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Showing posts from 2019

Kortney brightens Northwestern Virginia!

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Our Staff Feature today is Kortney, who's been with us at The Choice Group for three years now. She has served our Northwest region, including Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Staunton, Augusta County, Lexington, Rockbridge County, Shenandoah County, and Page County.


Adrienne, her manager at The Choice Group, says, "Kortney stepped up to help her team this past year and especially over the summer while her manager was out on leave. Although she is part-time, Kortney routinely went above and beyond to meet the needs of clients, taking on new referrals, volunteering for coverage, and even helping with administrative functions in order to ensure processes within the team were running smoothly."


Kortney has excellent time management and enjoys working with clients, which is evident in her dedication to her own clients and her willingness to help other counselors provide support to their clients on job sites.She is also, very importantly, excellent at managing the reporting an…

Cristian found his home in Home Goods

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Cristian and his vocational counselor, Mara, began working with each other earlier this year. Just a few short months after beginning their search for employment together, the two found Christian his current position at Home Goods in Arlington where he has been since May 2019. 

Mara describes Cristian as being very creative and friendly, with a positive outlook on life and an infectious sense of humor. In the beginning, Cristian showed an interest in art, graphic design and writing, so the two started with stores that had to do with those interests. 

When Mara first met Cristian, he had recently graduated from the Arlington Career Center. Cristian had completed some internships through school, but had never landed a competitive, independent position. Initially, he was very nervous about the whole idea surrounding employment. He was nervous about making employer calls, and going in to follow-up on applications really made him anxious. Although, every time they worked together Cristian…

PEERS story

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PEERS®:Increasing Social Skills



Some PEERS® graduates from the Charlottesville group who graduated in October 2019


PEERS® is an acronym for the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills and is designed to assist young adults, especially on the autism spectrum, who are having difficulty making and keeping friends. In addition to lessons focusing on making and keeping friends, this 16-week course also focuses on developing romantic relationships, managing conflict and rejection, as well as steps for handling bullying and other core social skills necessary for young adults to thrive in their communities.  While these critical lessons are presented to a group of young adults, a concurrent session is taught to a group of social coaches, often the young adults’ parents, in a separate room. At the conclusion of each lesson, the students are given homework assignments such as: plan a get-together, join a social group, or make a phone call to a classmate. Before completing ea…

Mike's Story: To Overcome

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Mike is not a person who talks openly about his disability or his experience overcoming mental illness to return to work.  And yet, given the opportunity, he shared openly, because he sees the value in telling his story.  Mike speaks out in hopes that others who have mental illness will find the courage to connect to services and supports and overcome their fears about returning to work. 

Mike’s story is a success story: one about courage, resilience and persistence.  Through Ticket to Work he found a full-time, professional position where he has been successfully working for 4 years. 

Mike’s life has been a struggle, but he talks about the challenges he has faced with levity and a healthy dose of humor.  “It’s a good thing there is no ‘three knock-out rule’ in life.  I’ve been knocked out way more than three times, but I keep getting back up.”  Mike doesn’t exaggerate about the traumatic circumstances of his youth or the impact mental illness has had on the course of his education and…

The Sweet Taste of Success

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Darius G. Darius C. Frozen treats Graduation



The Sweet Taste of Success
The development of Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) continues across the Commonwealth.This initiative, mandated by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), is for students in high school.The Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) has approved six different services in Pre-ETS, depending on the needs of the students.One of these is After-School Pathways.It typically takes place in high schools, with a curriculum that focuses on pre-employment and four of the five core areas outlined in the WIOA: Job exploration counselingWork readiness training to develop social and independent living skillsCounseling on post-secondary education and training opportunitiesInstruction in self-advocacy
Prince William DARS Counselors Leslie Diaz and Deana Holinka partnered with Christy Stegman and Tiffany Brown to develop a creative and fun opportunities for students this summer.The classes are typical…

Travis Behind the Scenes

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Travis began working with his vocational counselor, Nolan, in January 2019.Travis was looking for a behind-the-scenes job, working away from customers, with predictable and repetitive job duties that suit his skills.He has extreme anxiety and being around people he does not know is uncomfortable for him.After about a month of exploring possible positions with Nolan’s support, Travis was employed in his current position as a part-time dishwasher at Arby’s.
It is a perfect fit!Travis really thrives in his position because he is always early and doesn't miss a shift.He also doesn't leave until the job is done and is very thorough.Travis received the Champion of Professional Development 2019 Award at the Department for Aging & Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Champions of Disability Employment Awards Ceremony and is now able to complete his job duties independently.Nolan continues to check with him and his managers at least monthly, and is available for additional support if nee…

Christian Found His Voice

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Christian's counselor, Ali, has been with him since the 2018 school year in order to help him gain employment. She says that not only has he been a model employee, but he is now a leader within Project SEARCH and encourages others as well.

Christian works at a grocery store as an attendant, but the interview process wasn't easy. Since Christian has a speech impediment, he required assistance but never gave up, practicing every day. Not only that, but he also helped his other classmates practice for their interviews as well. He got called back for three different interviews and landed the job!

