Showing posts from 2022

A Work Day “Gone to the Dogs”

  Counselor Christy Stegman’s client, Mike, is a full-time K-9 coach in a big dog playroom.  Although he is a client of The Choice Group, Mike landed this job on his own and went through job coaching alongside Christy after he was hired.  In his role, Mike is responsible for the cleaning, general handling, and nap times for 20 large dogs. During his employment, Mike has grown knowledgeable about each dog and their unique behavioral cues and works hard to familiarize himself with new dogs when they join the pack. For the pups in his care, he is always on the lookout for dog behavior that might indicate a scuffle brewing and uses his learned techniques to break up any fights.  Although initially hesitant about bringing him on, his employer now feels that Mike has proven to be the right fit for the job. Mike was awarded Employee of the Year for 2021-2022 and is the company's longest-standing employee. Christy now checks in with him once or twice a month and is thrilled that her client

Counselor Joins the Benefits Counseling Team

 Meet Matt Tyrrell!  Matt has been with The Choice Group for about two years and has carried a varied caseload throughout that time, working with several different clients through The Choice Group’s Wounded Warrior Program as well as carrying a Vocational Counseling caseload.  Matt is the newest member of our Benefits Counseling team. His interest in benefits counseling was piqued while working with clients who wanted to know more about how their earnings might affect their Social Security and Medicaid benefits. Matt’s interest led him to inquire about learning more about that particular field.   Matt recently completed his certification as a Work Incentives Benefit Practitioner through Cornell University. Way to go Matt, and welcome to the Benefits Counseling team! 

Laura and Madison’s Road to Success

Madison was the first client Laura met through her counseling work with The Choice Group when they both volunteered to bag items at a grocery store. The rest is history.  After seeing how well the grocery store event went, Laura and Madison decided to explore additional jobs within the food industry, eventually settling on Outback as an ideal fit for Madison’s first job. She has now maintained employment at Outback for over a year and a half! In her role, Madison has carried out many tasks, starting with food prep at a table in the dining room before the restaurant opened, which gave her a large, quiet workspace. After mastering that task and becoming more comfortable in her new environment, Madison began working in the kitchen alongside other staff. She eventually added bussing and rolling silverware at night to her resume. On slower evenings when bussing tasks are not needed, Madison has even trained other staff on how to do food prep.  Madison continues to add helpful kitchen tasks

Heather and Rita Dee celebrate nearly a decade of client success

Rita Dee, one of The Choice Group counselors in Hampton Roads, has been working with her client, Heather, for more than five years. Throughout those years, Rita has had the pleasure of seeing Heather succeed in her role at the public library. Heather has been working with the public library for eight years now. During her time there, she has experienced a remarkable improvement in her confidence and comfort levels. Heather was recently honored with the 2022 Customer Service Award and received a promotion to Librarian Assistant 1. When determining what jobs would be a good fit for Heather, Rita focused on Heather’s interests. Even though Heather can be reserved at times, she has excellent customer service skills and truly loves books. In her role at the library, Heather takes care of general tasks, with Rita regularly checking in for encouragement and support. If you want to learn more about our programs, clients, and counselors, visit our  website.

Counselor Carrie Bruce Goes The Extra Mile

The Choice Group counselor Carrie Bruce is committed to bettering the lives of her clients by consistently staying up-to-date with her training. Carrie recently became WiSA certified and will soon start in the Youth Training Program with The Choice Group. After taking the Youth Training Program exam, she will wrap the program up with a case study. Counselors like Carrie help people understand the many programs available to them by explaining the various programs and their benefits. “WiSA is a very powerful program, and I hope to get the word out,” says Carrie. Trained WISA staff are authorized by the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI), and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS). They provide clear explanations about disability benefits to qualified individuals, the effects their income will have on their benefits, the availability of work incentives to help the individual trans

Celebrating Client Success

Billy Kraus, a Choice Group counselor from Hampton Roads, is excited at his client’s success in his role at Burlington department store. Isiah McEachin has been a client of Billy’s since January 2021 and is in Follow Along services with The Choice Group. Isiah had worked with Burlington in the past and had an interest in working with them again. Billy supported him throughout the application and interview process. “ Isiah is a hard worker and committed to learning new things,” says Billy, who holds monthly site visits and contact with his client. In his role at Burlington, Isiah is tasked with receiving and processing new items and recovering items on the sales floor. During a shift, Isiah reset the decorative wall art section of the store from scratch and, after some support, could complete the task independently. His supervisor was so impressed with Isiah's work that it was shared with the other Burlington stores around the nation. Isiah requires extra time to process new informa

From Graduation to the Real World

  It’s graduation season here at The Choice Group! Students are completing the Project SEARCH and PEERS programs and preparing to enter the world armed with new life skills.  A Choice Group counselor recently ran into a PEERS graduate and his mother, who spoke highly of employment opportunities and her son’s newfound friend group. She credited his successful employment and social life to the PEERS classes he took in high school. It is a beautiful feeling to see the skills learned in these programs being used as a tool for success in the everyday lives of our graduates.  In the PEERS program, young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, who have difficulty with social skills, are offered a class that provides instruction and support which teach social skills and help promote a sense of unity in the skills learned in the young adult’s home, community, and on their job site. The Project SEARCH program created a model for students with significant disabilities to learn how to make a success

