A sailor’s journey through vocational rehabilitation following military service.

PODCAST EPISODE 75 Featured Image Group of teens and young adults

Rick Sizemore, vrworkforcestudio@gmail.com rick.sizemore@dars.virginia.gov
540-688-7552 @vrworkforce

WWRC Foundation Lynn Harris, Foundation Director, lharris@wwrcf.org  540-332-7542 540-430-4490.

National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials Cherie Takemoto, PhD Project Director/Senior Research Analyst ctakemoto@neweditions.net 703-356-8035 ext. 107  @RSA_NCRTM

Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services

Rehabilitation Services Administration  

Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy

Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center   540-332-7000 or 800-345-9972

Transition Curriculum nextup@transitioncurriculum.com  713-574-2221

Resources from the National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials

December 2nd is special education day. I’m going to highlight a couple of resources for VR counselors and others serving secondary students. These two resources are also great for those not well-versed in transitions as well as those counselors who think they know everything.

  • Transition Resources for VR Counselors (NTACT) This document outlines critical knowledge and skills that vocational rehabilitation (VR) Counselors need to assist students with transitioning from secondary to postsecondary education or competitive integrated employment and follows a timeline beginning with initial contact with a student through the first year after reaching the employment goal as outlined in the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).
  • VR Toolkit for SSI Youth: Tips, Checklists, and Tools to Support Successful Work Outcomes for SSI Youth (Y-TAC) This toolkit for VR Practitioners includes ten tools covering the most essential information to help youth who receive disability benefits and their families navigate a path toward successful employment. Each tool takes about five to ten minutes and contains other links to test knowledge, implement the practice, or pursue further resources. There is also a brief review checklist for each tool.

As a bonus, below are links to lists of NCRTM resources on transition services and pre-employment transition services.


Speaker 1:  VR Work Force Studio

Alfred McMillan:  You know, I was gung ho in the military. I loved it, but when I got out I was just directionless. I ended up just straying following the law. It was like jail sentences. My disability mainly is depression, mental health challenges, anxiety disorder, PTSD.

Alfred McMillan:  Right after I finished the class at DARS, I was hired at Liberty University. I consider myself a general over the battlefield, because I’m in charge of the retail side of our business. I feel honored because it’s been a lot of hard work. Job readiness classes, small skills classes, getting work experience training, and things of seeing how people make an honest living, instead of trying to hustle and scrape up something. I just wanted to come home and do the right thing, and take care of my family, and be a productive citizen which I knew I could be.

Rick Sizemore:  Welcome to episode 75 of the VR workforce studio. We’re podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people, business and professionals interested in vocational rehabilitation. The fellow you just heard in that opening piece is the featured guest in our big inspiration showcase today. Alfred McMillan. Now, He’s standing by or super excited about his interview. We met him at a champions event where he was the keynote speaker, and you’ll never guess who was in the audience that day, was David Leon. Now David is the Deputy Director for Workforce at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. And he’s with us not only to reflect on Alfred’s story, but talk about how vocational rehabilitation is partnering with a Virginia business. And later in the show, Jessica Steele here to talk about preemployment transition services and of course on standby, Cherie Takemoto with the national clearing house update all on episode 75 of the VR workforce.

Rick Sizemore:  Tell us your story. Alfred.

Alfred McMillan:  I grew up in a foster homes, from the age of four all the way to 18. I’ve been all around the place, all around the state. And then I ended up in the late part of our foster care from my 12 to 18, right here in this area. I graduated from high school in this area.

Rick Sizemore:  And you joined the military.

Alfred McMillan:  Yeah, almost four years.

Rick Sizemore:  Yeah.

Alfred McMillan:  Yeah.

Rick Sizemore:  And you were saying the military was a very positive experience for you and then after you got out things kind of got off track.

Alfred McMillan:  Yes.

Rick Sizemore:  So tell us what hap-

Alfred McMillan:  You know, I was gung ho in the military. I loved it and I got out too early, I believe because the structure of the military really did help me. It helped to this day. I am thriving from what I learned in the military. When I got out, I wanted a life to myself and was just directionless and I didn’t have anything setting me down or anchoring me, and I ended up just straying or follow the law, being in the wrong company of people and just getting in trouble a lot.

Rick Sizemore:  There was a period of time when that happened in you, you wound up in jail.

