Because people with disabilities have such an important story to tell.
Kaylee Merrick talks about her role in the new CVS Abilities in Abundance Video and Dr. Megan Healy discusses people with disabilities in the workforce.
Rick: VR Workforce Studio podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation, through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work-
Speaker 2: Tech support.
Speaker 3: Electronics.
Speaker 4: Supervisor.
Rick: As well as the professionals who have helped them-
Speaker 2: Special Education Teachers
Rick: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines-
Speaker 3: Apprenticeships
Rick: With workers that happen to have disabilities.
Speaker 3: There is such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Rick: These are their stories. Welcome to episode 77 of the VR Workforce Studio. Happy New Year. Oh, I’m excited to kick off 2020 with today’s show Dr. Megan Healy, Virginia’s chief workforce advisor is with us to discuss the workforce and how people with disabilities have a really important story to tell. Also, Sarah Pennington of ABLEnow and Cherie Takemoto standing by with our National Clearinghouse update. Let’s get started with our big inspiration showcase. CVS Health just released their new Abilities in Abundance video. It is amazing and if you’ve not had an opportunity to see it, we have a link to that video in our show notes. Keylee Merrick is a CVS employee featured in the video. She’s a graduate of Wilson and credits vocational rehabilitation with her career. Keylee is here to talk about the video and her job at CVS. Welcome, Keylee.
Keylee: I’m ready to go when you are.
Rick: Awesome. Kaylee, you and I just sat down and watched the video together. What is your reaction?
Keylee: I was really impressed with it. What especially stood out to me was veterans, which we should definitely be opening up to, because they sacrificed so much and also I love that they expanded it to people that are deaf. I was so excited and impressed.
Rick: Tell us about your job now.
Keylee: I’m not just a cashier in customer service, but I clean, I do planograms, I put signs and labels up. I make and sign the labels, all kinds of stuff.
Rick: Well, the video seemed to capture that whole culture of including people with disabilities in such a positive way. What’s your take on that?
Keylee: Most definitely and like I said, I love that they expanded it to people that are deaf. I was actually concerned about that because they’re part of the community too.
Rick: What do you think the video will do for the general public’s understanding of having people with all types of disabilities working at CVS?
Keylee: I think it will actually give them the strength and the courage to step forward and be like, well, if they can do it, why can’t I?
Rick: Wow, what is it you want to say about this video and being in it?
Keylee: Working with CVS for so long, for three years, it’ll be four years, May 17th, everybody that I’ve worked with have become a family. Not only that, but pharmacy in the front store have kind of mixed together. They’re all my family and they’re very patient with me and makes me feel so wonderful because growing up, even in school basically I was made fun of and nobody really had the patience. So for them to have the patience and understanding and not want to get rid of me is just inspiring. It’s so heartwarming. One of my goals is even if I’m struggling, I love it when I can make someone smile in their day, even if I’m not happy. And people have told me that they love seeing my smile and lately people say I’m so sweet and that they want to come back more because they love seeing me because how I treat them.
Rick: What do you think this video will do to help people better understand vocational rehabilitation and training?
Keylee: I think it will give them courage to step forward and get out of their comfort zone. Not only did it help me with getting the job, but vocational training in general teaches you life skills. I used to not be able to talk to anybody. Always stayed in my room to myself and I couldn’t even look at anybody in the eyes and vocational training has opened me up to so many values and so much, so many traits. It really helped me in a lot of ways, which people don’t understand either. People think that you’re just trained for the job but what also happens is, it builds your character and helps you step out of your comfort zone comfortably.
Rick: How did vocational rehabilitation help with learning CVSs work culture and values because you obviously have them on the job. Did Voc Rehab help bring that about?
Keylee: It did. Been struggling with math and just in general with memory, I was I have a notebook, it’s been also before we even went out, they taught us math, like counting money basically they just don’t push you out. They give you a test and they show you skills, see what your weaknesses are and then they build on those and help you build on those and improve before they actually send you out. They don’t just push you out, even help you with the assessment to actually get the job, like the application and all that. They show you how to work on it and they’ll give you inspiration to keep on moving.