Christian is excelling at the store now, and is currently working up the nerve to ask to be cross-trained. His favorite part is assisting the customers directly. He runs the Facebook support group for his classmates and is an advocate for the Project SEARCH program, talking to anyone who will listen about what a great thing it was for him.

Ali says, "When Chris began project search h…

Meredith Shines at Virginia Diner

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Meredith started working with her vocational counselor, Nancy, in 2012, to acquire assistance in job placement. Meredith lives in Wakefield, Virginia, which posed problems because of its rural nature and lack of job opportunity. She also didn't have access to a car and needed a job within walking distance-- and she found just that.


Virginia Diner is a long-standing old-fashioned diner in Wakefield, and it happens to be Meredith's great-grandaddy's. She had her heart set on employment there. It was perfect; she walks to and from work, and her mother works close by and can check up on her. Meredith currently works there as a busser-- her job includes cleaning tables, restocking items, and making sure the restaurant runs smoothly.


Nancy says, "[Meredith] loves her job and enjoys making her own money. Meredith loves to stay busy." In fact, she excels at her job, earning Employee of the Month in January 2015 and she received a gift card as a reward. Nancy also notice…

Jorden Joins Roses

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Jorden and Nancy began working together at the end of October 2017.Jorden lives in Capron and the nearest town with employers is Franklin.As part of the vocational services process, Nancy arranged an opportunity for Jorden to explore what a Courtesy Clerk does, and Jorden really enjoyed the experience.The primary purpose of this experience was to give Jorden the opportunity to “try on” a position to determine if the job duties were those he liked and would be capable of doing.In the process, however, it demonstrated to the manager firsthand how capable he is at doing all required job duties, which worked out well!The manager of the Farm Fresh in Franklin was impressed.Although Jorden is personable, he may have had difficulty conveying his abilities in a standard interview.In this situation, the Manager spoke with Nancy and Jorden after the assessment about open positions, and offered Jorden a job.


Unfortunately, the Farm Fresh in Franklin closed, and Jorden was forced to look for new e…

Ethan's Employment

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Ethan and his Vocational Counselor Nancy McNamara began working together in late 2015. Ethan showed a great interest in working in the food service industry, but he did not have a work history and lives in a rural area with limited employers. Ethan has difficulty answering questions and articulating his abilities in an interview, so Nancy advocated for working interviews. The Owner at Don Pancho's Cantina in Franklin determined Ethan would be an asset to them and decided to give him a chance.

Ethan does well in his job because he is friendly and hardworking. Management always makes note of how much the customers love Ethan. They also can always depend on Ethan coming to work on time with a great attitude. His current tasks are to buss tables, clean the parking lot, and host. Hosting includes greeting and seating people and giving them menus, bringing them chips, salsa and silverware.

Nancy maintains monthly communication with the Managers and Owner of Don Pancho's, as wel…

Trivette's Sweet Success

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Trivette and her Vocational Counselor Nancy McNamara began working together in the summer of 2015.Trivette was interested in a position in the food industry.Although Trivette did not have any prior work experience, and lived in a rural area with limited employment options, they were able to find her a job as Lobby Attendant at the local Dairy Queen, where she started in September of that year and is still working there four years later.Nancy describes Trivette as hardworking, responsible and reliable, three qualities in demand by employers.


Trivette works hard and always strives to do her best, which had helped her to excel in her position. She recently received a raise and promotion to Food Prep Worker, where she is doing an amazing job.Instead of cleaning the lobby, restrooms and parking lot, and interacting in a welcoming and positive way with guests, she is now responsible for food prep for salads and sandwiches.When not involved in her primary functions, she continues to take car…

Joshua Grows With Employment

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Joshua and his vocational counselor, Justin, began working together in April of this year. Together they found an available position at a local KFC restaurant where Joshua has been employed for the last six months. 
In the beginning, Joshua and Justin completed several assessments to determine Josh's interests and the positions that would be the best fit.  This was followed by interviews and finally a job offer. Although having to overcome difficulties with social skills, including being comfortable speaking with others, Joshua’s social skills have improved greatly. Justin helped Joshua work on new ways to approach and greet guests, as well as helping him to remember his daily job duties, which have also significantly improved since first starting employment at KFC. 
Joshua has a strong drive to learn new things which has really helped him in his job. He has a very positive attitude and is always excited to come to work. Some of his job duties include washing the dishes, as well …

Leon Loves His Job

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Leon Turner and his vocational counselor, Nancy, began working together in July 2017. Together they found his current position at Hardees in September 2017, and he has now been working there for almost two years. Prior to Leon finding his current employer, he lived in an area that offered few opportunities in cleaning, where he had prior experience. With limited transportation, Leon needed to walk or bike to work, which then sparked his interest in working in food service. As they spoke with employers to identify job opportunities, Nancy and Leon found that the local Hardee's in Waverly was hiring!