Continue to Soar with PEERS

Zachary Sisisky, who works in Behavioral Management at The Choice Group, just finished up another 16-week PEERS course. The PEERS curriculum was developed by UCLA and is designed for young adults with Autism who are motivated to make friends but have difficulty with social skills.  Sisisky led a class of six participants through skills training and social courses that included behavioral rehearsal activities, homework, and role-play demonstrations. As a PEERS counselor, it is Sisisky’s job to help motivate his students to make friends and to apply the skills they learn in this course to their everyday lives.  A new PEERS session will be starting another virtual class this fall with 6-8 people. An unexpected benefit of running the course virtually is being able to have people join from across the state. From Winchester, to Charlottesville, to Richmond, the broader reach is something that our counselors have enjoyed.  For more information on The Choice Group or The PEERS curriculum visit

How The Choice Group Counseling Program Leads To Employment Success

At The Choice Group, the goal of counseling is to provide a safe, accepting, and non-judgmental place where individuals can explore issues in confidence. Our goal is for the therapist and client to become a team that explores the client’s strengths, values, fears, and difficulties together. Many of our clients are on the autism spectrum. One such client had been told by a previous employer that he was never going to be able to hold a professional position. Before working with The Choice Group, this individual didn’t have a job coach and was terminated from many previous positions due to challenges with interacting with female coworkers. When The Choice Group manager Shadi Zadeh first met this client about six years ago, he was in his forties, held a Ph.D., and had been working off-and-on for years. By working with our counseling program, he has held down a position as an engineer making $42 an hour with the opportunity for consistent raises and the trust to work from home. Our client

Project SEARCH Helped Sean Find His Passion

  Rita Dee, a counselor on our Hampton Roads team, has seen first-hand how our Project SEARCH program sets our clients up for success. Sean Thomas-Rowe completed the program five years ago and, since Rita came on board as his counselor, she has seen how well Sean has done in his professional role.  In 2017, Sean accepted a position working with a non-profit that helps families build and improve potential places they can call home. He is in charge of updating the website and handling graphic design requests from his management team. Rita credits Sean’s positive impact at work to his interest in computers, his ability to master programs like Photoshop, and his background in website coding. Seans’ evaluations are always outstanding. His graphic designs have been used on multiple flyers, T-Shirts, and on the website. He has an extreme level of dedication, often double-checking work orders as a part of his routine and honing his graphic design skills in his spare time.   Rita has encouraged

Staple Programs Provide Social Skills That Lead to Success

Since The Choice  in 1998, our CEO, Chris Lavach makes sure every program reflects our mission of being a commitment to excellence in meeting our clients’ needs while respecting their individuality and right to make life choices. That can definitely be said about our Afterschool Pathways and Pre-ETS programs.  The Afterschool Pathways program is a job readiness club that is a group service available to transition students and can take place in high schools, in the community and virtually. Focusing on pre-employment and the five core areas outlined in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA), activities can include career interest inventories, job exploration counseling, workplace readiness training to develop social and independent living skills, counseling on postsecondary education and training opportunities, instruction in self-advocacy, and financial literacy. Students finish the program with a digital portfolio that includes a resume, completed application and c

Billy Kraus: A Counselor on the Move

For over two decades The Choice Group has dedicated its time to helping our clients find fulfillment in the workplace. As counselors, it has been a joy seeing our hundreds of clients reach milestones and share their achievements over the years.  Ericka Neville is one of our managers for the Hampton Roads area. It is not uncommon for Ericka’s employees to thrive when they enter into the workforce --Billy Kraus is no different. Billy has been with The Choice Group since December 2020. He started as a vocational counselor and since been promoted to a Senior Counselor. Our counselors provide a safe, accepting and non-judgmental space for our clients. Counseling at The Choice Group is a win-win—allowing counselors like Billy to work together with his group to develop in the individuals a sense of confidence and well-being. Along with working as a counselor, Billy leads a program under our PEERS Program. His program focuses on developing social skills for students to make and keep friends. T

Summer Pre-Employment Transition Program

Pre-Employment Transitions Took place over the summer. Christy Stegman and Cate Engel were the people in charge.  There was a total of three groups, two groups worked at a national pharmacy and the other group worked at a coffee shop. This was unpaid training opportunities.  This was also in person and not virtual.  Program ended in August. It's important to celebrate students with disabilities and help them develop career pathways.  Summer Pre-Employment Transition Program At The Choice Group, we strive to help our clients find meaningful employment that integrates into a full and enriching lifestyle for them. We believe that no matter the obstacles one may face, they deserve to be presented with equal opportunity, recognized, and celebrated. One of the ways we have been able to go above and beyond for our clients to meet these markers over the past 17 years is through our Pre-Employment Transition services. We partner with DARS and participate in award-winning programs to help sh