Episode 102 VR Workforce Studio
Singers: VR Workforce Studio
Flora Frazier: This school has changed my life for the better, and I would recommend the school to anybody. It’s not just education, it’s helped me outside of class, more than I would’ve realized.
Announcer: VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation, through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.
Announcer: Four…three..two….one…. VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.
Jered Lem: Tech Support this is Jered speaking how may I help you?
Rose Hilderbrand: I have a position at Masco Cabinetry.
Alfred McMillan: I’m a supervisor at Sedexo.
Announcer: As well as the professionals who have helped them.
James Hall: A job, and a career, you got to look at how life changing this is.
Announcer: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Announcer: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there is such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Announcer: Now here is the host of the VR workforce studio. Rick Sizemore.
Rick Sizemore: Welcome to episode 102, the VR Workforce Studio, Rick Sizemore, along with Betsy Civilette. Hey, Betsy.
Betsy Civilette: Hey, Rick. 2021 wow. What a big year for the VR Workforce Studio, celebrating our 100th episode.
Rick Sizemore: Yes, Betsy. We’re continuing to podcast the sparks that ignite VR and bringing you our valued listeners, inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work through vocational rehabilitation.
Betsy Civilette: You said it. It’s all about you, our listeners. So, if you or someone you know has a disability, spread the word. In addition to our stories, we talk about where you can find VR services and resources. We want to help you, your family or the businesses that might hire you.
Rick Sizemore: On today’s show, we’re counting down some of the top highlights of 2021, including some featured spotlights on former guests and what they’ve accomplished. We also begin our two part series on the R.N. Anderson training building at Wilson Workforce, as it comes back online after a $23 million complete and total renovation. This facility is state of the art. So if you’re a person with a disability who needs job training to get into the workforce, you’ll want to hear about this.
Betsy Civilette: Just this morning, Rick and I took to the streets to chat with some of the current students here at Wilson and what they thought about this amazing new facility, that’s designed especially for people with disabilities to train for the workforce of tomorrow. Here is what they had to say.
WWRC Student: It’s amazing. It looks modern, it’s comfortable to walk around, it’s a nice layout, it’s easy to get to everything. The classrooms are bigger and so much better. My business training classroom, I think size doubled. It’s wonderful.
WWRC Student: I think it’s a pretty cool area. I can’t wait to get my hands on the fork lift.
WWRC Student: It’s more accessible, from the doors are open that…
WWRC Student: You know where you’re going and you don’t get lost.
WWRC Student: This school has changed my life for the better, and I would recommend this school to anybody. Not only did it help me educationally, but when I came here I had social anxiety. I didn’t like to leave my room, I didn’t like to talk to people or hang out. Now I work at in the rec. hall I see a million people a day. It’s not just education, it’s helped me outside of class more than I would’ve realized.
Rick Sizemore: We’ll have more on the Anderson building and some of our upcoming podcasts, at vrworkforcestudio.com, so stay tuned for that in 2022.
Betsy Civilette: Success stories about career pathways are never finished because it’s a journey, not an end. These stories continue to be written every day by our guests. We will hear from some of our guests about their amazing updates. And Heather Servais, the new director of the National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials, is here to kick off the first one. Well, hello, Heather.
Heather Servais: It’s so nice to be here and to be part of this podcast with our monthly Clearinghouse report and to hear these amazing stories of VR.
Betsy Civilette: Well, Heather, you have an update about the Clearinghouse’s most popular tweet this year, to introduce our first showcase spotlight.
Heather Servais: Yes, I sure do. You did a story on Jacob Cotton at the Anicira Animal Hospital, which we have in the library at the Clearinghouse. It’s an amazing story, but it also happens to be one of the most popular tweets we’ve had this year.
Melissa Gilligan: We had this surgical supply assistant, we needed somebody in the position.
Jacob Cotton: At my job, I fold laundry, also clean the surgical instruments.
Melissa Gilligan: The Windmills training was wonderful.
