Monday, November 13, 2017

Congratulations on the Helping Hands Award, Katherine Edwards!


Vocational Counselor Katherine Edwards of Hampton Roads recently received the Charles A. Wornom Helping Hands Award at the Hampton Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities Annual Luncheon!

Not only does she deserve this honor, but the way she received it was extra special as well…

Several weeks ago one of Katherine’s clients, a veteran with a disability that had been working with Katherine for over a year, got in touch with Ericka Neville, her supervisor, to divulge her plan of nominating her to receive the award from the Hampton Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities.  She had drafted a nomination letter to the committee and asked Ericka for review. 

She personally empowers me to be as independent as possible even though she continually monitors my needs to understand when I need assistance before I even ask for help.” Her client’s nomination letter reads.  "Her contribution to the needs of our community has been nothing less than amazing….. [and] enhances the lives of so many people in our community through employment training, job coaching community support and independence and thus empowering many to reach their goals and independence. I know, I’m one!” 



Inspired, Ericka wrote a letter of support of her own and conspiring together, came up with a plan to keep it a complete surprise. As a ruse, Ericka asked Katherine to help her “work a booth” for a Veterans Resource Fair the afternoon of the Luncheon.  When the day came, Ericka dropped Katherine's client at the Convention Center 15 minutes early to the start of the luncheon to reserve seats for all three of them. While Ericka walked Katherine into the building, she became very surprised that a luncheon was being held instead of a Veterans Fair and after seeing her client sitting at the table, was filled in about her nomination for the award! There were several nominees for this award and neither Ericka nor Katherine’s client knew who the winner was going to be. 

"They announced the first runner-up, then the second runner-up, and then we found out Katherine won!  We were just excited that she was nominated and being recognized for her hard work . . .  but then she actually won!” said Ericka when recalling that moment. 



In her nomination letter, Ericka writes, "Through The Choice Group, Katherine began providing community support services to female veterans about two years ago. Female veterans often have unique needs and Katherine has done an outstanding job in understanding those needs. She has pushed when needing to push, counseled during moments of crisis, and often times just listened when no one else had taken the time to do so." 

Both Katherine’s client and Ericka herald her dedication to going above and beyond at every turn in their nomination letters, and The Choice Group is so proud to have such a dedicated and caring Vocational Counselor in Katherine.

Congratulations on your achievement! 


Monday, November 6, 2017

Situational Assessments Lead to Lasting Success!


Rebecca Myers began working with Elizabeth Hunter, or Lizzie in December of 2016.  After determining vocational goals based on Lizzie’s interests and skills, Ms. Myers arranged several situational assessments to determine what environment Lizzie would thrive in the most. Situational assessments are a great tool for vocational counselors, it not only helps the client find a preferential work situation but helps vocational counselors determine what specific types of supports are necessary for the job! Lizzie completed assessments at a grocery store and a fast food chain where she focused on cleaning as well as additional assessments at two large retail chains where merchandise was the main focus. Although she demonstrated she was proficient at both, Lizzie decided she liked food service the best. 

In March 2017, Lizzie gained employment at Domino’s in Broadway, Virginia! 
Being a people-person, she enjoys her work environment where she can interact with co-workers and customers.  She is detail oriented, which is important for her job as a dishwasher.  Her very first task when arriving to a shift is to wash the dishes and stack them to dry. When that’s complete, she moves to the front of the store where she fills and stocks to-go salad dressings, folds boxes, and completes various tasks wherever the restaurant needs.  Lizzie is a fast learner and picked up the dish routine very quickly.  She learned how to use the computer to clock in and out independently and she continues to work on increasing her speed when folding boxes.


Rebecca continues to check-in with Lizzie each shift. She works with Lizzie on multi-tasking; interacting with customers and co-workers while still remaining focused on her duties at hand.  When Lizzie first started her dishwashing routine, she and Rebecca worked together on stacking the dishes properly to air dry. 

“Lizzie has been awesome to work with,” says Rebecca, “Even when she is having a tough morning, as soon as she walked into Domino’s her attitude changes and she is ready to work!” In addition to training with Lizzie on her job duties, Rebecca has helped her to secure reliable transportation for her shifts.  Rebecca says the staff at Domino’s in Broadway have all been amazingly supportive. The operating manager, Melissa, tells Rebecca that Liz is a very hard worker and that she enjoys having her in the store! 

Lizzie’s favorite part of the job is doing dishes and prepping salad dressings but thinks she’s best at dishes. Outside of work, she enjoys other activities like volunteering at the animal shelter and shopping at Wal-Mart and Gabe’s.  When asked about work Lizzie says she loves the staff at Domino’s but loves her job the most “because I get paid!” 