Rick: As a person with a disability, how do you feel about CVS and the fact that they put together a video like this, Abilities and Abundance video?
Keylee: My best word is flabbergasted but also impressed beyond words. How that reach my heart really left impact. I just do what I do in life. I just try to bring hope to others or share. I don’t really share it with everyone, but if I see somebody, especially seeing parents that are struggling with kids with the abilities and all that, I tell them about myself. I work really hard and I’m fully into the job. It’s not like doing it halfway but completing it.
Rick: It’s always a delight to hear from you Keylee. Thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Keylee: Of course, thank you for always having me and hopefully this helps people reach out even more and get the courage to become something that they’ve always wanted to.
Rick: Keylee Merrick works for CVS in Stafford, Virginia, where she lives with her family. She is a graduate of the Wilson Workforce and rehabilitation center and appears in CVS health, new, Abilities in Abundance video produced through the council of state administrators of vocational rehabilitation. You can find a link to the video in our show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. So many of the guests we have on our show, talk about the crucial role that finances play in the lives of people with disabilities. Many people with disabilities who are planning to start a job often worry about how their new paycheck might negatively affect their benefits. That’s why I’m excited about ABELnow because they believe everyone deserves the opportunity to save for the future. ABLEnow empowers people with disabilities to save for today’s needs or invest for tomorrow in an account that won’t impact most means tested benefits such as Medicaid and SSI. An ABLEnow account allows you to save money for expenses to improve your health, independence or expenses you need to improve the quality of your life.
Rick: It’s the beginning of a New Year and time to think about what you want to accomplish this year, even financially. This may be the perfect time to see if you or someone you know is eligible for an ABLEnow account. Contacting ABLEnow could be the most important decision you make this year. So don’t delay, open your ABLEnow account today. Learn more by visiting abel-now.com or check the podcast show notes for a complete listing of ABLEnow contact information. ABLEnow tax advantage savings for individuals with disabilities. Well, as we look ahead to 2020 VR Workforce is extremely pleased to join forces with ABLEnow Sarah Pennington with ABLEnow is with us on today’s podcast to tell us more about what’s in store this year. Welcome Sarah.
Sarah: Thanks for having me. And we’re so excited to partner with the show and help spread the word about Able accounts and the ABLEnow program. We know that a lot of individuals in the disability community still aren’t aware of Able accounts and the benefits of saving with an ABLEnow program. And so we’re here just to spread the word about this new option for individuals with disabilities to save for today’s needs or invest for tomorrow. And just what’s a simple affordable and tax advantaged savings account that won’t, probably most importantly, won’t impact disability benefits like Medicaid and SSI.
Rick: Well over the past few years we’ve had the good fortune to be able to talk with a lot of individuals with disabilities who are going through vocational rehabilitation. They’re planning for their careers. And the financial piece always seems to be crucial to the success of an individual with a disability as they contemplate going back to work.
Sarah: Absolutely Able accounts allow and empower people to just have that financial independence. So it’s all about financial inclusion that you can save and you can save without impacting those important benefits that provide health. And sometimes housing and food and income and an Able account is a really easy way to save, you open and manage your account online.
Rick: And it seems like this is a great time of year to be contemplating 2020 and your goals.
Sarah: That’s right. A lot of us are thinking about what we want to accomplish this year as we go into the New Year. What is our new year’s resolutions? And for many that’s increasing our savings. And so an Able account is a wonderful way to think about making those goals, making those plans and saving for the future, whatever that looks like. If you’re saving for a short term goal or even a long term savings goal.
Rick: And time passes so quickly.
Sarah: That’s right. So it’s important to start to research an Able account, see if you’re eligible. And if you are, open that account and start thinking about how you can set aside some money for your future.
Rick: Wow. Well where can folks learn more about ABLEnow?