Alfred McMillan:  Ah man, it was, it wasn’t never anything serious but a lot of just infractions of the law that led me to several different stints at several different times, but it really felt like I was kind of losing a grip on reality in life and those years are kind of blurry to me.

Alfred McMillan:  I couldn’t pinpoint a term because I, it was like jail sentences and DOC sentences and they were kind of mixed in together over years of time, probation violations.

Rick Sizemore:  And there was a day you decided you wanted things to be different?

Alfred McMillan:  Oh yeah. Throughout the whole time I just never considered myself a jail bird or a problem maker or none of that. It’s just circumstances just led to those situations and I was reflecting each time like, man, I got to get my life together. And then the, the woman I am with started having my children right in the middle of a sentence here and a sentence there. And that really lit the fire for me. I just wanted to come home and do the right thing and take care of my family and be a productive citizen, which I knew I could be at some point in time.

Rick Sizemore:  Did Voc Rehab help you along the pathway to finding a new life?

Alfred McMillan:  Oh yes.

Rick Sizemore:  What all did you do with Voc Rehab?

Alfred McMillan:  Well, just job skills, job readiness classes, a small skills classes, things like that. Getting work experience and training and things, and seeing how people make an honest living, you know, instead of trying to hustle and scrape up something and depending on that, I get to witness hardworking people, apply the traits and skills and, and I mimic that and kept it in my mental rolodex. And you know, and that’s helped me to this day.

Rick Sizemore:  What is your job today?

Alfred McMillan:  Well, I’m a supervisor Sodexo at Liberty University. I’m in charge of the night shift at a place called Tilly. We have about, I say about 40 or 50 workers, and I coordinate all that and help out where I’m needed. I consider myself a general over the battlefield because I don’t like to sit behind a desk. I like to be right there with our guys putting things together, helping. I’m in charge of the retail side of our business in the food services operation. And we just serve the customers, students who want a great meal.

Rick Sizemore:  Today you were recognized by vocational rehabilitation as a champion for what you’ve accomplished? How does that make you feel?

Alfred McMillan:  I feel proud. I feel honored because it’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point, and inspired also to see all the other people who were recognized and just to take these stories and just soak them in and just to give back however I can. So yeah, I feel great about this.

Rick Sizemore:  Alfred, could you tell us about your disability?

Alfred McMillan:  My disability mainly is depression and anxiety disorder. I also have a lot of PTSD from troubles and times in the past and some type of disorder, also the mental health challenges.

Rick Sizemore:  Did vocational rehabilitation help you with those challenges?

Alfred McMillan:  Oh yeah. Just giving me the confidence. Like when I emphasize the job readiness classes that Nathan Roberts gave, that’s something that I needed because it gave me confidence to just apply different techniques and skills to certain situations, come up in a work environment, and brush me up on everything else. Yeah, it helped me along the way immensely.

Alfred McMillan:  Matter of fact, right after I finished the class, Nate Roberts at DARS, I was hired at the company that I worked for. Like I said, I took all those skills that I learned in those classes and to this day I’m using them on my job right now.

Rick Sizemore:  Your family was here with you today. They inspired you.

Alfred McMillan:  Oh yes.

Rick Sizemore:  Could you talk about that a little bit?

Alfred McMillan:  Man, I got a great family. I have been with the mother of my children for 20 plus years. She’s my life partner. I have four children. Yeah, I’m very proud and my family just inspires me every day to get up and keep it moving. Keep working hard to make things happen.

Rick Sizemore:  Through your service to our country in the Navy. We thank you for that. A life filled with some challenges that you’ve overcome in significant ways with the help of vocational rehabilitation. You’re now working in a great job and a contributing member of this community. Recognize today as a champion in vocational rehabilitation. Appreciate you being on the podcast today.

Alfred McMillan:  All right, no problem.

Rick Sizemore:  Here’s Lynn Harris, the executive director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center.

Lynn Harris:  Well, thank you Rick and I just wanted to give a shout out to giving Tuesday, which is on December 3rd. Giving Tuesday is a chance for folks to celebrate giving back to the community after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This year the WWRC foundation has received a matching grant, where any donations we receive from December 3rd, which is Giving Tuesday through, December 7th will be doubled up to $500. First Bank and Trust, thank you so much for that matching gift and we hope to see your participation in Giving Tuesday, December 3rd through the 7th at Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. Thanks again.