Well said, Lizzie. Keep up the good work!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Welcome to Our Newest Team Members

We would like to welcome our newest members of The Choice Group team!

Zachary Sisisky - Behavorial Management Manager

Travis Horn - Vocational Counselor, Hampton Roads


Monday, October 9, 2017

Now Offering Services to Spanish Speaking Clients!

We would love to welcome our newest Ticket to Work Program Specialist, Nury Mojica!  Not only will she be bringing her expertise to The Choice Group to assist our Ticket to Work clients, but she will be offering her services to the Spanish Speaking community!  Look forward to our website en Español.


Nury Mojica - Ticket to Work Specialist



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Joey Found Independence through his Skilled Trade Career


Joseph “Joey” Hughes is a young man who recently graduated from the Manufacturing Program at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville, Virginia.  The staff at WWRC set Joey up with a job interview at an innovative company that constructs metal office furniture in Verona.  Throughout the years, this company has also specialized in making aluminum telephone booths, step ladders, and racks and they currently research, develop and produce heat exchangers.  After his interview, he got the job and set forth on his new career. Anxious at first, with some encouragement, guidance, and support Joey has come a long way! 


To Joey, his new job was as exciting as it was demanding; his duties include assembling, disassembling, and testing the heat exchangers which is skilled work.  One needs to have a keen eye for detail and the ability to use power tools on a daily basis.  David, his counselor at The Choice Group worked with him for a full month at the job.  Working through steps of what to do when he encountered a problem, helping him understand his duties and the employer's expectations, the importance of patience in learning new tasks.  Joey stands tall and takes pride in what he does at Provides.  He currently works full-time with benefits and great pay!

“I love it here,” Joey said about his job. "I want to work for [my company] until I am 60 or 70 years old!”



Joey’s family lives over an hour away, so he decided to move to Verona where he could be closer to work.  This was a gigantic step for him.  With some assistance from David, he was able to find a one bedroom apartment without a cosigner and all utilities included that is less than ten minutes from work.  In addition to training on the job, David also worked with Joey in Community Support Services where he assisted him in opening a bank account (checking and savings), budgeting, learning how to track his bills and pay his rent, finding a church of his choice in the area, teaching him about proper nutrition, reading labels, and paying attention to expiration dates.  David also helped him learn to cook simple meals and says they have done steak, pasta with meat sauce, and ground beef tacos so far!

 Joey owns a car and drives to work daily.  He said that the work is hard but rewarding at the same time and that all his coworkers have all been fantastic.  They have provided a nurturing and supportive environment for Joey and have given full access to the job coaching staff to be able to assist Joey in any way.  Joey is currently working independently and no longer requires follow along services.  His dedication, commitment, and charisma will take him far at work and in life.  Hats off to this young man’s success!

Working for a Federal Contractor

The Choice Group is an Employment Network (EN) under the Ticket to Work Program (TTW)!



Social Security's Ticket to Work (Ticket) program recently released the new resource, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act: Working for a Federal Contractor. Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that federal contractors and subcontractors – companies doing business with the federal government – take affirmative action to recruit, hire, employ, promote, and retain qualified people with disabilities.

This new resource answers frequently asked questions about Section 503, including: 

  • What is Section 503?
  • What does self-identification mean?
  • What does Section 503 mean to Social Security disability beneficiaries?
  • Learn more about Section 503 and how it may help you on the path to financial independence.

About Ticket to Work

Social Security’s Ticket to Work program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSI or SSDI) and want to work. The Ticket program is free and voluntary. It helps people with disabilities move toward financial independence and connects them with the services and support they need to succeed in the workforce.

Find more resources at https://choosework.ssa.gov/

Friday, September 8, 2017

Build Confidence Working with a Vocational Counselor



   When Erin Hickman started working with The Choice Group back in early 2014, she was prepared to start working.  Already knowing what type of job she wanted, Erin came in with a typed list of places where she would potentially like to work.  One of her choices was at her local grocery store, where she has now worked for over 3 years!

    At first, Erin had misgivings about working the cash register.  She didn’t feel confident handling other people’s money.  But after working with her job coach and training on register operations and procedures, it quickly became one of her strong suits.  She received recognition from management for remembering a change in procedure with checks - not an easy task - as well as an Excellent Customer Service award after helping an upset customer.  Erin now talks to customers with ease and when the grocery store upgraded to a new check out system, with Ian’s help, she was one of the first employees to learn it!

    Erin loves playing arcade games in her free time, especially Basketball Shoot Out, and enjoys going to the movies.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Success Story!




