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 cafĂ© 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.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Department of the Blind and Vision Impaired Now Open in Roanoke!

Congratulations to the City of Roanoke, on their ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of their brand new Department of the Blind and Vision Impaired offices.  Our Roanoke team looks forward to working closely with you in the future!