Episode 111 VR Workforce Studio
How Nick jump started his career track from high school to the workforce through vocational rehabilitation
VR Workforce Singers: VR Workforce Studio.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, yeah, it’s really life changing for our really young folks, um, and sets them on a path, um, you know, potentially in the future reach a lot of their independent…
Jake Hart: 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.
Flora Frazier: Working in a field that I understand.
Jake Hart: 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.
Jake Hart: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Jake Hart: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there’s such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Jake Hart: Now, here are the hosts of the VR Workforce Studio, Rick Sizemore and Betsy Civilette.
Rick Sizemore: Welcome to episode 112 of the VR Workforce Studio Podcast and happy new year. We have some exciting stories from younger people. They’re here to discuss how vocational rehabilitations help them move into the workforce, many of them from high school. They’re all standing by in our big inspiration showcase but first we want to hear from Martin Kurylowski. He is the transition and education services coordinator for Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Welcome to the podcast, Martin.
Martin Kurylowski: Thank you for having me, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Younger clients are getting involved in work-based learning, internships, on the job training, job shadowing, while they’re still in high school to help them find their way into the workforce. Why is that important?
Martin Kurylowski: Rick, it’s really critical that we’re making our services available to students earlier, to help them have a smoother transition from high school into whatever they’re going to do when they leave high school. Which could be, uh, post-secondary education, vocational training, or employment. So, when we start working with our students in high school, between the ages of 14 all the way up to 21, even 22 years old sometimes. We’re trying to get them work experiences, sometimes even paid work experiences in the community through our work-based learning program and pre-employment transition services. These opportunities lead to more success in employment and post-secondary education and training for our young folks. Really exciting to see the transformation and growth of students when they have that opportunity, be in an actual business in the, in the communities and I think you have a great example.
Rick Sizemore: Yes, Martin, you helped us find that perfect example. Our next guest connected with his vocational rehabilitation counselor, Nathan Roberts, while he was still in high school and found his way into a great job working at Virginia Food for Virginia Kids in Lynchburg, Virginia. Betsy, we now welcome Nick King to the podcast.
Nick King: Hi, thank you for having me.
Rick Sizemore: This is exciting for us. We talked with your DARS counselor, Nathan Roberts, and he tells us this story of you working with vocational rehabilitation, having a student internship to get into this job. Tell us about your job.
Nick King: Um, right now I’m working at Perrymont Elementary. I mainly just do whatever they need me to; cooking, cleaning, everything like that.
Rick Sizemore: So, how did you get into that job? Tell us the story of coming to voc rehab and how that landed you a job there with Lynchburg City schools.
Nick King: Um, I just remember one day having just one of the meetings we had, had while I was in school and I was talking about, uh, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after high school. Of, if I wanted to, uh, go to college or get a job. I was more of leaning towards getting a job and he said he had a internship that I could try, try out for cooking for, um, for Lynchburg City schools and I’m like, “Yeah, sure. I can try it.” And then it just went off from there, I guess.
Rick Sizemore: So, this was an internship with Lynchburg City schools?
Nick King: Uh, yeah. It started as an internship and then turned into a full-time.
Rick Sizemore: Wow. So, how did, uh, how did you go out and get started in the school system? Did you have some training? Did they offer you some training? Tell us how it all started.
Nick King: Mainly I already had most of the training I needed because I took culinary arts for three years. So, I had most of the training I needed. So, they mainly… I started, uh, out at I think, I don’t really remember where I started out at, it was a middle school over the summer and I just helped around there. Then I moved to I think Sandusky Elementary and then just stayed there for the rest of the summer. And then they, DARS took me, uh, brought me back to their offices and we did a, uh, we put in a resume for Lynchburg City schools and that’s how I mainly got the job, was mainly through DARS’ help and everything.
Betsy Civilette: Well, Nick, um, did you get any specific, uh, Pre-ETS help or transition services with…
Nick King: I…
Betsy Civilette: Such as, such as like a summer internship program? Like what, what did you do in terms of, you know, specific programs with DARS?
Nick King: Uh, while I was in, while I’ve been with DARS, uh, my tenth grade year they let me do this like ten day thing to go to a Woodrow Wilson to get some like college experience and life help and everything. I know when I got the internship and everything they gave, they bought me like shoes, clothes that I would need for the job and everything.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Could you tell us about your disability?
Nick King: Um, I have, I’m in the very low end of the Autistic Spectrum and I have severe anxiety.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Did you get any help through vocational rehabilitation that’s aided you in being able to move into the workforce, uh, with those disabilities?