Kat has been working with her client for the last two months.  Her client knew that her vocational goal was to be a full-time dishwasher, so when they started working together, her clear direction led them to find a position that was perfect!  Having previous work experience, she found a great fit as a full-time dishwasher for a corporate dining service.  During the interview process Kat helped her client on how to answer interview questions appropriately, interpreting verbal instruction, and after her client was hired for the job, negotiated her start date and the times she would be working because of transportation issues.  Kat worked with the employer to negotiate a special schedule to accommodate transportation needs.  In less than a month, Kat’s client was already training others! Her fantastic sense of humor and award winning smile has made it easy to get along well with her other co-workers.  Kat continues to check in with her client and her supervisor and is very proud that her client has so quickly started becoming a leader on her team!  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

VRA Special Projects nominates REACHCycles for Special Donation



The VRA Special Projects Committee solicited nominations for this quarter for projects in the state of Virginia that highlight the values of VRA that are in need of support and funds for their endeavors.  Upon review of the nominations, the VRA board voted to support REACHcycles for the second Special Projects recipient in 2017.

The VRA Special Projects Committee honored REACHcycles with our $500.00 donation during their celebratory event at ARCpark in Richmond on August 6, 2017.  At this event, REACHcycles presented 22 specially adapted donated three-wheeler cycles (AmTrykes) to area children with disabilities who had been pre-selected by REACHcycles based on desire and need. 

The Choice Group representatives, Ericka Neville nominated REACHcycles for this special donation, while Chris Lavach presented the check as part of the celebratory event on August 6, 2017.

What a touching event it was to see all of the children receive and ride their adapted cycle. -  It is great to know that VRA will be bringing the same smile and joy to future REACHcycle children with this VRA donation!

Check out more news coverage of this event from ABC 8 Local News, click here!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Success Story!



Angela Volkening has a client that works in one of the many major grocery store chains in the Richmond area.  When she first started working with him, she said there was a lot of anxiety surrounding interviews and applying for positions in person.  However, he knew he wanted to work for a company that was supportive of people with disabilities.  Originally, he had applied for an order-filling position, however, the store needed help elsewhere and they hired him to be a bagger.  This presented a unique challenge for Angela and her client because he only has the use of one of his arms.  Figuring out how to best set up the bagging station for his needs and how to maneuver the bags were things Angela and her client worked on together when he started working in June of 2016.  Once he saw that he was able to do his job as well as the other baggers he grew in confidence and gets positive feedback from customers.  Now, over a year later, he’s doing great and enjoys his job!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Welcome Newest Team Members!

We'd like to welcome Robin and Rachel, two great additions to the team!

Robin Dawkins - Human Resources Manager

Rachel Brand - Hampton Roads

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Myths About Americans with Disabilities Act


Myths about the Americans with Disabilities Act

July 25, 2017
John Duvall


In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, prohibiting employers, schools, and public places from discriminating against anyone on the basis of their disabilities, and requiring them to provide reasonable accommodations.
However, even after nearly 30 years with this law in place, many employers still don’t understand their obligations, and often carry misconceptions about hiring workers with disabilities. Let’s take a look at some common myths about hiring employees with disabilities, and whether there’s any truth to them.

Myth #1: It’s expensive to accommodate employees with disabilities

Not true. In fact, most employers (at least 73 percent) will pay nothing at all to accommodate employees with disabilities in the workplace. Of the workplaces that do need additional accommodations put in place, over half of them will incur expenses that total under $500. For more extensive or costly accommodations, the federal government offers tax incentives to help employers make their businesses more accessible.
Depending on the type and severity of the employee’s disability, accommodations can be very simple, such as providing an appropriate chair or color-coding regularly used office items for easier identification. A commonly-requested accommodation is flexibility in hours and work location, which is rapidly becoming a best practice in workplaces for all employees (whether they have a disability or not), and functionally costs nothing to provide.

Myth #2: Employees with disabilities can’t perform their job tasks without a lot of help.

False. In numerous studies on this question, the findings have been clear: managers rate their employees with disabilities to be as productive and valuable to the workplace as the rest of their colleagues. Managers also generally find that their employees with disabilities do not require any more management or support than any other employee.
According to workplaceanswers.com, “The majority of people with disabilities can perform their jobs without any assistance and prefer to be responsible for themselves. Also, they should have the same expectations and work requirements as employees without disabilities so that they can participate in the full range of human experiences—including success and failure.”

Myth #3: If you hire an employee with a disability, the ADA prevents you from firing them.