Laurie Qualey: It was just such a Safe space for folks to really share their preconceived notions about disabilities.
Jacob Cotton: Waffles is a really playful and kind kitty, and he liked to play with me the most.
Betsy Civilette: Well, Heather, it turns out that that story is the focus of our State Rehab Council’s annual report this year.
Rick Sizemore: Well, I called Jacob at Anicira yesterday, and he’s doing great. Let’s take a listen. People love your podcast.
Jacob Cotton: They do?
Rick Sizemore: How is your job going?
Jacob Cotton: It’s going on pretty well. Well, I have been working on some things. Things like gowns, towels, instruments here in Anicira.
Rick Sizemore: Have you worked with any really fun animals?
Jacob Cotton: Normally I have been working with kittens and dogs, but I did manage to come across some bunnies and chickens.
Rick Sizemore: Really?
Jacob Cotton: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well for the chicken I just say hi to it, but for the bunnies I just like to pet them. I like to check on them to make sure they’re okay.
Rick Sizemore: When we talked earlier, you said you had found your forever job. Are you still planning to be there for a while and enjoy this great new job at Anicira?
Jacob Cotton: I sure do.
Heather Servais: It’s great, Betsy and Rick. These stories are so important for people with autism and their families, and of course businesses like Anicira, that are learning that people with disabilities are the answer to their staffing challenges.
Rick Sizemore: Well, Heather, thanks for joining us. We’ll talk later in the program with Heather, hear her story, how working with people that have disabilities before she got into VR, shaped her career through being a job coach, a VR counselor, an administrator, and how that career path has led her to become the new director at the National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials.
Betsy Civilette: Rick, you had a guest on the podcast back in April I believe, Sean Barker.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, that was episode 94, which also has an interview with the late great Jim Rothrock. When we talked with Sean earlier this year, he had just completed information technology training at Wilson, and he had obtained industry recognized credentials and was working while he was attending college.
Betsy Civilette: Rick, I think Sean is on the line.
Speaker 3: Sean, how are you?
Sean Barker: Good. How are you?
Rick Sizemore: I am doing well. We’ve had nothing but absolutely positive comments about the podcast recorded earlier this year. People have been inspired by it. We’re doing our end of the year wrap up and just wanted to check in with you and see how it’s going.
Sean Barker: It’s going good.
Rick Sizemore: Any great accomplishments in 2021? Well, I hear an accomplishment in the background. (baby laughing in the background).
Sean Barker: Yeah, that’s my son.
Rick Sizemore: Well, that’s an amazing accomplishment. Being a dad is a great job.
Sean Barker: It is the most important thing in the world.
Rick Sizemore: So what have you been up to?
Sean Barker: Well, I was working at Virginia Western, with the CTO there building a project that they were working on, our web project for them is called log in system and ticket system, which their employees are going to use eventually to go to the entire campus.
Rick Sizemore: Right.
Sean Barker: Today, I just signed on to become a computer science teacher at Northcross School.
Rick Sizemore: That is fantastic.
Sean Barker: So, I’m going to take over the department for the high school for ninth to 12th graders
Rick Sizemore: Teaching IT?
Sean Barker: Yes.
Rick Sizemore: What a dream come true.
Sean Barker: Yeah. I’ve always wanted to teach. So it’s definitely a big dream for me.
Rick Sizemore: That is exciting. What is the one thing that you would say to our listening audience about moving through that progression to realize this goal of becoming a teacher?
Sean Barker: Passion.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely. Yeah.
Sean Barker: I think passion. I was talking to the CTO, who’s my boss at Virginia Western, and I was letting him know that I accepted this job and he was really excited for me. He said that he would take someone who has passion over someone who has all the credentials and they don’t have passion because it just makes a huge difference.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely. Love what you do and you’ll never have to work another day in your life, Sean.
Sean Barker: Exactly.
Betsy Civilette: And back in February, you interviewed Brandon West.
Rick Sizemore: How’s your job? How have things been since we talked?
