Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Project SEARCH Graduation in Norfolk

Our very own Ericka Neville from The Choice Group- Hampton Roads is giving the commencement for the most recent graduates from the Project SEARCH internship program at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

Project SEARCH is a nation-wide program that enables Career Development post-grads to intern in various work environments.

Locally it is operated as a joint effort between the Norfolk Public Schools’ Department of Learning Support and Special Education Services and Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

The ultimate goal is to help those student find future employment opportunities.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Justin's Success Story!

My client, Justin, works at Walmart in Locust Grove, VA as a Maintenance Associate. Justin has worked at Walmart since it’s opening in July 2013. I started working with Justin when I joined The Choice Group in September 2013 and have continued to work with him through Follow-Along checks each month. Justin has chronic kidney failure and a Specific Learning Disability, which has presented some challenges with maintaining employment. Due to the kidney failure, Justin is unable to work in extreme heat and drinks water throughout his work shifts to maintain his health. When completing computer-based training, as required by his employer, Justin requires my assistance with reading and comprehension of information. Justin is a care-free individual, with high motivation to work, and a desire to contribute to society. Because of his positive, go-getter attitude, Justin comes to Walmart to work even on days that he is not scheduled. He lives in a neighborhood directly behind Walmart, making it easy for Justin to walk to work whenever he wants.

As a Maintenance Associate, Justin is responsible for cleaning the store and maintaining the cleanliness of all areas. Justin cleans bathrooms, sweeps, mops, removes trash, and cleans windows. Before obtaining work, Justin participated in Special Olympics activities, and particularly enjoyed basketball. He continues to play on a team and enjoys telling others about his team’s success. Since obtaining work, Justin has been able to balance both work and playing basketball with the help of his family. Work has provided Justin with a means to earn his own income, feel part of a work family, and gives him something to look forward to each time he is scheduled.  When Justin is at work, he is able to follow a checklist of tasks, and communicate with other associates about spills or other tasks that need to be done. This gives Justin a feeling of being needed by his employer, and offers a sense of accomplishment when he finishes a task. Last year, Justin was awarded Employee of the Quarter by Walmart- a recognition that he truly deserved. Justin loves working at Walmart, and if you ask anyone who works alongside him, you will hear about how much they enjoy having him there as well. His great sense of humor keeps others positive while working with him, and I look forward to checking in with him each month, knowing that I will hear about his latest basketball game or story of cleaning up an interesting spill.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tim Wright & The Farm Fresh Family!

Tim is one of the best clients and people you are ever likely to meet. He is kind, respectful, incredibly hardworking and motivated. Tim has been voted Employee of the Month by his coworkers TWICE now— he just was voted again this past week!

Tim is a Courtesy Clerk at Farm Fresh. He bags groceries, collects carts, assists customers to their cars, runs items back to shelves that customers decide not to buy, and does light cleaning. In addition, he will help out wherever needed in the store.

When first starting to work with Tim, one area we focused on was interviewing skills.  During Job Development, I worked with him on building his confidence, practicing answers to interview questions and helping him get over his nervousness.  He was always on time for meetings and appointments during Job Development and always checked in weekly.

When we came across the Farm Fresh position, Tim wasn’t sure he would be good at collecting carts.  Initially, with the Manager’s approval, we started with collecting just a few carts at a time .  Later, Tim became comfortable bringing in multiple carts and now excels at every aspect of the job.  Now receiving long-term Follow Along services, Tim is now happy and comfortable in his position and is surrounded by a supportive team environment.  When I asked him what this job has done for him the most, he said it built his confidence.

 His managers, coworkers, and the customers of Farm Fresh love Tim. Managers say he is one of their best employees. Manager Dave said there is nothing he won’t do to help out the team. Tim always works hard and has helped numerous times when they were short staffed by coming in last-minute. Tim loves working and loves his job. He is definitely one of the most dedicated, hardworking, and inspiring people I know. He always wants to help out, and is a pleasant and cheerful person— a joy to be around!

I speak to Tim and his managers monthly and I speak to his mom and dad on occasion.  My favorite times are when I get to visit Tim and see him in action!  I try to visit Farm Fresh whenever I’m in the area, even though he is in LTESS now and completely independent.  Recently, I have been helping him bring up the issue of a raise, and after his evaluation, he received one!  Tim will have been working at Farm Fresh for two years this July!  

Photo Highlights of Special Olympics Virginia 2016!