Also untrue. Employees with disabilities can be fired or laid off just like any other employee, as long as their termination meets one of these three conditions:
  • If the firing isn’t related to the employee’s disability.
  • If the employee is not performing their job tasks up to standard, even with necessary accommodations.
  • If the employee poses a threat to the safety of the workplace as a result of their disability.

Myth #4: Accommodations for an employee with disabilities have to be available to all employees.

Nope. The employee’s disability allows them the right to have accommodations that do not necessarily apply to your entire workforce. For instance, if you have an employee whose disability requires accommodations such as limited on-call availability, the option to keep a snack at the workspace for their blood sugar, or telecommuting on certain days of the week, you are not required to offer those considerations to employees without disabilities.
That being said, there are many benefits to incorporating more flexibility in terms of work location and hours for your entire workforce, where possible. Parents of young children, employees with aging parents, and younger workers (millennials and Gen-Z) regularly list workplace flexibility as among the top benefits a workplace can offer. Providing this option to your whole staff will give you a significant recruiting and retention advantage.

Myth #5: If a person with a disability applies and interviews for a position at my company, I’m required to hire them.

This is also incorrect. When you’re hiring a new employee, and you interview a candidate with a disability, you’re not permitted to take their disability into consideration as a reason to disqualify them for employment. Instead, as with any other employee, you should solely look at their ability to succeed in the position.

What can employers do to create a more accessible and diverse workplace?

Creating a diverse workplace has far-reaching benefits, both for the productivity and innovation of your internal teams and for your reputation as a fair employer. Any misgivings managers and colleagues may have when adding a person with disabilities (or any other kind of difference, for that matter) to the team are generally a result of misunderstanding, not malice. Regular diversity and inclusion training can be useful to any workforce to help clear up any misconceptions about co-workers with different backgrounds and experiences.
Most workplaces could also benefit from a more robust mentorship program. Including employees of all backgrounds, abilities, ages, and skill levels in this kind of initiative can go a long way in terms of creating an inclusive environment, and it’s a wise investment in the professional development of your most valuable asset: your employees.
To learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, be sure to refer to the official website: ADA.gov.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

James Conner Enjoys Work at the Lumber Yard!



James works at North Fork Lumber in Goshen, Virginia. I started working with James in February of 2017 when he started working at North Fork Lumber.

Penni from the Department of Aging and Rehabilitation (DARS) in Fishersville was already in contact with the office manager, Paula, and the owner, Will, to set up the original interview to see if stacking lumber was the right fit for James.  After a functional interview, Will offered James a full-time position as Lumber Stacker.

The number one focus for the entire lumber yard operation is safety.  The employer wanted to know that James could focus on his job and be safe while doing it.  James is a fast learner and could identify the length and types of wood way before I could! James has a lot of energy and the ability to move quickly.  He is also motivated to earn his own paycheck and does not mind overtime at all! 



James’ job duties include stacking lumber that comes from the “green chain” by length and type, bundling the lumber when it gets to a certain height, filling out the production slip for the bundle of lumber, and cleaning up especially during downtime.

Since the beginning, James has improved his job performance in many aspects but especially his speed, strength, and stamina.  James went from not having a work history to working full time and often overtime.  He is always early to work (before 7 a.m.) and usually works a 10 or 12-hour shift.  

James is now receiving Follow Along services with The Choice Group to ensure both he and his employer are satisfied and to provide any assistance if ever needed.  I check in with James and his employer two times a month by phone and in person to make sure work is going well.

James has his driver’s license and own vehicle so he can spend time with his friends socializing and going to the movies when he isn’t at work.  

Rebecca Myers
Vocational Counselor

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Jason's Success Story

Jason Massenburg


Jason and I have worked together for a little over 4 years now. He was assigned to me under situational assessments and did so well at an Office Assistant assessment he was hired on the spot at Home Sweet Home Care in Smithfield. He has been working there for about 4 years. The owner, Shirley McGee, and staff at Home Sweet Home Care are incredibly supportive of Jason and always look out for him. The owner and staff say they love Jason and that he is a joy to have in their office.

Jason uses a wheelchair and has left side paralysis so he was initially referred for situational assessments to see what his employment strengths and likes were.  After learning about Jason’s preferences, we did one prior assessment trying silverware rolling, but due to his hand strength and left side paralysis, it was not a good fit. Next, we tried the Office Assistant assessment at Home Sweet Home Care. He did terrifically and the owner was impressed with Jason and with supported employment and offered him a job on the spot. 

Jason assembles informational packets, places stickers on pill packets, stamps and addresses envelopes, and does other tasks as needed. He is personable and friendly and always ready to help the office staff out. Jason says this job has helped him learn how to socialize. He also says the job has given him a purpose and that he feels needed and makes a positive contribution helping others. Jason also says he is a much happier person since he has been employed.