Sarah: You can learn more about Able accounts and the ABLEnow program on our website. It’s www.able-now.com and we have a short eligibility quiz to see if you’re eligible to open an Able accounts.
Rick: Well, all of that contact information will be listed in our show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. Sarah Pennington with ABLEnow, thank you for being on today’s podcast.
Sarah: Thank you so much for having me.
Rick: Well, so much excitement on the horizon in 2020 apprenticeship week just around the corner in February. And exciting plans in the works as 2020 brings us the 100th anniversary of our nation’s vocational rehabilitation program, both CSAVR and the rehabilitation services administration, planning some exciting events. And one of our upcoming episodes we’ll talk with the new rehabilitation services administration commissioner, Mark Schultz about some of the plans for celebrating the 100th anniversary. Also, check in with CSAVRs, Steve Wooderson as we celebrate vision 2020 this year. And the rerelease of the official Anthem for vocational rehabilitation Lead on, lead on VR. Those lyrics to the VR Anthem pin by Dr. Ralph Pacinelli celebrated leader across the decades and based on the inspirational words from Justin Dart Lead on, lead on VR. More on that a little bit later, but a little closer to home of Virginia’s chief workforce advisor. Dr. Megan Healy took time from her busy schedule to be with us today. Welcome to the podcast, Dr. Healy.
Megan: Thank you so much for having me.
Rick: I had the chance to hear your keynote address that Virginia’s Hire Ed conference this year, just a few weeks ago. And you framed the workforce conversation through the lens of your family. So I’d like to start with a question that you say you ask your stepchildren who are 17? 17 And 16 is that right?
Megan: 16 in January, yep.
Rick: You’ve got a question, you ask them every day, and I have to qualify this question because I’m the father of a 15 and a half year old. So I love the question. What’s the question and why do you ask it?
Megan: Yeah, so as the chief workforce advisor, I go around to a lot of high schools and middle schools and we always ask, what do you want to be when you grow up? And so we’re really trying to get an idea like what if they’re colleges or not? College is not for everyone. What are you thinking? My, who’s soon to be 16 year old, she wants to be a photographer. She loves it-
Rick: It’s a tough way to make a living.
Rick: It’s almost like podcasting.
Megan: Yeah. And I tell her, no, photography’s really a hobby it’s not a job. Right. And she’s really smart academically. Actually, interestingly enough, I didn’t say this in the keynote, is that she’s been taking Chinese since second grade, so I think she’s employable. Right? And she speaks two languages, but maybe not the photography route that could be her backup, her fun on the side. My other, they’re actually twins, boy, girl twins, seven year old one was, she’s very into art, theater, drama. Again, a great hobby. We need lots of them, but it’s not quite their career path. She does some technology, so I’m saying, “Hey with that art, maybe graphic art it’s this.” And then my stepson is interested in following his father’s footsteps, which he is a lawyer in the incidence business and so I kind of scratch my head about being a lawyer too. We definitely need lots of lawyers, but law school is very expensive and law firms. I mean they’re going to individual practices and it’s just not that big of a growing job these days.
Rick: And what we’re talking about here today is apprenticeships and all these fast track ways into a high demand jobs and so that is truly exciting for the people who follow this podcast.
Megan: Yes. We’re really excited. We were awarded a new apprenticeship grant, it’s $1.6 million from the federal government department of labor and we’re looking at different ways to expand apprenticeships in Virginia. One is to look at different sectors, so like IT looking at, because we know on day one or what skill you learn in two years in technology might not exist anymore, so it’s really, it’s good to have that learning on the job training as well as in the classroom, to relay instruction. We’re also looking at how do we better use healthcare. Other States have come out with apprenticeships in healthcare specifically in certified nursing assistant training. There might be some rags we have to work on our licensing issues that I’ve already talked to department of health professions to do. As well as talk to a lot of our HR directors and CEOs of our hospital chains are super excited about the healthcare. And then we’re continually trying to expand all registered apprenticeships, especially in the current trade. So we have it in advanced manufacturing and construction trades.