Here are some great photo highlights of this year's Special Olympics Virginia that took place last weekend at the University of Richmond's Robins Stadium!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Small Business Tax Benefits for Inclusive Hiring

There are many incentives and benefits across the board for small businesses to hire with diversity in mind.  This is a great guide to some potential tax benefits to hiring workers with disabilities and even includes a resource list to help you approximate tax credits!

Tax Credits for Hiring Workers With Disabilities
By: Paul Chaney

Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy and create 65 percent of new net jobs, according to the Small Business Administration (PDF).

How can small businesses, facing constant financial pressure and increasing government regulations, ensure continued growth? One way is to hire people with disabilities.
To help employers capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities can offer, the Federal Government offers three types of tax credits: Disabled Access Credit, Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction and Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

Disabled Access Credit

The Disabled Access Credit — a non-refundable annual tax credit for making a business accessible to persons with disabilities — is available to small businesses that earned a maximum of $1 million in revenue or had 30 or fewer full-time employees in the previous year, according to the Internal Revenue Code, Section 44.

The credit equates to 50 percent of expenditures over $250, not to exceed $10,250, for a maximum benefit of $5,000. (There is no credit for the first $250 of expenditures.) Businesses can claim the Disabled Access Credit on IRS Form 8826 (PDF). The credit amount is subtracted from the total tax liability.

Employers can apply this credit toward a variety of costs that include:

  • Sign language interpreters for hearing impaired;
  • Readers for employees with visual impairments;
  • Purchase of adaptive equipment or modification of equipment;
  • Production of print materials in accessible formats, such as Braille, audio tape or large print;
  • Removal of barriers in buildings or vehicles that prevent a business from being accessible to, or usable by, individuals with disabilities.

Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction

The Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction encourages any size business to remove architectural and transportation barriers to the mobility of persons with disabilities. Businesses that comply qualify for a tax deduction of $15,000 per year.

Small businesses can use these incentives in combination with the Disabled Access Credit if the expenditures incurred qualify under both Section 44 and Section 190 of the IRS tax code.
For example, a small business that spends $20,000 for access modifications may take a tax credit of $5000 and a deduction of $15,000. The deduction is equal to the difference between the total costs and the amount of the credit claimed.

Eligible architectural adaptations include:

  • Providing accessible parking spaces, ramps and curb cuts;
  • Making telephones, water fountains and restrooms accessible to persons using wheelchairs;
  • Making walkways and paths of travel accessible (e.g., 32-inch doorways when open at a 90-degree angle; 36-48 inch wide hallways or sidewalks free of obstruction);
  • Providing accessible entrances to buildings (e.g., automatic doors, proper door weights, etc.).

Businesses cannot use the tax deduction for expenses related to new construction, complete renovation or normal replacement of depreciable equipment. Nor can they use it for the same cost covered by another tax credit.

Work Opportunity Tax Credit

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is the third tax advantage available to all businesses. It allows employers who fill a vacant position with a WOTC-certified employee to qualify to claim a federal income tax credit for a portion of the new employee’s salary.

Individuals eligible for certification include job seekers with disabilities referred by a vocational rehabilitation service or who have received Social Security Income (SSI) benefits within 60 days before being hired.

The tax credit applies to the first $6,000 in wages paid to each new hire for the first year of employment, with a maximum tax credit of up to $2,400 per person.

Businesses must complete and submit IRS Form 8850 (PDF) and submit the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) Form 9061 (PDF).

WOTC Extension for Hiring Veterans with Disabilities

A version of the WOTC applies to employers who hire military veterans with service-connected disabilities through the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

The extension provides up to $4,800 of first-year wage reimbursement for veterans with service-connected disabilities hired within one year of leaving the armed forces. A $9,600 refund of first-year wages is available for those who have been unemployed for at least six months.

Additional Resources

The following resources provide more information about Federal Government tax credits and deductions for hiring persons with disabilities:

Tax Benefits for Businesses Who Have Employees with Disabilities (IRS)

Tax Incentives for Providing Business Accessibility (ODEP)

Facts About Disability-related Tax Provisions (EEOC)

Veterans Opportunity to Work (VA)

Small Business Disability Inclusion Factsheet (ODEP)

Hiring People with Disabilities (SBA)

Tax Incentives Fact Sheet (Ask EARN)

Making Sense of Tax Credits for Hiring People with Disabilities (Think Beyond the Label)

Hire Gauge. Here’s an online calculator that helps small businesses determine the approximate amount of tax credits and deductions for hiring persons with disabilities. (Think Beyond the Label)

To view the original article, visit

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Special Olympics Virginia!