Jason is now receiving Follow Along services and  I check in with him and his employer once monthly by phone or in person to make sure he continues to do well. I have never received anything but positive feedback on Jason from the owner and his coworkers.

Jason spends time with his family in his free time and enjoys watching comedy TV shows and movies.

Nancy McNamara
Vocational Counselor

Monday, July 31, 2017

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Counselor Feature: Nancy Kells McNamara



Nancy McNamara is the Lead Counselor in the Hampton Roads area and has been working at The Choice Group for over four years now.  While she says that she has had many memorable experiences during her time here, one in particular stands out in the last year.  

“It was it was a great pleasure to be able to assist a client with multiple felonies who was just released from prison to get back into the workforce doing cabinetmaking which he learned while in prison by working with DARS to promote On the Job Training (OJT) for the client with an employer. I was able to get the employer to give the client a chance,  and he is now successfully in Long-Term Employment Support Services (LTESS). He recently attended a job fair via DARS for people coming out of the prison system and shared his success story and how OJT and working with DARS and The Choice Group helped him re-enter society and the workforce successfully.”

She loves seeing her clients grow and succeed and seeing the positive difference employment makes in their lives.  Working within the community and building relationships with clients and employers is just one of many things she loves about her job!


Thanks for the great story, Nancy! 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Welcoming New Vocational Counselors to RVA!

We'd like to welcome our newest members of The Choice Group Richmond team! 

Alexandra Thomas
 Vocational Counselor

Cliff Carter
 Vocational Counselor

Lakeshia Ward
 Vocational Counselor

Mary Chris Warner
 Vocational Technician

Nolan Speichinger
Vocational Counselor

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Consumer Protection Bureau: Your Money, Your Goals!


The Consumer Protection Bureau has developed an amazing resource called Your Money, Your Goals.
The aim of this program is to help individuals gain financial independence through strategy, planning and goal setting.  Feeling out of control of your own situation is something that many individuals who receive Social Security experience.  At The Choice Group, we offer benefits counseling so you know exactly how your benefits will be affected by employment.  We set goals to maintain them while supplementing your income through employment or figure out how to reach complete financial independence - it depends on you!  These tools work in quite the same way, letting you choose your path to independence and the freedom of choice!

These tools and more can be found at consumerfinance.gov!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Always Learning to Better Serve Clients!



Our staff is always learning and training for better ways to serve our clients!  This was just last week when a group of us came together from all of our locations across Virginia for a two-day training on Ticket To Work services.

From left to right:
Katelynn Denny – TTW Admin Assistant
Jonathan May – TTW/WISA Manager
Laura May – Voc Counselor/WISA
Erin Lloyd – Regional Manager/WISA
Milton Johnson – WISA
Buddy Blatz – Lead Counselor/WISA
Greg Bell – TTW Senior Consultant
David Leon – DARS Ticket to Work Coordinator
Shane Rocheleau – WISA
Scott Fraley – Quality Assurance/Vocational Evaluator/WISA
Rachel Hoffman – Lead Counselor/TTW Lead
Chandra Goodman – WISA

Not pictured:
Erica Johnson – Regional Manager/ WISA
Angela Volkening – Vocational Counselor/TTW Lead
Michelle Champion – WISA Admin Assistant
Sherman Gifford – TTW/WISA Director

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

WISE Webinar Events

We are always trying to stay on the leading edge of incentive programs, offerings and educational training like the WISE (Work Incentives Seminar Events) webinars to better serve our community with disabilities.  Listen to The Choice Group's Vice President, Sherman Gifford, along with other presenters on how to take advantage of these opportunities! 


WISE webinars are online events held for people who are age 18 through 64 and receive Social Security Disability benefits. You'll learn about the Ticket to Work Program and available Work Incentives through accessible learning opportunities. WISE webinars are generally held on the fourth Wednesday of each month

Learn more about these events, participation, and registration here: http://bit.ly/2lGDMXa

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Counselor Feature: Rachel McGregor


Rachel is currently The Choice Group’s liaison for Project SEARCH in the Hampton Roads area and is excellent at what she does! Even as a long-standing counselor, her passion for it is still very apparent, which is why we chose her as a Featured Counselor!  Congrats, Rachel, your hard work is worth celebrating!

How long have you been with The Choice Group?
    
    About 4 years.

In which areas of Virginia do you work?

    Hampton Roads and Southside.

Do you do any special cases works?

    Project SEARCH Norfolk, Lead Transition Counselor, and I also work with clients who are deaf and hard of hearing.

What was your most memorable experience with TCG?