Rick Sizemore:  We’re in the VR workforce studio with the Deputy Director for workforce, for the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. David Leon, welcome to the podcast.

David Leon:  Good morning Rick. Thanks for having me.

Rick Sizemore:  Oh, it’s great to have you on the podcast. You and I were recently in the audience when Alfred McMillan talked about his story. What an inspiring guy.

David Leon:  Really amazing. And it just goes to show that when someone is engaged and really knows what they want in their career, that we have great staff who are able to help facilitate that process.

Rick Sizemore:  Yeah. And one of your jobs is leading our business development managers. So if you could talk about their involvement in the workforce development system.

David Leon:  Oh, I’d be happy to, Rick. We are really fortunate to have five pretty amazing business development managers who cover the entire state of Virginia. Not only are they involved in reaching out to businesses directly, helping when new businesses come in, but they also work with the local field offices to help VR counselors and those clients they’re working with better understand labor market information, which sometimes helps refine a goal or it allows somebody to think about jobs that they might not have thought of prior.

David Leon:  All of our business development managers are a part of local business solutions teams throughout the state. They participate in network meetings where they invite groups in and several of our business development managers are involved in subcommittees of the statewide business solution team related to sector strategies, training, and marketing. Having our business development managers in these roles really allows our agency to stay in the forefront and on the cusp of what the state as a whole is trying to do. So it allows us to have great relationships with the Department of Labor and Industry, with adult education, and all the other groups that we work with around getting Virginians employed throughout the state.

Rick Sizemore:  That is just absolutely exciting. You described the reach of these business development managers here in Virginia. But what labor market sectors are showing the greatest results?

David Leon:  So it’s a combination. And because we serve so many different types of clients at different ages in places in their career, it’s really a variety. I’ll give you a couple of examples. We’re doing a lot of work in logistics. We’re doing more and more work in advanced manufacturing. We are also doing a lot of work with those folks who are coming out of school and maybe just want entry level work and we’ve seen that across a variety of fields including customer service and hospitality. Virginia has a lot of opportunities in hospitality. Tourism is a big part of our state. One of the great things about that, we’ve had a couple of businesses just this past year move into the state and we’ve been able to, in the Eastern area, 18 individuals get hired in an entry level positions that we hope will move towards career pathways.

David Leon:  And in a similar case of business that moved into the Northern Virginia region, we were able to get 11 individuals hired in a short period. And this just shows that when businesses come to the states, we are a known entity and those business development managers have the relationships to right away be part of the solution for a startup getting up and running.

David Leon:  But again, we’re really excited about some of those other fields such as logistics and advanced manufacturing. We’ve worked with the department of labor and industry to start some apprenticeships and that’s been very exciting. And I think as we continue to work more closely with the statewide business solutions team, and identifying those sector strategies that we can get a good foothold, we’re going to see more and more movement towards that with our focus.

Rick Sizemore:  What is your vision for advancing business engagement here in Virginia?

David Leon: Well, so I feel it’s twofold. I think one of the things I’m excited about working with our team on in establishing, are more strategic goals on a year by year basis related to what we see as the coming trends and opportunities. I think there is a lot of opportunity utilizing management information systems and data to really look at where we should be spending our energy. In this past year we’ve spent a significant amount of time working across the state and with the governor’s chief economic advisor, Megan Healy, on being a presence at many of her events related to something called Build Virginia. So we’re trying to get more involved and make sure that our efforts are dovetailing with what our governor’s looking to do and what the rest of the state is looking to do. So having a presence at events related to employment in rural areas and advanced manufacturing, and paying attention to where economic development grants are going and how we can infuse our employment development activities into those grants is a big piece of where I’d like to see us go.

Rick Sizemore:  David Leon is the Deputy Director for Workforce for Virginia DARS, leads the business development managers here in Virginia. David has been a pleasure to have you on the podcast this morning.

David Leon:  Thank you very much. Always happy to talk about this. It’s exciting stuff.

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Rick Sizemore:  We’re in the VR workforce studio with Jessica Steele, who is the preemployment transition coordinator for the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Welcome to the podcast, Jessica.

Jessica Stehle:   Thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Rick Sizemore:  Jessica, you really have the lead for Virginia DARS in working with our partners at the Virginia Department of Education. Tell us about the unique relationship we have with them.