Nick King: I would say that DARS has definitely helped me a lot with transitioning from a normal, going to school, to a normal life with a job and everything.
Rick Sizemore: Right…
Nick King: They’ve helped me as much as they could.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, moving into the workforce, huh?
Nick King: It was the PERT program.
Rick Sizemore: So, what’d you did in PERT?
Nick King: Uh, they took us over to Woodrow Wilson, they let us stay there for ten days. They basically, uh, just showed us what a day of the, uh, of one of their students would be and if we wanted to go to college, this is, there this is how it would be and everything. They put us in a, they put us in dorms and everything with, uh, two to three people. And they basically just did a, what a daily routine, most college students and everything.
Rick Sizemore: Right, right. Well how does it make you feel working with kids and helping to meet their nutritional needs? That’s gotta be a pretty rewarding type of job. How does it feel?
Nick King: Uh, yeah, it’s very rewarding, I would say. Knowing that most, I know some kids, the only time they get food is in school. So, being able to be the person to help them with possibly one of the best meals or only meals they have that day is pretty rewarding and knowing when I see plenty of smiles whenever they get the food that we serve.
Betsy Civilette: That’s great.
Nick King: So…
Betsy Civilette: What is an average day for you like on, on the job?
Nick King: I get there around like 8:00-ish, clock in. I do, uh, first I stock up on like silverware, stuff like that, and then I help, uh, give out breakfast, whatever it is like every day, uh. We do serve to a daycare I…
Betsy Civilette: And you’re there for how long, how… What are your work hours?
Nick King: Uh, I’m there from 8:00 to 1:30.
Rick Sizemore: If you hadn’t had this experience at PERT and you had not had this opportunity, what do you think you’d be doing?
Nick King: I would be struggling a lot on trying to figure out, “Okay, what’s my next move?”
Rick Sizemore: Mm-hmm.
Nick King: “What am I gonna be doing now that I’m out of high school?” And everything.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. So…
Nick King: Hello?
Rick Sizemore: What would you, what would you say is the main benefit of going through PERT and working with Nathan to get into this internship?
Nick King: Meeting people and talking to people that I would never have done before, like this podcast. I would have never seen myself on a podcast like this or anything… Like this.
Rick Sizemore: It happens to the best of us.
Nick King: Before I met Nathan and met the people at DARS.
Rick Sizemore: Right, right, right, uh. What advice would you give to someone with a disability who is thinking about going into the workforce but they may need some help?
Nick King: Um, the main advice I would do is, you would need to know your limits. Know what you’re okay with and what you’re not and try to pick and choose around that. But, never let your disability control what you do. Try to keep pushing your limits and your comfort zone.
Betsy Civilette: That is great advice, Nick. So now, where do you see yourself in the future? You’re, uh, career path?
Nick King: I am debating on just on going to college, taking like my classes at college for culinary arts. So, that’s the main thing I’ve been trying to think of, is just, “Okay, how am I gonna go through getting, like going, doing the application for college?” And everything. I was gonna possibly ask DARS to see what they could help, uh, around with or give me any ideas of where to start.
Rick Sizemore: That’s exciting. You know, you work for a Virginia Foods for Virginia Kids. They obviously saw a talented worker, uh, when they met with you and brought you on full-time. What would you say to other employers out there that were thinking about hiring someone with a disability, but didn’t ever really hired, uh, from people who have disabilities. What would you say to those employers or just thinking about hiring someone with a disability?
Nick King: Um, people with disability always get a rep, bad rap but, if you give them a chance and actually give them the time and effort, the time they need, they can sometimes be the best workers you can ever get. If you just give them the time and… The time that they need to adjust.
Betsy Civilette: Well, thank you so much, Nick, for sharing with us and certainly do reach out to DARS and, and, we, we really wish you the best of luck in the future.
Rick Sizemore: We want to follow this career. When you are on TV and have your own cooking show.
Betsy Civilette: That’s right.
Rick Sizemore: We’re excited for you.
Betsy Civilette: Chef Nick.
Rick Sizemore: Well, thank you for taking a little time. Is, uh, as Betsy said, thanks for taking a little time out of your afternoon to tell us your story. We, uh, we wish you the best, best. Nick King…
Betsy Civilette: Mm-hmm.
Rick Sizemore: Works for Virginia Foods for Virginia Kids and he is a vocational rehabilitation success story. Thank you, Nick.
Nick King: Yep and thank you for giving me this opportunity to be here.
Rick Sizemore: Well, you’ll remember last year during job shadowing month, we talked with Anna Stark, who provided some extraordinary opportunities for people with disabilities to do job shadowing out at JMU. We welcome you back, Anna, how are you?