Brandon West: Oh, they’ve been going really well. In fact, it’s actually been a bit better because my supervisors and such they haven’t had to work with people with disabilities such as myself before, so they’re having a learning curve as well, but everyone’s doing really well.
Rick Sizemore: So you are helping them understand what it’s like to have someone with a disability in a workforce.
Brandon West: Yes.
Rick Sizemore: Well what have you taught them?
Brandon West: A lot about how they talk to me feels and how even the little things can set me off. Even people who try to accommodate others for their disabilities, they don’t realize how frustrating it is for the person with the disability because they realize there is something wrong. And the fact that there is, in it of itself is frustrating.
Rick Sizemore: Well, your ability to explain that to your coworkers and your supervisors brings a lot of value into the workforce. So, that’s exciting.
Brandon West: Oh, thank you.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Betsy, 2021 has been an amazing year. Of course, I’d like to thank you for joining the team as co-host of the podcast and to recognize the exceptional work you’re doing through the communication’s office at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.
Betsy Civilette: I’m Really thrilled to be here on the podcast, to talk about what DARS can offer people with disabilities, and especially the people who hire our job candidates. One of the most exciting things this year is our business services team is now certified to do Windmills training. This is free training to help businesses learn just what it’s like to have people with disabilities in the workplace. And all you have to do is contact our business services team, the website is in the show notes and they will be happy to set up Windmills training. Did I tell you it’s free?
Rick Sizemore: You did say it was free. Well, Betsy, we’ll finish our big inspiration showcase today, with this reflection from those on the journey. And a listener spotlight thanking Chris Hunters, of Swoope, Virginia, never misses an episode and always lets us know she enjoys the podcast. Well, Chris, we’ll drop you a bumper sticker and a tote bag in the mail to say thanks. And we’d love to hear from you as well. Just drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And now, voices from those on the journey.
Rick Sizemore: Over the past four years, Virginia’s older adults and those with disabilities have distinguished themselves as independent, capable, and secure citizens. And in many cases, they’re living safer lives in our communities while filling Virginia’s talent pipelines for business and industry. We’ve seen powerful and engaged strategies at work, building a more inclusive environment while celebrating the safety and security of Virginia’s older adults, as well as the role of people with disabilities in the workforce, many taking on jobs that sustained life, health and safety during the pandemic.
Shane Padgett: We haul products out to California and then we bring back produce.
Christina Brown: We go above and beyond, try our hardest to make our customers feel appreciated.
Kelly Wright: It’s the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. The seniors get fresh fruits and vegetables, feeding our most vulnerable folks.
Greta Nelson: OT had worked on driving during his program.
Ron Burlson: They put that left foot accelerator in my pickup, that helped me a lot cause I couldn’t drive my pickup without it.
Ben Payne: Literally it was like just something popped in my head and I had the worst headache. They’re on it to find you a job.
Vickie Varner: The people that are still around you, you will be fine.
Rod Early: That was day that I was going to get back up and get walking.
Brian Evans: You know, that I’m exceptional species and I’m able to overcome an Immovable object.
Nycole Fox: Partnering with employers and kind of seeing the culture of the employer, what the employer is looking for.
Christopher Spoden: My elevator speech really got better over time.
Evelyn Clark: Had an accident, suffered a T6 spinal cord injury, wound up in the hospital for about six months, did a lot of rehab, and then came out on the other side using a wheelchair. DARS was really instrumental in helping me get my independence back.
Rick Sizemore: For more information about the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, visit us online at vadars.org.
Rick Sizemore: Heather Servais, is the new director of the Rehabilitation Services Administration’s National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials. Welcome to the podcast, Heather.
Heather Servais: Hey Rick, I’m so glad to be back, thanks for having me. Got that first month under my belt. So I’m ready to go for round two.