        I was working with a client who had a hard time navigating his work setting on his own.  He would rely on my verbal prompts to move from aisle to aisle.  Using an app on his iPod, I was able to map out his entire route of the store to complete his tasks.  I recorded my voice along with pictures and written labels to help him navigate the store. After teaching him to use the app, the first time he used the app without my support, he had his headphones in, and he was listening to my voice prompts on the iPod to determine where to go next.  I was standing several aisles away to let him work independently, and I could hear him respond to my prompts by saying "I found it, Rachel!" and "Here it is!".  That was really the first time I was able to see how I was helping my clients become more independent. 

What do you love about your job at TCG?


    I genuinely enjoy seeing my clients become more independent. Working with the transition age students really gives me the opportunity to see my clients grow from high school students into productive members of society.  I love seeing their growth and I love that I am able to be a part of their journey into the working world! 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Congrats Project SEARCH Graduates!

It's graduation season! We are so proud of this year's Project SEARCH graduates all across Virginia!


Graduation Schedule:
Project SEARCH Chesapeake: June 2nd, 11:30am to 1pm, Lifestyle Center at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center
Project SEARCH Hampton: June 6th 12pm to 2pm, Sentara Careplex Conference Rooms B and C
Project SEARCH Norfolk: June 6th 6:3pm to 7:30pm, Sentara Norfolk General Brickhouse Auditorium
Project SEARCH Williamsburg: June 15th 2pm to 4pm, Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center, Robert L. Graves Conference Room

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Brother and Sister Team Find Independence with Supported Employment



Crystal and Steven MacArthur are the typical brother and sister: they enjoy watching football with their mom, attending their church, and spending time with their family, dog, and friends.  Despite some sibling eye-rolling, they look out for each other.  They also enjoy working.  When looking for part-time positions, they wanted an employer where they could stay long-term.  Crystal became a dishwasher for a staffing company at a Virginia university.  She initially worked in the Annex, a smaller cafeteria off campus.  She hand-washed dishes and eventually learned to use the automatic machine.  Because Crystal has a visual impairment, Crystal’s co-workers always looked out for her, letting her know when the floor was wet or if there were crates that might get in her way.  She became part of the team, discussing sports games and weekend plans while keeping up with the breakfast and lunch rush.  When the Annex closed and Crystal faced moving to the larger cafeteria on campus, she was initially worried.  It was an adjustment, moving to a larger kitchen and maneuvering in a cafeteria full of students.  However, Crystal worked with her job coaches, Eloiza Guzman and Erin Lloyd, and her DBVI Counselor, Kenyette Gray, to learn her way around and find new natural supports, along with friendly faces from the Annex.  Crystal’s managers are always there for her, and Crystal attends every shift, ready to get started.    

Her brother Steven became employed by Sam’s Club as a Maintenance worker.  He keeps the café area clean, sweeps the floors, and checks the trash.  His Choice Group Counselor worked with him to develop a routine for sweeping and learn to use his walkie-talkie.  He is always eager to help whenever a co-worker needs assistance.  Steven’s goal was to also become a greeter.  As Steven learned his job duties and became more familiar with the store, he eventually started helping his co-workers with this task: when they needed to take a break or go on lunch, Steven worked at the front door greeting customers and checking their membership cards, always in a good mood and ready to say hello to customers.  Steven loves buying his “usual” snack during his break, spending time with his co-workers, and taking pride in the work he does.  You can usually find Steven in the store by following the sound of his broom hitting his dustpan.  


Both Steven and Crystal have been working in their positions since 2013.  Crystal, with her flawless memory, can tell you the exact day she began working and will remind you of their employment anniversaries, proud of how long they have been at their part-time jobs. 



Monday, March 27, 2017

TCG Vocational Counselors Can Help Recent College Gradutates Find Employment


Jonathan Ross has been a client of The Choice Group for a few years now. One of the first things I noticed was that Jonathan does a great job of setting goals.  He sets goals that are specific, measurable, and achievable. When I first met him, he was attending college and was looking for a part-time summer position. Jonathan found employment at two local grocery stores for two summers as a Bagger/Courtesy Clerk.

At first, Jonathan required intervention in learning certain tasks and building professional relationships. However, after effective support, he gained the ability to work independently. Jonathan is extremely punctual, and never missed a day of work. He built relationships with his co-workers and showed significant improvement with his interpersonal skills.

Once Jonathan graduated from College he began to work part time at a Digital Solutions company. The Choice Group provided job site training to ensure he was successful in his new role and able to attain a full-time position. The staff at his company provided a significant amount of support. They took extra time to train Jonathan using strategies that were implemented by The Choice Group to better match Jonathan's learning style.