Jessica Stehle:  Sure. It’s definitely a privilege. We have a lot of collaboration and partnership going on in Virginia with our Department of Education, and with the local education agencies, or as we call them in Virginia, the local school division. In terms of preemployment transition services, which is the main focus of my role. We did have a lot of collaboration to establish activities that are going to support students to really get an in depth exploration and understanding of the world of work and to be able to learn more about themselves, opportunities out there so that they can make informed decisions about their futures. So our local DARS staff work with the Department of Education and the local school divisions to set up workplace tours, job shadowing activities. They collaborate together for soft skills groups, different career exploration activities and self-advocacy lessons in order to help the students really gain valuable information that’s going to help them prepare for life after high school.

Jessica Stehle:  We are fortunate in Virginia as well to have the Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities grant and they’ve supported the academy and that has also involved a handful of local school divisions partnering with the DARS staff, in order to identify students that would benefit from participating in the needs STEM academies to get some hands on exploration of fields that are in demand and are going to provide for a good career pathway for students. You’re super familiar with the PERT program at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, so PERT and community PERT. That’s another really strong collaboration with Department of Ed and local school divisions and our staff to help students participate in that school to work transition program. It’s fantastic. I mean, I do want to definitely mention Start on Success, Project Search, the deaf and hard of hearing services partnerships. They just, they’re all there to really make sure that we’re taking a wraparound approach to supporting students, and it couldn’t be done without the collaboration of DOE and the local school division.

Rick Sizemore:  Yeah. Well WIOA has had a profound effect on vocational rehabilitation. I’m sitting here listening to this, a laundry list of all these incredible services that you are leading. As the father of a 15 year old, 15 and a half year old, so we just made the first trip out to DMV for the learner’s permit. We’re talking 10th grade, you know this personality that I’m talking about. My daughter.

Jessica Stehle:   Yeah,

Rick Sizemore:  15 and a half. I mean one day they want to be a rock star. The next day they want to be a scientist and then she comes home and says, well I think I’d like to do an apprenticeship as an environmental engineer. So the work and the excitement I feel about the work you’re doing. Really I have difficulty describing because it helps people like my daughter explore all these various options and connects them to these career pathways where they can try things out. That’s a whole new approach, isn’t it?

Jessica Stehle:  Definitely. And it’s great to have a lot of different interests and we want to help the students to explore them, like you said, so that they can really make that informed decision about what’s going to be best for them. And the career pathways approach, that focus is definitely something that we are focusing more and more on, particularly as a result of WIOA because it so important that students really do see the importance of stackable credentials and jobs as a stepping stone and that advancement is and should be part of their long term career plan.

Rick Sizemore:  Let me ask you, do you have a favorite success story?

Jessica Stehle:  Yeah, so to be honest, there are so many different examples that I’d feel remiss, to only point out one single one.

Rick Sizemore:  That’s a good problem to have.

Jessica Stehle:  Exactly right. I’ll say what’s been particularly rewarding and inspiring are the different ways that so many school divisions and DARS staff have come together to partner for pre-etsand to really expand and enhance transition services and the activities that students participate in. And so what’s been really cool is that we’ve had several students where they’ve participated in work based learning activities that were the result of that DARS and school division partnership, particularly in February where we focus on job shadowing that month. And as a result, it led to part-time paid position for the students to have while they’re in school. And that’s super important because paid employment is, while students still in high school, is one of the best predictors for post-school success. So we’ve had students where they’ve been able to participate in transition services and pre-ets, get a paid job, while they’re still in school. and then we’ve been able to help them in partnership with the school division to really focus on that career pathway, so what’s going to be the career goal?

Jessica Stehle:  And so we’re continuing to help them for, to build the skills that then they’re going to get a great first career job when they’re done with post secondary training. But to think of one specific success story, it is a student who participated in pre-ets and VR transition services through the DARS staff, the local school division, and was able to get a great job earning about $15 an hour with a transit company. And part of the training included getting his CDL. And what was really great about this example was individual also received support with financial management, so budgeting skills. So that once he was earning a paycheck, how he could put aside money to save up for future expenses and also to be contributing to his households in order to increase his independence and be ready to live on its own one day.

Rick Sizemore:  I do want to take a minute to say as you’re wrapping up your career with DARS and moving on to New Hampshire, is it?

Jessica Stehle:  Yeah.

Rick Sizemore:  We extend our sincere gratitude to you for the exceptional work you’ve done.