Rick Sizemore: Episode 102, and you started right as we hit a hundred. So that was exciting time to welcome you, as we wish Cherie Takemoto, the very best in her new career. But we’re evolving and continuing to be excited about the National Clearinghouse and what it offers our listeners, and that you have joined us. But we want to know about you. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Heather Servais: Thank you to you and the podcast team for being so welcoming, RSA and the new editions team have all been so welcoming and helpful in my transition to this role. So I’m very thankful for their support. A little bit about me, I have my bachelor’s in history from Florida State University. I’m a bit of a history nerd and avid reader, so I can read all the historical fiction and historical research I can get my hands on.
Rick Sizemore: Love it.
Heather Servais: Yeah. I have my master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling from West Virginia University. I am an avid baseball fan, my husband, my two kids and I we are super into Atlanta Braves baseball. So this was a huge year for us watching them win the world series.
Rick Sizemore: That was so cool.
Heather Servais: Yeah. We love our Braves and we try to go up there as much as possible in the summertime when the kids are out of school to catch as many games as possible, because for us as a family, that is one of our absolute favorite activities to do. And watching them win the world series, I know my kids are going to have memories that’ll last forever. So we are excited about that.
Rick Sizemore: With this podcast, most of us have a story about what drew us to this career. What’s yours?
Heather Servais: Why VR? This is one of those things where I never started out with wanting to be a rehab counselor. I didn’t even know what rehabilitation counseling was as a matter of fact. So for me, when I was a freshman on campus at Florida State, I was looking for something to do. And I found a club called Best Buddies, which is a nonprofit that pairs college students with individuals with disabilities into one to one friendships. And I was paired with my buddy, whose name was Matt, and Matt and I had a lot of mutual interests. We were both big sports fans, we loved to go to the movies, we loved to do dancing, he’s just so fun to be around. So, for years, Matt and I kept that friendship, and Matt’s still in my life today. He came to my wedding, he’s been there for important events for my kids. He’s just a really important part of my life.
Heather Servais: And then also I have a lot of family members that have disabilities, and watching their experience with disability was something different. Seeing the way that their disabilities impact them and how they didn’t have resources, or information, or support to really change the narrative for their disabilities. I think often about my older family members who have had lifelong disabilities, how different their life may be if they would’ve had a voc rehab counselor or had gotten resources and support early.
Heather Servais: For me, I have family members and loved ones with epilepsy, and learning disabilities, and post traumatic stress disorder. Seeing their experiences really challenged me to want to be a catalyst for education, to remove barriers, to provide resources, knowledge and understanding to people that may not know what’s out there. So, for me I took that as a personal charge, when I was volunteering with Matt, I ended up finding a job, working with a community rehabilitation provider and started to do work working on independent living skills and social skills for adults with disabilities.
Heather Servais: It wasn’t until later that I ended up in the VR field where I worked as a job coach, an employment specialist. It was while I was working in the field that I actually learned about rehabilitation counseling as a course of study. So, I was a recipient of an RSA scholarship and was able to get my master’s while I was working at that community rehabilitation program, and it was really life changing because doing that work for three to four years and finally having an understanding of the theories and the big fancy words behind the techniques that I was using was so valuable. It really made me take this renewed sense of pride and purpose in my work, and making it a point to share, and reach out, and share the wealth and the resources that I was able to find through my course of study with my customers and with the community that we were engaging in, especially with our business partners.
Rick Sizemore: That is so awesome. So many people who work in voc rehab have a similar experience of meeting that Matt, that shaped her life, even though you’re on a history track. The disability engagement really brought you to a place where you said, “This is meaningful and this is something I want to do.” I have to say that having the new director of the Clearinghouse have that experience of being a job coach, boots on the ground experiencem It’s so very, very powerful. I have a daughter who worked as a job coach and had those Saturday morning 6:00 AM experiences working at the animal shelter. That is a tough job and yet it provides the real basis for understanding the people the we’re serving. And to know you have that experience is very powerful.