Leon was offered the job at Hardee's and accepted. His current duties include trash removal, mopping, sweeping, cleaning the parking lot, as well as preparing and cooking all of the food for the line. Leon cooks chicken, chicken tenders, string beans, mashed potatoes, and chicken gravy. He is extremely productive and personable. Everyone at Hardee's always comments on how hard…

2 billion people will need this tech by 2050: Injured vet shares the good and bad

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Phil Swinford's house is full of tech that helps him live more independently, but he's betting it's also going to help him to walk again.

(Phil Swinford plays music on his phone.Megan Wollerton/CNET)

"OK Google, text Pamela ICE [in case of emergency]," says retired US Army Col. Phil Swinford from his home in the Virginia suburbs, roughly an hour's drive from Washington, DC. He's using Google Assistant on his Android phone to talk to his wife, Pam, who's working today at her consignment shop, the Copper Cricket, a few miles away. I'm listening in, which feels a little too invasive, but it's OK: This text is just for demo purposes.

"Sure," Google's AI responds. "What's the message?"

"Hey, babe. I love you," Phil says clearly and deliberately into his phone.

"I got, 'Hey, babe. I love you,'" it speaks back to him. "Do you wanna send it or change it?"

"Send it," Phil sa…

Joseph (Karate) Chops his Way Into a Career

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Joseph began working with his vocational counselor, Justin, beginning in June 2019. Together, they found Joseph an internship at Laughing Dragon Kung-Fu, a local martial arts studio, where he has been for 2 months now. While Justin was there to guide Joseph into finding employment, Joseph was the one who initially thought of pursing a position at the studio. After speaking with the manager of the studio, they got the green light for Joseph to start the internship! The manager informed them that everyone at the studio thought it was a great opportunity for Joseph to excel and use his skills to teach others.




In the beginning, Joseph had to work on his social skills when teaching the children at the studio, but has shown great improvement. Since beginning the internship at the studio Joseph's patience has increased tremendously and his motivation to work and help others has improved greatly as well. Joseph's determination to do well is one of his strengths that has allowed him …

Nathan Finds Work at a Local Brewery

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Nathan and his vocational counselor, Justin, began working together in April of this year. Nathan has currently been employed in his position for two months. Before finding Nathan work with his current employer, Justin and Nathan met weekly to determine the field in which Nathan would like to find employment. Together, they then completed several situational assessments to determine the best fit for Nathan. Nathan and Justin came to the realization that Nathan liked working in a warehouse environment, so they completed an application for Three Notch'd Brewery, and the client received and accepted the job offer.



Initially, Nathan had to overcome some obstacles like working on his pace at the job, multi-tasking, as well as working on communication. Although, this wasn't an issue for long, he is a very hardworking and determined person so he was able to quickly improve on his speed, communication and multi-tasking. Nathan is responsible for packaging 6, 12 and 24 packs, along w…

Alex Bakes Her Way To Employment

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Alex was referred to the Choice Group by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services in April 2016, and was paired with a Vocational Counselor. Alex had earned a diploma in 2016 from Ocean Lakes High School and participated in a Work Experience Program at the Oceana Commissary Bakery in Virginia Beach. She received assistance in applying for a paid position at the Commissary, and was hired as a Bakery Associate. Alex learned the position with help from her Vocational Counselor, and has worked part time for nearly three years, packaging portions of baked goods in support of the bakery.

Alex’s supervisor said that Alex does a good job, follows the rules regarding safety and proper procedures, and enjoys talking with her coworkers while she works. She receives high marks on evaluations from her supervisors, and her smile brightens the mood of all around her.

Alex has benefited from her supportive parents, helpful staff and management at the Oceana Commissary, and at 24 ye…

James Welds His Way Into The Workforce

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James and his Vocational Counselor, Nancy, began working together in June of 2016, when they began looking for his current position. James began working at Hampton Sheet Metal in January of 2017 where he was the first client hired that utilized Supported Employment services. He had a welding certificate but no welding work experience. Nancy and James worked with his DARS Counselor using OJT (On the Job Training) which is a program where DARS will pay for the client's first few months of pay while they are in training, as a way to advocate to employers to give him a chance. Employers will not hire people without welding experience so they used OJT as a way to advocate for James to get an employer to give him a chance. After many months of contacting several employers, Nancy was finally was able to get Hampton Sheet Metal to take a chance on James with the OJT program. He ended up doing very well and they kept him on. James has received several raises over the years and has recently…

Keith Gets Cooking in The Kitchen

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Keith and his Vocational Counselor began working together in early 2015. Keith has been employed with his current employer, a KFC/Taco Bell, going on four years now.  In the beginning, his Vocational Counselor contacted employers in the area to see who was hiring. Keith was interested in both customer service and food service. Both he and his Vocational Counselor completed several applications which resulted in a job offer for a Lobby Attendant/Dishwasher position at Golden Skillet, but things didn't work out. After about a month and a half, the restaurant had to close due to poor business. At that time, Keith went back into job development, where together he and his Vocational Counselor were able to secure a new position as a Lobby Attendant at a local KFC/Taco Bell. Keith was later offered an additional responsibility of unloading the trucks. From there, Keith eventually tried fry cooking, where he continues to work full-time today. Initially, Keith was hesitant to accept more re…