Jessica Stehle:  It’s definitely been my privilege and part of what has made this position so enjoyable for me has been the collaboration and partnership. There are so many wonderful professionals that are just really dedicated to advancing services for students.

Rick Sizemore:  Jessica Stehle is the Preemployment Transition services coordinator for the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Jessica, thank you for being on our podcast and best wishes to you up in New Hampshire. Take a coat.

Jessica Stehle:  Thanks Rick. For sure.

Rick Sizemore:  We’re in the VR workforce studio with our good friend Cherie Takemoto from the National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials. What do you have for us from the clearinghouse?

Cherie Takemoto:  Well did you know that? December 2nd is special education day?

Rick Sizemore: Special education day, December 2nd, right on.

Cherie Takemoto:  So there’s a day or a week or a month for everything now, but I thought at the end of the year I would highlight a couple of resources for VR counselors, that are serving secondary students to go along with your pre-ets themes.

Rick Sizemore:  Terrific.

Cherie Takemoto:  Okay, so these two resources are also great for others who are working with students that are preparing for life after high school and their families. The first one is transition resources for VR counselors from the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition. And I like it because sometimes you just want to know where to start. And this document has the critical knowledge and skills for VR counselors who aren’t well versed in transition, but it’s also for those counselors who think they know everything.

Rick Sizemore:  Right.

Cherie Takemoto:  And this one follows a timeline from the first time a counselor meets the student until, the first year after that student reaches their individualized plan for employment, that you folks call IPE.

Cherie Takemoto:  There are a lot of other related resources that the Intact links to. So it’s a, it’s a really nice resource.

Rick Sizemore: What else you have for Cherie?

Cherie Takemoto:  Well, the next, you know, all this benefits stuff is really confusing.

Rick Sizemore:  And important.

Cherie Takemoto:  Yes. And so the Youth Technical Assistant Center has developed a VR toolkit for SSI youth. Tips, checklists, and tools to support successful work outcomes for SSI youth.

Rick Sizemore:  We definitely have to have that.

Cherie Takemoto:  And yeah, the reason I like this is because, you know, Pete’s 31 and he’s on SSDI, because he took advantage of many of the early work opportunities when he was on SSI.

Rick Sizemore:  Right.

Cherie Takemoto:  But it’s so darn complicated and I went through their print and go checklist and found out a lot of things I didn’t know that can help me even for my 31 year old as he is an SSDI on work programs and wants to maintain those benefits including Medicaid and housing.

Rick Sizemore:  Yeah. Great and useful information. And if you’re just joining us as a listener today for the first time, Pete is Cherie’s son.

Cherie Takemoto:  Yep. And he’s awesome.

Rick Sizemore:  And if you listen to some of our previous episodes at VR Workforce, you’ll hear his story and Cherie’s journey as the parent of an individual with a disability.

Cherie Takemoto:  And then for those with insatiable appetites for knowledge,

Rick Sizemore:  That’s all of our listeners. I’ll tell you. These are good folk.

Cherie Takemoto:  I’ve shared in the show notes links to a couple of lists of NCRTM resources on transition services and preemployment transition services.

Rick Sizemore:  Well thank you so much.

Cherie Takemoto:   So that’s your holiday gift for 2019.

Rick Sizemore:  Thank you Cherie. You can find links to all of the resources and Cherie’s report as well as the newsletter in our show notes, at VRworkforcestudio.com. I’d like to thank all of today’s guest. We hope you’ve enjoyed the show as much as we have. It means the world to us that you take time out of your busy schedule to listen to these podcasts. Here’s Lynn Harris, the executive director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation.

Lynn Harris:  The foundation is so pleased to bring you these exciting stories of how vocational rehabilitation is changing people’s lives by helping them gain the skills and credentials they need to be successful in business and industry. We thank all of our partners in podcasting who made this episode possible. Aladdin Foods, Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities, the Community Foundation or the Central Blue Ridge, the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, CVS Health, Dominion Energy, the Hershey company, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, United Bank, the Virginia Manufacturers Association, and Wells Fargo.

Lynn Harris:  If you’d like to join us in supporting vocational rehabilitation, you can find out more by visiting us at WWRCF.org or find our contact information in the show notes at VRworkforcestudio.com.

Rick Sizemore:  Thank you Lynn. Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore inviting you to join us as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation. The VR workforce studio podcast is owned and operated by the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation. The foundation publishes and distributes to 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 consideration.