Heather Servais: After working with the Community Rehabilitation Provider, I made the jump to vocational rehabilitation where I got to work as a VR counselor for several years, and I really enjoyed that work. After working as a VR counselor, I made the jump at headquarters to become the supervisor of our field and provider relations unit, which is big on training those Community Rehabilitation Providers and stakeholder engagement. And then my final role at Vocational Rehabilitation was as the Assistant Bureau Chief of Field Services. In that role, I over saw all of our programming for Florida VR, including our deaf and hard of hearing services, our Ticket to Work program, our business relations program, our employment program. So when you think of things like supported employment, Pre-Employment Transition Services and OJT, all of that was tucked nicely into that employment programs. And then I also oversaw our learning and development for our staff at VR.
Heather Servais: And so, with every chance that I have had to change roles and learn a little bit more, my viewpoint and perspective has changed. You get to be a job coach and a VR counselor, and you’re really focusing on that one individual with a disability, how can I help this one person? Then I move to the supervisory role and I’m looking at, how can I help the people who help many people with disabilities? And now moving into this role, working directly with RSA and working with the Clearinghouse team, I’m getting to work with many, many, many, many people and share these amazing resources with folks who are out there to doing this important work. So, for me, this really ties it all together so nicely, is that I get to be part of this team and sharing these best practices with the rehabilitation counseling field, with our families and our business partners, to continue to spread this message of inclusion, and breaking down some of the educational and attitudinal barriers that our folks with disabilities are facing when they’re looking at their employment options.
Rick Sizemore: What a powerful pathway and journey you’ve had to bring you to this point. Who are some of the mentors that helped shape your career, as you wound up at the national clearing house?
Heather Servais: Well, for me, I have been so blessed to have mentors from every single role that I’ve ever been in. I often make jokes that I’m a collector of mentors because I seek people out. I want to know who’s the best at what they do and what can I learn from them? I can remember all the way back early in my career, I had an amazing colleague that I worked with at the Community Rehabilitation Provider, who had always challenged me and she taught me how to schmooze. I could talk to a person that I just met on the street, or I could talk to the governor, and she taught me how to do it all.
Rick Sizemore: That’s why you’re able to speak so clearly on this podcast. I knew there was a reason.
Heather Servais: Thanks to the mentoring. When I came to VR, there was a lot of administrative things to learn, and my tech was super important in my life and really showed me the works of how VR operates, and I learned so much from him. And he later became absolutely one of my best friends in this entire world, even all these years later. And then as I continued to grow in advance in my career, I found an executive leadership coach, and he’d been working with me for years. Just the way that mentoring brings you a new perspective, the level of candor and honesty to challenge your perceptions and to keep challenging you to grow, and the coaching has just been so powerful to me.
Heather Servais: And that’s something that I like to do now is to give back and share through mentoring, and it’s just been one of those key moments for me that has shaped my career over time. So, whether you are a rehabilitation counseling student, or person with a disability, or a counselor, who’s been doing this work for a long time, everybody can use a mentor. You can’t help but to grow and to learn as you are being challenged by others to really look at different ways we could be doing things.
Rick Sizemore: Well, you’ve certainly had boots on the ground experience across a wide spectrum of duties in vocational rehabilitation. You’re now in charge of the Clearinghouse. And what we’re trying to do on this podcast is answer the questions that people with disabilities have, their family members, to give them resources and point them in the right direction so they can go to work. Tell us what the Clearinghouse has to offer the people with disabilities, their families, the businesses, the VR professionals give us a little overview. What they can get from the Clearinghouse.
Heather Servais: The Clearinghouse really does have something for everyone. All of the audience members that you’ve mentioned for customers, going back to work can feel intimidating. And so we have a lot of information on financial literacy, we have information on cultivating resilience, we share a lot of success stories. VR is a program that’s offered in all 50 states and even our territories. So there’s a lot of VR programs, and sometimes those success stories and seeing what’s really working can really be motivating and inspiring to get you really going, get you really excited about this employment journey. For our business partners, we have a lot of information about building roadmaps to inclusive workplaces, we have tons of resources on mentoring on work incentive, so that our business partners can really be partners and work with us to create these opportunities.
