their needs regarding benefits from the SSA and gaining employment.

This month, Buddy has obtained the promotion to a Lead Vocational Counselor and he will continue to grow in his leadership and training of staff within the Central Region. Buddy is irreplaceable and we are appreciative of his wit and humor, his laidback attitude, and his adept problem-solving skills. Way to go Buddy!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Perseverance Pays Off!


When Jeff and I started working together in October of 2015, he really wanted a job.  He had work experience but was not happy at his previous place of employment.  While we were looking for a job together, he was volunteering at the non-profit organization, Hanover Humane Society.  He’s an animal lover and wanted to work for them, however, at the time, there was not an open position that would be a good fit for Jeff, so he kept volunteering and working with me to apply for other positions.   

Jeff is very personable and well spoken— interviewing is one of his strengths!  As we looked for employment, nothing seemed to fit as well as his love of working with animals.  Finally, after keeping a close eye out for an opening, the Hanover Humane Society needed to hire a person and brought him on the team!

Some of Jeff’s duties include maintenance like cleaning the kennels, sweeping, and using the power washer, which we both had to figure out together!  He occasionally walks and grooms the dogs during his shifts.  The Hanover Humane Society is very accommodating to Jeff, allowing him to have a flexible schedule.  Monthly tasks are assigned to Jeff which we organize together during my Follow Along visits.  We make sure that Jeff is using equipment that is not only effective for the job at hand, but is also accommodating to Jeff’s abilities. For instance, when he is tasked with scrubbing the floors, he will use a scrub brush with a long handle, in order to have more leverage and not have to bend over as often.  The Hanover Humane Society is very flexible and really enjoys having him there, as he continues to be an asset!  


So much of what we do at The Choice Group has to do with perseverance. Finding opportunities like Jeff did, by capitalizing on his volunteer work, made him a top candidate for hire when the time was right!  Networking and building a resume is a huge part of finding an enjoyable job.  Jeff and I worked together all the while seeking out new opportunities and it paid off! 


Angela Volkening
Vocational Counselor

Monday, May 23, 2016

Vocational Counselors Wanted!



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, May 19, 2016

Employment Status for People with Disabilities

An article from DisabilityScoop.com on the current status of our nation's employment of people with disabilities.  We still have a long way to go to improve these numbers and it's The Choice Group's mission to achieve that, working with one client at a time!


For Those With Special Needs, Jobs Picture Stable
By Shaun Heasley

The employment situation for Americans with disabilities is steady even as overall hiring across the nation has slowed, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The unemployment rate for those with disabilities dipped just slightly to 10.7 percent last month, the agency said Friday in its monthly employment report. That’s down from 10.8 percent the month prior.

Figures show that more people with disabilities are on the job and the participation rate for this population is up by more than 1 percent over the same time last year.

At the same time, the economy as a whole added just 160,000 jobs in April and the unemployment rate for the general population remained unchanged at 5 percent, the Labor Department said.

Federal officials began tracking employment among people with disabilities in October 2008. There is not yet enough data compiled to establish seasonal trends among this population, so statistics for this group are not seasonally adjusted.

Data on people with disabilities covers those over the age of 16 who do not live in institutions. The first employment report specific to this population was made available in February 2009. Now, reports are released monthly.


To read the full article, click here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Step in the Right Direction to His Dream Career!


Ian Comtois recently graduated from WWRC, the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center with certifications in the CompTiA + and Netplus programs.  He completed both certifications in the time it usually takes a student to complete just one! His dream is to become a hardware technician, but since he had no previous work experience, we decided to find an entry level position that would help him eventually reach his goal! So we set out looking for jobs where he could use his love and knowledge of computers.

Ian was able to find employment in a similar field, building his resume and gaining real world experience using his skills to benefit customers at Office Depot.  He is now in his third week of work there, training first at the register, and currently working as a Tech Consultant.  He may even get to do some computer repairs if there are extra hours available in the repair department. He is using this opportunity to learn about his strengths and abilities in a real-world work environment.

He is happy to be working and is looking forward to using this job as a foot in the door to one day fulfill his dream of being a full-time repair technician for a large corporation.  His constant catch-phrase is that he wants to be so good at his job, people say "This sounds like a job for Ian!"


Jamie Milloy
Vocational Technician


Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Benefits of Inclusive Hiring for Employers

Part of our mission at The Choice Group is to make employers aware of the benefits of hiring one of our clients.  Yes, there are government incentives, etc, but truly there is so much benefit to hiring inclusively in the workplace.  Don't just listen to us, listen to this man a business owner and advocate who has lived the experience himself!