Rick: So as you talk to your kids though, what would you want them to know about all the things that you’re doing and those who attend as a conference, what they’re doing about the big issues in workforce in Virginia? What would you want them to know most?
Megan: Yeah. One of the things I tell people, we’re in this economy that there’s actually more jobs open than people looking to fill them. But we’re also in a great economy that some folks have been on the sideline looking for that job where it’s easier to pull them in certain population. So I’m really excited about this opportunity. At 2.6% unemployment rate, employers are looking differently of who they hire. They are hiring more people with disabilities, they are hiring more justice involved folks. They are being more flexible with schedules and accommodating different types of work environments, it’s really exciting to see. The economy’s doing great and I would love to get as many people in these jobs as we can. So in case the economy does shift a little bit that people are secure.
Rick: Right. You talked about having someone in your family who’s into disability advocacy and so what’s your perspective on the value that people with disabilities bring to filling that talent pipeline? That business needs to fill?
Megan: My younger sister, I did speak about her son. She became a huge advocate for disability, especially with developmental and looking at working with families with young children with developmental disabilities. And so it’s nice to see her, she works with the Arc of Virginia as an advocate, as working with families and people and really strong advocate in the education, the inclusion as well as in the workforce space. I think she’s always calls me asking for a list of employers that hire people with disabilities.” Sometimes it’s harder to get in than you think it should be, but it’s good that she’s constantly in my ear talking about opportunities and making sure that everyone has those opportunities to get that job.
Rick: And of course we’ll be hearing from the career pathways for individuals with disabilities at this conference and vocational rehabilitation. Any thoughts about those services and how they help people with disabilities get into the workforce?
Megan: Yeah, I think it’s a fantastic program. They do great work if it’s anything from assistance at the job, or making those pathways or even offering the internships to really get those skills. But really that business service connection I think is important because there’s such a great story to tell about people with disabilities and what they can do and then making that connection with the businesses. And it’s great to also have some business champions that you guys have had, especially in the region and around the state that demonstrated great, filling their workforce needs with people with disabilities.
Rick: Megan, do you have a favorite success story?
Megan: Oh, that’s a great question. One of my favorite people that actually have brought light to some of the things that I’ve done was an individual, and I mentioned this in my keynote. He came to our office to kind of just found his way to the governor’s office and had a lot to say. And I spoke to him and he’s from our lowest income area enrichment. Interesting story. He dropped out of school and he was the middle school. He was a drug dealer, sold crack on the streets. He actually ended up in jail and not because of drug dealing, it was because he wasn’t paying his child support and he never got the letter to ship to court and they found him. And then when he was in jail, he realized it’s not the government’s the problem, right? I’m the problem as a drug dealer and I’m not supporting my community.
Megan: And so he’s come to me and he’s kind of my sounding board for a lot of things that we do. He just got his GED. I could not go to his graduation, but Felix my policy, went to his graduation. We’re super excited. He’s on my Build Virginia board. So thinking about how can we get more people in the building and trades, especially in some of our lowest wealth communities, but watching his passion and it was really that job that kind of got him out of that situation of being the drug dealer and then thinking about how can I support and be an ambassador to my community and make sure that they’re on the right pathway. So he always has really good ideas. He also mentioned that sometimes the people, and it could be people with disabilities, certain cultures, certain neighborhoods that we might not give them all the opportunities that they need.
Megan: We might not be telling them about these are the great jobs that you can do. We might say these are the jobs you can settle to do or that most people do, but they’re not giving them like, what is your dream job? And trying to work those pathways. We might not offer the training correctly. And so he’s opened my eyes, especially in low income neighborhood. He was mentioning that and I mentioned early in our keynote that there are only two options, if you’re a female you’re going to be a CNA and if you’re a male that you’re going to go into construction. You didn’t talk about that CNA could be a nurse practitioner, a physician, or that construction worker can go into advanced manufacturing and be a technologist or even go into the IT, which we have plenty of jobs open. That we weren’t given this option in some of the neighborhoods.