Heather Servais: For VR counselors, man there’s so many good resources that I wish I would’ve known were out there when I was a VR counselor. We’ve got a lot of different best practice guides, so everything from self employment to Pre-Employment Transition Services, you can see nationally what’s happening and use these tried and true techniques that we know are going to have a positive impact on our VR customers. One of my favorite resources for VR counselors is an archived community of practice called Advice from the Trenches.
Rick Sizemore: I love that.
Heather Servais: And this is where- Yeah.
Rick Sizemore: I love that.
Heather Servais: The Advice from the Trenches paired, it took these really seasoned VR counselors and talked about their experiences. What did they learn? I mean, for our new counselors coming in it can be scary and overwhelming, because there really is just so much to learn and to understand. And so when you’re dealing with people, that can be a little scary. You don’t want to have to make those mistakes if you don’t have to. And so this series really was super enlightening and helpful for our new counselors to really understand some of what’s going to help them on their journey as they continue to progress in their career as a counselor and work with people.
Rick Sizemore: We continue now with Heather Servais and our National Clearinghouse report. 2021 is almost over, thank goodness. And you have a year in review report for us. Take it away.
Heather Servais: I do. 2021 was a good year for the Clearinghouse. So, I really wanted to take a few minutes just to focus on some of our most popular items from 2021. So if you haven’t had a chance to check these out, you’ll know about them and now you can. The first item I want to talk about is our most access library material. So, if you go to our library, we have a wide variety of topics. Hot topic for this year was our curated list on supporting culturally responsive practices. So this document actually has over 20 resources that include webinars, toolkits, training modules, that all support the delivery of culturally competent and responsive practices. So if you’re a VR counselor, this could really help with you, give you some tips and resources on these culturally responsive practices.
Heather Servais: Next, we have some YouTube videos. If you didn’t know, NCRTM does have a YouTube channel, and one of our most popular videos for this year was actually a video going over how to make PDFs accessible.
Rick Sizemore: Wow.
Heather Servais: So, yeah. This is a whole area that I really didn’t know a lot about, and so getting to watch these videos is a great starting point for anybody who’s interested in learning more about electronic accessibility. We have a lot of resources up there. We had some other close seconds with popular videos and they were all accessibility videos, including accessible PowerPoint presentations and using screen reader simulations. So, we highly recommend if you haven’t caught up with us on the YouTube channel, that we have these resources available for you to take a look at.
Rick Sizemore: Terrific.
Heather Servais: And the last thing I want to highlight is our tweets. If you were not aware, NCRTM, actually has a Twitter handle. It’s @RSA_NCRTM. So our most popular tweets of 2021 were, drum roll, Rick, both of our most popular tweets were about your podcasts.
Rick Sizemore: Awesome.
Heather Servais: Yeah. In January we highlighted National Mentoring Month, and your podcast for January. And then in July, we talked about Project Search and the 31st anniversary of the ADA.
Rick Sizemore: Right.
Heather Servais: Those were our two most popular and hot tweets of 2021.
Rick Sizemore: Awesome, awesome. Heather Servais is the Director of the RSA National Clearinghouse Rehabilitation Training Materials. Thanks, Heather. We’ll see you next month.
Heather Servais: Sounds great. Thanks, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Here’s Lynn Harris, Director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation.
Lynn Harris: The Foundation is pleased to bring you these exciting stories of how vocational rehabilitation is changing people’s lives. Your support helps students gain the skills and credentials they need to be successful in business and industry.
Rick Sizemore: The foundation’s partners in podcasting include the Council of State Administrators for Vocational Rehabilitation, CVS Health, First Bank and Trust, Hershey, and Hollister.
Lynn Harris: You can find out more about becoming a sponsor at wwrcf.org, or find our contact information in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Rick Sizemore: You can always find another exciting episode as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation here at the VR Workforce Studio, until next time I’m Rick Sizemore.
Announcer: The VR Workforce Studio Podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The foundation publishes and distributes the VR workforce studio and manages all sponsor arrangements. Audio content for the podcast is provided to the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, in exchange for promotional considerations.