Anna Stark: I’m wonderful, thank you so much for having me.
Rick Sizemore: And job shadowing month is gonna maybe be a little different for you because you’re expecting a child around that time this year.
Anna Stark: Yes, I definitely am. So, we’re doing things just a little bit slower this year.
Rick Sizemore: Different. Well, tell us about some of the things that might be going on in job shadowing month this year. It was such a success last year.
Anna Stark: It absolutely was, um, there were several businesses that we were able to allow students to participate, um, in. And this year, um, we have partnered with Blue Ridge Community College for an academy that we actually hosted for the first time last summer. So, we are definitely increasing our partnership with them, and we are very hopeful to have another in-person opportunity for students to learn about employment as well as education through the Blue Ridge Community College, this year as well.
Rick Sizemore: Is there anything specific that they might get their hands on? Or is this more about learning about the world of work?
Anna Stark: It is actually both, um. We do a lot of the different areas that they could be employed if they were students of BRCC, but also, um, for them to get to learn about other employment opportunities that they wouldn’t have to be enrolled in an educational or credential program there, um, to work in. So, for instance, um, we got to see the security department last year, um, and those are actually, um, other officers or those that have gone through security training programs and are employed through Blue Ridge Community College. And then we also got to take a look at the, um, recreation area there and a lot of the people that work within, uh, that area are actually students of Blue Ridge Community College. And then we also even got to speak with the Vet Tech program. So, students could understand the pathway through education to employment through that field.
Rick Sizemore: Well, that is so awesome. Anna Stark is a vocational rehabilitation counselor with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Service, heads of job shadowing in the Shenandoah Valley area. Of course, job shadowing will be going on all across the state. If you’re a person with a disability, you’d like to get involved in vocational rehabilitation, check the show notes for contact information on how you can jump start your career through the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Thank you, Anna, and best of luck.
Anna Stark: Thank you so much.
Rick Sizemore: You’re listening to the VR Workforce Studio Podcast. The National Rehabilitation Association’s Excellence in Media Award holder for 2022. You know, it would mean the world to us to hear from you, especially if you’re thinking it’s time for the world to hear your vocational rehabilitation success story, just let us know and we’ll send you our informational video on how to get signed up as a guest on the podcast. Our contact information is located in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
In Pennsylvania the office of Vocational Rehabilitation operates the My Work program. My, which stands for municipality plus youth, where students have an opportunity to begin exploring the world of work. Tina Sanco lives in Dalton, Pennsylvania and had an opportunity recently to restore one of the local parks in Scranton. She’s a student at Lackawanna Trail High School and joins us now to discuss how the My Work program is helping her to plan her career pathway. Welcome, Tina.
Tina Sanco: Hello!
Rick Sizemore: Great to have you on the podcast. Tell us about this work you did at the park last summer.
Tina Sanco: It’s a span over the summer, you go and you clean up parks. It’s really fun. We would paint benches, garden beds, poles. I remember we did a pavilion the one time. It was, it was the best program I ever been through.
Betsy Civilette: Well, thanks, Tina. How did you get involved in the My Work program?
Tina Sanco: I got involved through OVR. Lacy Tims Ashley, she asked me if I wanted to do the summer work program. She said, “It’s kinda new and I think you’d be excellent for it.” I said, “Why not, you know, get some new opportunities in.” And I overall had joy with it.
Rick Sizemore: What did you take away from this experience?
Tina Sanco: I took away what the workforce is like and what work experience I have and learning new skills.
Betsy Civilette: So, how did this work experience help you as you leave high school and plan for a career? Did you have any interest in, in the type of work you did in the parks?
Tina Sanco: I loved it. I especially loved like the joy on people’s faces once they saw us cleaning it. I think I do want to do something out with helping the community, you know? And it was overall, I took out of it, it’s like going out of high school, now I know what the workforce is like. Now I know what I want to do. Like, a lot of people don’t have that opportunity to know what they want to do after they get out of, out of high school. So, people join college and they’re like, “I have no degree I want to get.” Happy that I have that, knowing what I want to do.
Rick Sizemore: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Tina Sanco: Five years from now. Woo, that’s a tough one. I think…
Betsy Civilette: How about next year?
Rick Sizemore: What’s in your future?
Tina Sanco: My future, okay. I do know what I want to do. I do know like the workforce is and I think that’s nice to know when it comes to this stuff.
Rick Sizemore: The My Work program is a partnership with the Youth Advocacy program, some people call that YAP. They were actually your employer, so you had a chance to make some money.