His supervisors say that “Jonathan continues to show improvements in all areas, especially with communication and consistently in speed. He is an asset to the company and a valued team member.” Jonathan’s eagerness to work the hours necessary to complete the tasks at hand help with the team's overall performance. He is never late and doesn’t miss a day of work, even when he is not feeling well. This focus on accountability and punctuality has made the management team proud.  This position has been a great fit for Jonathan and he is looking forward to learning, growing, and taking on more responsibility.

Shadi Zadeh
Vocational Counselor 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

James' Personal Perseverance



James Mothershead is an intelligent guy.  He is an accomplished academic with both a bachelors and masters degree in Business Administration.  Not only an academic, James put his schooling to good use becoming a successful executive in the financial industry.  He worked in banking for almost 20 years.

When I met James he was looking for a new job.  He had just been diagnosed with Spinal Bifida, a condition that can make certain physical movements extremely painful.  Along with the Spinal Bifida, he was also dealing with clinical anxiety and depression.

Despite these challenges, James was determined to find employment. Early in the job search, he was having a difficult time locating an employer, everyone kept telling him he was over-qualified. In addition, his Spinal Bifida required him to find a position where he could accomplish his work sitting down or with very minimal movement.  He kept at it and found a job working as a cashier clerk at Walmart in Fredericksburg. In his role, James collects cash, dispenses change, checks out purchased merchandise, and provides customer service.

When James first started working at Walmart he had psychological and physical obstacles to overcome.  His anxiety made him feel unprepared for work. He also needed to utilize a stool when working the cash register to alleviate his back pain.  Working with Walmart, we were able to work out simple job accommodations for James, like a stool at his register. Feeling comforted by Walmart’s personalized care, he was able to overcome his anxiety.  He has been working in his current role for over four months and is now taking on more responsibility by training new employees.

James’ personal perseverance and the collaboration of Walmart with Choice Group has led to a positive working experience.  He is becoming more confident in his abilities by the day.  James is now looking forward to the future and excited to be working again.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Continuing Success Means Continuous Support


In the first few minutes of meeting Jeff, you quickly learn that he is a hardworking man. Over a year ago, he contacted his DBVI (Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired) Counselor and requested help in finding a job. He had recently left his job as a Manufacturer at a local business in Charlottesville and wanted a job as a Dishwasher. That’s when he met Kate Gariepy, a Vocational Counselor with The Choice Group. Together, Jeff and Kate completed several assessments in his community before beginning to look for a job.

After several months of applying for jobs, Jeff was hired at a new local restaurant as their daytime Dishwasher. Jeff quickly learned his job and became friends with the owner and several of his coworkers. He was highlighted on the restaurant’s Facebook page that eventually caught the attention of a local news station. Jeff says that since his appearance on Newsplex CBS19, many of his friends contacted him to comment on the news story. Jeff continued to work at the restaurant for the next 12 months before contacting his DBVI Counselor again for help.

This time, Jeff immediately requested to work with Kate Gariepy from The Choice Group. He called her the next day and explained that his hours were reduced at the restaurant and he was interested in finding a part-time job near his home. He told her that he wanted to work in the evenings and be able to walk to and from work. Once again, Jeff submitted applications to various businesses and was shocked when he was scheduled for seven interviews within a week. Jeff was offered a job at another local restaurant which he learned was a 5-minute walk from his home. Jeff accepted the position and started working at the end of September. While working with Kate, Jeff also interviewed at Wegmans and was hopeful to be offered a position. A month later, Jeff accepted an offer for part-time employment at Wegmans as a Dishwasher.

Currently, Jeff works three part-time jobs. He lives with his roommate and spends his free time hanging out with friends and going to Dave Matthews Band concerts. Although he is Visually Impaired, he does not let his disability affect his work. He says that he is grateful for The Choice Group and the help he has gotten over the past year from Kate.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Katrina Found Independence Through Employment!


Katrina Blow has been working as a Hostess at Applebee’s in Franklin, Virginia for almost two years now.  When first starting the job, she learned that hostessing required a fair amount of organizational skills like learning the layout of the tables and keeping track of the seating chart rotations.  That’s where Nancy came in, the Lead Vocational Counselor from The Choice Group in Hampton Roads. Together, they made small index card maps for each of the table rotations, especially important during the shift change of the servers.  After only a short time using the new system, Katrina had memorized the information and no longer need to use the cards.

After a year and a half of employment, Katrina’s General Manager asked her to train a new employee. She was excited about the opportunity. It motivated her to work diligently and pay specific attention to detail.  Katrina now trains the majority of new hosts and hostesses hired at Applebee’s. Her managers say she is one of their best employees. With her new level of responsibility and confidence, she went from working only two days weekly to five days a week!