Photo from article, credit: Bobby Fisher



How This Franchisee Is Giving Hope— And Jobs— to the Community
By: Jason Daley

Mark Wafer could fake his way through interviews. “My speech is good,” he says, so the interviewer didn’t realize that Wafer has about 85 percent hearing loss. “But once the boss found out I was deaf, I was fired. Usually quickly.” After losing many jobs this way, he finally landed a solid one, built confidence and 21 years ago bought his first coffee-and-doughnut Tim Hortons unit. Soon he hired a man with Down syndrome, who was excellent: hardworking, happy, friendly and loyal. Disabled individuals, Wafer realized, make great employees and improve the bottom line -- but it’s generally believed that only about 17 percent of people with disabilities are employed, he says. So over the years, Wafer has become a public advocate and hired 125 disabled employees at his six Tim Hortons.

Are employees with disabilities really better for the bottom line? I think most people see hiring them as charity.
We have less absenteeism and turnover with disabled employees than with those who are not. Employing people with disabilities in meaningful and competitively paid positions leads to a more loyal workforce, higher productivity, greater safety ratings, higher innovation, lower absenteeism and a much lower annual employee turnover for both workers with disabilities and those without. Employees with disabilities are human, too, so we will see some poor or unacceptable work behavior at times, but it is rare.

Are there conflicts between employees with disabilities and those without?
When we hire new recruits we say, “You will be working with people who might have a disability. How do you feel about that?” If we don’t get the right reaction, we don’t move forward with that candidate. Being inclusive changes the culture of your workforce. Every second person in North America either has a disability or has a direct family member with one. For this reason alone, workers without disabilities are happy to work alongside those who do. And customers also like it.

Do you have to make accommodations for employees with disabilities?
About 60 percent of new hires with disabilities don’t require any, and for those that do, the average cost is low and usually a case of extra training or modified schedules. We are in business to make money -- we don’t run a charity -- so it’s important that a new hire be a good fit, be skilled or be trainable to do a job properly. We have, on a few occasions, had to make more significant accommodations, such as lowering workstations or installing large-screen readers over cash registers, but again, the value such employees bring to the table are well worth the expense.

What’s the solution to fixing low employment for workers with disabilities?
Governments can’t fix this problem. My hope is that business will step up. We need more corporations to set the tone and the intent to build capacity within their operations. We need a civil rights movement of sorts in the disability community. One thing is for sure: There is a massive untapped talent pool just waiting to get started, and business needs to be aware of this.

For the original article visit Entrepreneur.com

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Pauline and the Great Valu Family!



Pauline Jackson has been a Deli Clerk at Great Valu in Wakefield, VA for three years now this June. When I first met Pauline, she was not confidence in herself even though she was clearly super capable. I was new at TCG and she was one of my first job placements. At first, when she mastered job duties at the job, she was nervous of me fading.  But, once she realized she was okay on her own, things steadily got better and better. She's now completely independent. I continue to monitor her progress, through monthly Follow Along services and always check with her manager to ensure stability.

Pauline assists customers with deli orders and also does some cooking and food prep.  She is one of the sweetest people I know. She always has a smile on her face, and she has a great sense of humor! Her direct manager always says every single month what a joy and pleasure it is to work with her.

Great Valu is a family business/grocery store run by Tom and Wendy Garrett, and David and Andrew are managers there. Andrew is Pauline’s direct manager. They are all amazingly supportive and Great Valu is a wonderful family run business in Wakefield. It is a great grocery store as well. Since Pauline was hired, they did remodeling and have expanded, and they have an excellent selection and variety. It is definitely one of the best places to get groceries in the area.


Pauline loves her job.  I once asked her what the job has brought the most for her, she said it helped her maintain a good standard of living. She also agreed with me that it has boosted her confidence greatly. When we reminisced about her fear of working independently of a job coach, we both had a good laugh about it!


Nancy McNamara
Lead Vocational Counselor

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Practice Makes Perfect! Another Choice Group Success Story!


     When I first started working with my client, H.A., it became clear that one of our challenges in finding a job would be controlling his emotions and building self-confidence.  During a meeting with him at his first assessment with The Choice Group, he expressed to me how difficult it was for him to decide to look for a job.  However, he felt confident enough to move forward and we decided that perhaps a stocking job would be a good fit for him.  At first, he was hesitant, not being sure if he could find where things went or if he could become familiar enough with a new store.  I assured him that becoming familiar with a new store would take time, as it would with anyone, and that he should have confidence in himself.