Tina Sanco: Yes.
Rick Sizemore: That had to be exciting.
Tina Sanco: It was exciting but, to me, it’s not about the money. It’s about helping out the community and restoring parks and I think that was the most fun part. Like I said earlier, the smiles on people’s faces more, mean more to me than the money I get.
Betsy Civilette: Did you, have you done any other job shadowing or, uh, volunteer work in the workforce?
Tina Sanco: I, like I said, I’m a volunteer fire fighter. I also volunteer with the school, I’m in a Interact club, which they do volunteer work. It’s like a Rotary club for the, uh, high school version.
Rick Sizemore: You’ve had so many experiences, uh, not only restoring the park, making some money, fighting fire, all those things. Could, could you tell us about your disability and what you may have learned about being a worker with a disability through these experiences and what you think that might mean to you as you enter the workforce?
Tina Sanco: Yes, um, I have dyslexia. I have dyspraxia. So, I… Working, it’s kinda like I have this mind in my thought when I first met Lacy, from OVR, I was like, “I don’t know how much I can do with what I have.” And she said, “There’s no problem. You always have support, you always have help.” I think growing up I had that exact same idea in mind. Like, this is, uh, the day I joined the fire company, it was like, “Can I actually do this? Would, would they accept me?” And it was just like the support that was there and the support that was at OVR, it, it was amazing. And growing up, now I know I have that support. That I can do this stuff. That my disabilities don’t stop me from doing stuff and that I know I have people out there to help me.
Betsy Civilette: Thank you, Tina, for sharing your, your story with us and you’re an inspiration for our other young listeners about what’s possible. Dana McKinney’s a vocational rehabilitation specialist in OVR’s Bureau of Central Operations, which focuses on increasing employer partnerships by creating state-wide work-based learning opportunities for students and youth. And she joins us now to talk about this program. Welcome, Dana.
Dana McKinney: Thank you so much.
Betsy Civilette: Well, how does this approach help OVR fulfill its mission of serving people with disabilities and supporting this potential talent for business and industry in Pennsylvania?
Dana McKinney: My work and initiative had, allows OVR to take a leadership role in building relationships with our schools, community rehabilitation providers, and employers at the local level. Our district offices are then able to utilize these relationships to create opportunities for all of our customers, including adults. By partnering with the local government agencies and local community non-profit organizations, we are able to replicate this program across Pennsylvania, allowing people with disabilities to show that, showcase their skills. And not only employers but to the community as well.
Betsy Civilette: And tell us a little bit about your, your partnership with this, uh, Youth Advocate program and, and how that works together.
Dana McKinney: Sure. So, OVR partners with community rehabilitation providers and one of those providers is the Youth Advocacy program and they are the ones that actually are the employer of record for the students. They are, um… So, we have four students working with the support of one work-site trainer. Otherwise the supervisor or job coach and they are the ones that are really there teaching the students the soft skills and, uh, you know, the hard skills of the position.
Betsy Civilette: The initiative in Scranton to restore the park really gave Tina a great opportunity to explore the world of work. So, what other kinds of initiatives are going on across Pennsylvania to help students explore, uh, different careers?
Dana McKinney: We have partnered with several agencies across this, um, state to hire people in post-secondary training also. And so, these are giving opportunities for our customers with disabilities to explore government, um, positions too. We also offer an array of Pre-ETS services to our high school students, beginning at 14, and these services are really designed to help students with self-advocacy, to have them be successful later on when, when they participate in a work experience.
Betsy Civilette: Yes, and for our listeners, Pre-ETS means pre-employment transition services. We, we do that as well in Virginia, um. But, how in, how in Pennsylvania are you doing this to meet the goals under the, uh, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act or WIOA?
Dana McKinney: So, we’re really, um, focused on making meaningful partnerships with employers across the state. We really want to give these students, um, meaningful experiences in actual community integrated environments. And so, um, the partnerships through the My Work initiative is helping us fulfill those guidelines under WIOA to, um, give students experiences in their communities and making them meaningful.
Rick Sizemore: Tina and, and Dana, uh, as, as you talk with each other, what have you learned from this and, and what do you want to say to each other about the experience you’ve gone through with the My Works program?
Tina Sanco: I have learned so much and thank you, Dana. Thank you for like giving me just this opportunity and the work you, you guys have done because, like I said, if I didn’t learn the stuff over the summer I would not know what I was doing when I got older. Thank you so much. You guys give people so many opportunities and thank you, Rick, for having me on here today.