Friday June 10th through Saturday June 11th are the Summer Special Olympics Games of Virginia!

1500 champions will go for gold in bocce, swimming, softball, track & field, bowling, and tennis. Plus, we’ll light the Olympic Cauldron, welcome hundreds of new volunteers to our family, and showcase some of Richmond’s top talent - American Idol finalist Rayvon Owen - at the first-ever outdoor Opening Ceremony at the University of Richmond Robins Stadium.  For more details on Summer Games please click here. Click here to download the Summer Games 2016 Event Guide.

Your applause and encouragement are an important part of our athletes’ experience and make Summer Games more fun for everyone involved. So cheer your heart out-SIDE! Sign up at!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Quality Product With Dedicated Employees Is Just Good Business!

At The Choice Group, we love to hear success stories just like this and strive to create a few of our own!  More and more, business owners are opening their doors to the idea of hiring workers with disabilities due to the skills and dedication they bring to the table.  There have been numerous findings that hiring with diversity in mind, like hiring someone with a disability, creates an inclusive atmosphere in the workplace which ultimately benefits everyone.  We hope to expand the amount of businesses in Richmond who have this mindset and model for their company's success, one example being Max's Postive Vibes Cafe.  We hope lots of business owners find inspiration with this story!

Business Built Around Workers With Disabilities Expanding
By: Paul Owers

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — John D’Eri opened Rising Tide Car Wash in 2013, convinced that a business whose primary mission of employing adults with autism would be a financial success.

Three years later, Rising Tide continues in Parkland, and now it’s expanding to a second location.

D’Eri paid $1.5 million for 1.5 acres on State Road 7 in Margate — less than 5 miles south of the Parkland store. He hopes to break ground in July and open by early next year.

At the Parkland business, on State Road 7 north of Hillsboro Boulevard, 35 of the 40 employees have autism. The Margate location is expected to employ 60 people, including 50 with autism.

D’Eri, 57, says the business is economically viable because it offers excellent service, not because customers feel sorry for the workers.

“You can’t have a product that’s not good and drive it on sympathy,” he said.

Parkland Mayor Michael Udine said Rising Tide’s concept has impressed local residents and merchants.

“The community is so taken and enamored with that business,” Udine said. “People stop me on the street and ask me about it.”

A New York native who lives in Oakland Park, D’Eri is an entrepreneur who formerly owned document management and electronic data discovery businesses. His son, Andrew, now 25, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3, and D’Eri became increasingly concerned about his son’s employment prospects.

People with autism have difficulty understanding perspective and struggle in social situations, said Terri Daly, director of the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University of Central Florida.

Many businesses screen potential hires online or through a kiosk, and people with autism find it hard to answer certain questions adequately, Daly said. Job interviews are especially stressful.

“That gives a lot of (employers) discomfort about hiring people with autism,” Daly said.

While sitting in a car wash one day several years ago, D’Eri realized that Andrew could do that job, so he set out to learn about the business.

After 10 months of research, D’Eri was ready to buy an existing car wash, but nothing was available. Then he got a call from a real estate broker, who told him a deal for a Parkland car wash had fallen through. It was D’Eri’s if he wanted it — but he had to complete the sale in two weeks.

D’Eri and his older son, Thomas, 27, temporarily shut down the car wash and renovated it, changing the name and the business model in the process.

Now customers who want to vacuum their own cars can get in and out for about $6 rather than having to commit to a full-service wash for $14.

Rising Tide washed 147,000 cars last year — more than quadruple the number in the last full year under the previous ownership, D’Eri said. Over the same period, annual revenue has tripled, to about $1.5 million.

Part of that has to do with Parkland’s growth. Hundreds of rooftops are being built in the city, which has some of the last available tracts in Broward County for home construction.

But D’Eri also credits the revised business model and his employees, who start out making minimum wage of $8.05 an hour, plus tips. They can earn more through promotions.

They value their jobs, follow instructions and come to work on time, he said.

“They appreciate the opportunity, and it shows,” D’Eri said. “They follow the protocol, embrace it, and that creates a quality product.”

Andrew D’Eri says his favorite task is shining tires, while vacuuming is his least-favorite chore.

His colleagues, Matt Keller, 23, and Sean Gervil, 21, both said they struggled to find jobs before coming to Rising Tide.

“This was my last stop,” said Keller, now a supervisor.

“Working at the car wash is where I belong,” said Gervil, of Deerfield Beach.

D’Eri said he no longer worries what will become of his son.

“He’s going to own a car wash — or maybe 100.”

This article originally appeared on