     When first explaining the process of applying for jobs to H.A., by meeting and interviewing with managers at different job locations, he began severely crying at the prospect of others’ reaction towards him, his fear of change and how frightened he was to talk and meet with new people.  I took the time to explain that not all people are mean and that most people are nice.  We set small, achievable goals for him such as greeting employers with a hello when we went to meet with them.  H.A. agreed to this approach and I continued to coach him on self-confidence and that he can accomplish lots of goals if he just believes in himself.  We went to several stores, and while accomplishing the first goal, it was clear that once the managers started to interview him, his anxiety would surface and he would panic and begin to cry.


     Finally, there was an opportunity for employment at Wegman’s!  The initial call was for a cashiers position, which H.A. did not want to do.  We negotiated with them for a job either in the kitchen doing food prep, dishwashing, or stocking.  After an initial phone interview with them, which H.A. and I worked through together, Wegman’s called for a final interview with the Dishwashing department!  H.A. went through the interview successfully and got the job!  H.A. was extremely excited that all of his practice and coaching paid off.  However, my work with him did not stop there.  It was a hard first day, but after much practice and training each day on the job, H.A. is now excelling in his position!  He built up his confidence, started interacting at work and started helping out in the food prep room in addition to the dishwashing area.  His manager recently asked him which department H.A. wants to work in on a permanent basis and he’s decided on the stocking department.  Wegman’s is helping him fulfill his wish because of his dependability and reliability as a hard worker!

James Tarawali
Vocational Counselor


Monday, May 2, 2016

Job Opening for Ticket to Work & Work Incentives Specialist



Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Specialist -Various locations within Virginia

Do you have education or experience in human services and/or counseling, as well as

experience and training in the implementation of state and federal benefits and work

incentives? Put your skills and passions to work helping individuals with disabilities

achieve independence, vocational success, and other goals. 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. We will consider part-time and full-time

submissions.

Job Description:

Provide support to clients who are receiving disability benefits through Social Security

Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplement Security Income (SSI) programs. Essential to

this position is the ability to understand complex benefits and work incentive programs,

obtain the required certification, and provide this information to beneficiaries, both in

verbal and written form, in ways they can understand it. Also needed is the ability to

market the value of these services, as well as develop productive ongoing relationships

and professional credibility with current and potential referral sources. At least a

Bachelor degree in a related field and related experience, including prior work with brain

injury rehabilitation is needed. 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 prior knowledge of and experience with benefits and work incentive

programs, as well as the Ticket to Work program. Signing ability is a plus.

Specific job duties include:

Ticket to Work

 Maintain security clearance with SSA;

 Complete training offered by the Ticket Program Manager (TPM) as assigned by

TTW Manager;

 Maintain working familiarity with the SSA contract and implementation of required

procedures under that contract;

 Screen potential TTW clients by telephone and arrange meeting to follow up if

appropriate for services;

 Refer potential clients to DARS and community resources if they are

inappropriate for services from The Choice Group;

 Initiate and maintain electronic documentation as needed for appropriate TTW

potential applicants;

 Write Individual Work Plans (IWP), for each client outlining all goals, objectives

and methods of evaluating goal attainment;

 Meet with assigned-area potential TTW clients to develop Individual Work Plan

and other required TTW documents, participating in team meeting with DARS

Counselor for Partnership Plus hand-off cases;

 Confirm ticket assignments and case assignment to all stakeholders, and upload

all documents to the electronic filing system;

 Regularly staff cases with TTW manager or assigned assistants to identify and

address issues and obstacles;

 Maintain collaborative working relationship with DARS and other state agencies

to foster long-term program success;

 Assist the TTW manager in marketing TTW services to the community, at

conferences and in other appropriate environments;

 Develop and maintain Administrative EN relationships with targeted community

service providers (such as CSB’s and others who are not EN’s) as approved by

TTW manager.

Work Incentive Specialist Advocacy (WISA) services

 Maintain appropriate credentials;

 Develop, manage and maintain collaborative relationships with DARS local field

offices to maximize the effectiveness of the WISA program and services;

 Market the WISA program through outreach at DARS/DBVI meetings, job fairs,

transition events, conferences and in other relevant environments;

 Provide WISA services for TCG clients served in vocational programs (SE,

JCTS, Placement, Project SEARCH, etc) throughout The Choice Group’s service

areas;

 Provide WISA services to all TTW clients as soon as possible after Ticket

assignment and ongoing as needed.

General

 Use a computer and telephone effectively;

 Communicate effectively;

 Manage time;

 Complete documentation in a timely manner;

 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 is

based on qualifications, education, and experience.