Katrina enjoys working at Applebee’s and knows many of the regular customers. She feels that getting out of the house and taking on the responsibilities of her job has helped her become a happier person. It has also improved her confidence.

Katrina’s favorite part of the job is interacting and talking to her customers. Working as a hostess and developing new skills has helped her grow.  Her managers are all supportive of Katrina and it has been a terrific place for her to work.

Nancy assists Katrina through follow-along services and checks in with her and Applebee’s once monthly either by phone or in person.
"Every time I call her or see her, she is happy to talk to me. She is always smiling and cheerful, and a joy to be around,” says Nancy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tranisha Mitchell's Success with Project SEARCH


Tranisha Mitchell started working as an Operating Room Attendant at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in August 2016.  She works in the Surgical Prep and recovery unit, in a unique position that was created exclusively for her due to her outstanding work as an intern through Project SEARCH.

When she initially began Project SEARCH she had moved several times.  With every move came the difficulty of figuring out how to navigate a new local bus route.  Tranisha, an independent go-getter, wasn’t going to let navigating a bus schedule get in her way.  She adapted quickly to her new surroundings and figured out how to effectively take public transportation to the hospital.

Tranisha is a top notch employee at the Hospital because she is compassionate and great with people.  She grew up helping her family members with their medical needs, so a transition to serving her community working at the Hospital felt natural.  Tranisha is not only compassionate and great with people; she is also extremely hard working. She has proven herself as one of the hospitals most dependable employees willing to work the long hours required to be successful in her role.

In a typical day, Tranisha will call and escort patient families to the surgical prep area.  She always lends a hand to nurses and care partners, providing supplies to them when they are working with patients.  In addition, she helps with room turnover, making sure new patient rooms are prepared with the highest level of care.

When Tranisha is not at the Hospital she can be found helping other Project SEARCH interns.  Like most girls her age, she loves movies, shopping, and hanging out with friends.  Her immediate future goals are saving money to get a drivers license and to eventually rent an apartment of her own where she can live independently.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On-Site Job Training Chameleons!


As Vocational Counselors with The Choice Group, we provide on-the-job training and coaching services to assist individuals in meeting their employment goals in a variety of settings.  We often provide hands-on training, and we do our best to blend into each environment, so we wear the same Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, as the clients we work with to be safe on the job site. Pictured above, Rosemary wears the required uniform for working with her client at a university bakery, complete with chef’s hat, chef’s jacket, and slip resistant shoes.  Becky wears safety equipment required for working with her client at a lumber yard, complete with hard hat, ear plugs, and steel-toed boots.  We enjoy working with our clients to help them be successful in meeting their goals!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Participate in the National Beneficiary Survey!



Next Round of the National Beneficiary Survey Begins in February 2017


The Social Security Administration will launch the next round of the National Beneficiary Survey (NBS) in February 2017. The NBS is an important survey sponsored by the Social Security Administration to collect information about beneficiaries and recipients with disabilities.

We need your help! If a beneficiary asks you about the NBS, please encourage them to participate in this very important survey.

The NBS collects information on the programs and services used by beneficiaries and recipients with disabilities, their health, and any employment goals they may have. SSA will use this information to gain a better understanding of the characteristics of beneficiaries that are not available from our administrative records. We use the information to assess how well our programs are meeting the needs of disability beneficiaries and developing policy. The Social Security Administration conducted the first five rounds of the NBS in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2010, and 2015, and plans to conduct it in 2017 and 2019.

As a token of appreciation, beneficiaries will receive a gift card for $30.00 after completing the interview.

The NBS is being conducted by Mathematica Policy Research.

  • Telephone interviews for the survey will begin in February 2017.
  • In-person interviews with beneficiaries and recipients who are not reached by phone will begin in mid-March.

All in-person NBS interviewers are required to show a Mathematica Policy Research badge that displays:
·         a color photograph of the interviewer,
·         his or her name and signature,
·         the name of the survey, and
·         a toll free number (1-877-293-5740).

In-person interviewers use a laptop to conduct interviews or will provide a cellular telephone to connect participants with the NBS survey operations center. They do not use paper interviews.

We need your help! If a beneficiary asks you about the NBS, please encourage them to participate in this very important survey. They can find out more about the NBS by visiting https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityresearch/nbs_participants.html.

The NBS does not ask beneficiaries for Social Security Numbers or confidential banking information. If there is any question about the identity of the interviewer, please have the beneficiary contact Mathematica Policy Research at 1-877-293-5740.