Megan: And I think that’s very similar to some of not just the neighborhoods, but some of the people that we work with, if it’s specifically with people with disabilities, justice involved, right? That have had previous back, they’re really trying to improve their lives and their communities, but had a background that probably not that, trying to get past.
Rick: After 33 years in vocal rehab and I retired in June and now I’m doing the podcast. But it only takes one person to really have that type of impact in your life and change your whole perspective about what we do and why we do that. As we go through this conference, what are some of the impacts you believe that we’ll have in the workforce in 2020 and beyond because of all the things that you’ve described?
Megan: Well, I think we’ve had some really good wins in the last year. I mentioned we are the best state to do business by CNBC poll, Virginia. It’s because we are the best state for workforce and best state for education, but there are plenty of people that are looking for those opportunities to get their dream job and then just don’t know how to do that. Particularly our support programs like vocational rehabilitation, if it’s through training programs that we also provide. I think we need to do better 2.6% unemployment rate, we can’t send our offices, wait for them to come, and when they try to get a job, we have to be really active. We have to go out to these communities, we even have to knock doors, kind of pull them into the training and tell them what a job can really mean to them and we had to break certain cultures I think that we have in some of our communities around work and really get out there.
Megan: We do have with WIOA, we have our comprehensive centers and our career work centers but one of the things I’m thinking about is people are not going to come to us, can we go to libraries, can we go to social services offices, can we go to where people are, community centers. We’ve seen great counties offering workforce centers in the middle of lower income communities. I think we need to get out of our seats, get out of our comfort zone and really meet people where they are because we have so many great opportunities for them.
Rick: Dr. Megan Healy is the chief workforce advisor for Governor Ralph Northam. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Megan: Thanks so much for having me.
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Rick: We’re in the VR Workforce Studio with our good friend Cherie Takemoto from the National Clearinghouse. Cherie, what did you think of the video?
Cherie: I absolutely loved it.
Rick: Isn’t it great.
Cherie: Yeah. You know how we talk about my son Pete all the time and this year he celebrated his 15th year as a courtesy clerk at Safeway. But as I watched that video, I’m thinking, okay, where’s the career path? And that video really clearly explains that there’s more that people can do besides just be courtesy clerk at grocery stores.
Rick: Absolutely. And CVS is certainly leading the way by engaging vocational rehabilitation, creating career pathways for so many and it’s exciting. It’s an exciting time. So what’s ahead in 2020 from the clearinghouse?
Cherie: Wow. We have some resources that would take a whole decade to go through because we’re entering a new decade.
Rick: Give us the short version.
Cherie: Okay. The short version is, in our December newsletter, we did an NCRTM review. And as I look at these resource lists we’ve developed, almost half of them have to do with youth and all the different possibilities that we’re planning for. So take a look at those resources. We also have resources for counselors who just are interested in counseling such mental health, mental illness, culturally responsive and trauma informed practices. And of course motivational interviewing. We have a whole slew of accessibility resource pages because 2020 is going to be the decade where everything on the net is accessible and we hope that we can help folks make things accessible. And finally, did you know that 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the vocational rehabilitation?
Rick: Absolutely. 100 years going strong.
Cherie: Yes. And so to top off our dozen of these resource lists is our list of Institute on rehabilitation issues that met for over 50 years-
Rick: Half a century.
Cherie: And so you can see some of the oldies, the goodies, and we keep making those issues accessible and as we do that, they’re in our library.
Rick: That’s wonderful. Wonderful. Cherie Takemoto directs the National Clearinghouse for rehabilitation training materials. Cherie, always a pleasure to have you on the podcast.
Cherie: Okay, thank you.
Rick: Thank you Cherie. You can find contact information for today’s guests as well as links and resources for the national clearing house in our show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. Well, I’d like to thank all of today’s guests and 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. Now, here’s Lynn Harris, 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, ABLEnow, Aladdin foods, Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities. The Community Foundation of 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. 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: 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 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.