Dana McKinney: I really appreciate you saying that and I think that you’ve done a great job of highlighting how all of OVR has worked together to really help Tina gain these experiences. She has mentioned, um, her VR counselor. Her VR counselor has been instrumental in this program and really have given her the support to be successful. So, thank you so much for highlighting all that we do for our customers, um, with disabilities in Pennsylvania.
Tina Sanco: Thank you guys, really. I, I couldn’t never thank you guys enough for this opportunity and all the work you guys really do.
Dana McKinney: You are so welcome.
Betsy Civilette: Well, Tina, we can’t wait. We’ll check back with you maybe in a, five years from now. And see how successful you are.
Tina Sanco: Thank you.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Well, it’s been wonderful talking with you both and we wish you the very best of luck, uh, you and all the team at OVR. Dana McKinney is the vocational rehabilitation specialist in OVR’s Bureau of Central Operations. Focuses on increasing employer partnerships in state-wide work-based learning opportunities for students and youth with disabilities. Tina Sanco is a student at Lackawanna Trail High School and lives in Dalton, Pennsylvania.
Well, it’s time for our national Clearinghouse report with the always entertaining and informative Heather Servais. Happy new year, Heather.
Heather Servais: Happy new year to you, Rick. Thanks for having me on, it’s great to be back.
Rick Sizemore: As I look back at last year, we did some incredible things. It was exciting to see the launch of the newly revised platforms at the Clearinghouse and to see all the great content you brought us. It was a great year.
Heather Servais: 22 was a great year for the Clearinghouse. In October we launched our new site and we are so thankful for all of our partners and stake-holders who helped shape the new website. Over the course of 2022, we like to highlight some of our most featured and hot topics that came up at the Clearinghouse and so, wanted to share with you just a few of our most accessed web resources, our most popular events, and our top YouTube videos. So, our most accessed web resource on the NCRTM was actually our library, um. Just as a reminder, we have over 3500 materials available at your fingertips in the library.
Rick Sizemore: 3500.
Heather Servais: 3500! And we’re adding more to that every single day. We also have, uh, events that are featured on our training and events section. One of the most popular events that was accessed through the NCRTM in 2022, was our Strategies to Address Transportation Challenges. That was a partnership between NCRTM and the National Center for Mobility Management, and so you can actually review that recording if you haven’t checked it out, um. And then lastly, our top viewed YouTube video was our informational video on PDF accessibility, where this teaches users how to remediate PDF’s to make them accessible for all users.
Rick Sizemore: Enjoyed having you and Carol on the show to talk about the new platforms. It was a, it was a great episode. 2023 holds so many exciting things in store for us. We’re starting the year with a look at how young people, even in high school, are connecting with VR to begin planning that career pathway. You have some resources for us.
Heather Servais: I sure do. I have two great resources to share with you today. The first is called online transition portfolio called T-Folio, which was created by the Center for Change and Transition Services in Washington VR. T-Folio is a free online transition portfolio tool for high school aged youth with disabilities. And so, this platform offers self-determination, job readiness skills, all through these interactive exercises. The activities are always student centered and they emphasize the youth’s role as the leader in setting and achieving goals for the future. So, if you’re working with students with disabilities as an educator, as a VR counselor, this is a great tool for you to use to connect with your students with disabilities.
Heather Servais: The second resource I have is actually another podcast. I know we have a, a great fanbase here. So, I would love to tell you about the Life Hacks for Transition Podcast, that was created by our National Technical Assistance Center on Transition, the Collaborative. Also known as NTACT:C. This podcast has about five episodes that are out right now and they’re continuing to build more episodes, um. It offers ideas and tips for VR professionals and educators as well as service providers, on tips for delivering transition services. So, highly recommend you check that out if you’re a podcast listener.
Rick Sizemore: We’ll include a link to that new podcast as well as links to all of the resources discussed on today’s show at vrworkforcestudio.com. Heather Servais is the director of the National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials, joins us each month with tips, resources that you need to have at your fingertips. Thank you, Heather.
Heather Servais: Thanks, Rick, and happy new year.
Rick Sizemore: Well, thank you for getting involved in today’s show. If you or someone you know has a disability and wants to get into the workforce, vocational rehabilitation may just be the answer to kickstart your career. Visit us at vrworkforcestudio.com to find links and resources as well as our contact information. On behalf of my co-host, Betsy Civilette, and I’m Rick Sizemore inviting you to join us as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation.
Jake Hart: The VR Workforce Studio Podcast is owned and operated by Vocational Rehabilitation’s Partners in Podcasting. Audio content for the podcast is provided to VR Partners in Podcasting by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, in exchange for promotional considerations.