Pathways Out of Seclusion to a Career in Manufacturing: The Chris Hall Story


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Rick Sizemore Twitter @Rickwwrc or email,

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Chris Hall If you’d like to contact Chris Hall, e mail


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This is the VR Workforce Studio. Inspiration, Education, and Affirmation at Work.

The workforce and disability employment podcast from the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, a division of the Virginia department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services

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[Chris] Well essentially when I was eight years old my mother died and I was the one that found her body. I was a very angry very out of control child. They couldn’t handle me and I was bounced from group home to group home. That was a repeating pattern until I was eighteen years old. And when I became eighteen, I essentially just kind of stayed at home and stayed in my room all the time. For a long time my doctors actually thought I was agoraphobic because I left the house you know so rarely. Actually that’s one of the things that prompted me to come to Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center was I saw it as kind of an opportunity to reintegrate myself into society, to reintroduce myself and reintegrate myself with people, get used to using social skills again and really just kind of get used to being me again. Try to bring myself back.


[Singing]VR Workforce Studio


[Rick] Welcome to another episode of the VR Workforce Studio podcast. I’m your host Rick Sizemore. Anne Hudlow, who directs our foundation, joins us momentarily for a story that will absolutely astound you. First of all, we appreciate you taking time to get involved with the show and to hear about the brave and courageous souls of vocational rehabilitation. And join us as we celebrate their victories, feel their joy, their laughter, their inspiration, and move with them as they retrace the journeys and face their deepest and most challenging struggles.

[Rick] When the show came on today, you heard a young man talking about the loss of his mother and how that turned his world upside down, reconfigured his family, and left him feeling extremely isolated. Chris Hall joins us now with the story of the voc rehab pathway out of seclusion to a whole new life of success and a career in modern manufacturing. Welcome Chris.

[Chris] Thank you very much.

[Rick] Also on the show today, Chris is joined by Jenny Roudabush, a behavioral specialist who helps individuals with disabilities prepare for jobs in modern manufacturing. Welcome Jenny.

[Jenny] Thank you. Nice to be here.

[Rick] Chris, on the opening of the show today, you talked about losing your mom, bouncing around from group home to group home, and isolating yourself. It seems like a good place to start the conversation, what are some of the disabilities you face now that grew out of that tragedy in your life?

[Chris] I was primarily ADHD for those that are unfamiliar it essentially means that I have trouble focusing, stuff essentially goes right in one ear and right out the other, um its…sometimes I have circular trains of thought which can be hard to focus and follow on, which even right now it’s a little difficult to gather my thoughts in one place and focus them. I also suffer a little bit with anxiety and depression which has given me some issues but I’ve come a long way in dealing with those. Spent a lot of time trying to develop myself and grow and deal with those.

[Rick] What was your life like in high school and in your early planning for a career? What was life like at that time?

[Chris] When I became eighteen, I essentially just kind of stayed at home and stayed in my room all the time for many years, probably about three four five years.

[Rick] I’m curious to know what are some of the things that you’ve done to overcome your disability and in vocational rehabilitation.

[Chris] In vocational rehabilitation here, it’s been a fantastic environment. Jenny, for one, has been very supportive. She…she always promotes a psychologically safe environment. That’s one thing she always promotes, she always preaches. That’s one of the first things we learn in MTTRG, which is the Manufacturing Technology Training Readiness Group and it essentially promotes what it sounds like, a psychologically safe environment where one feels free and safe to ask questions, to be themselves, they aren’t threatened, they aren’t afraid of anything, that they can just be themselves. And be free.

[Rick] So you’re at home and you became introduced to vocational rehabilitation. How did that happen?

[Chris] Yeah, at the time, I was at home, I was stagnating, I was tired of that, so I started going to therapy to try to improve myself, to try to get out of that rut, and they recommended DARS, although at the time it was just DRS. And they worked with me. They found me a job for a short time and I worked at it for a short time, but eventually my disability got to the point where it was just so bad I just couldn’t work there anymore and I had to quit. And I went home, went back to my solitary confinement of sorts for a couple years and then I went back to therapy again and they reintroduced to me to this again and told me about this place down here. I came and I checked it out and it was fantastic. I loved it and I really wanted to check it out and really make something of myself

[Anne?] Oh that’s great.

[Rick] So what kind of things happened to create who you are today, which is someone who’s very articulate and seems very self-assured and confident and is holding some pretty precious credentials in terms of your future and going to work?

[Chris] Honestly, the way I saw it is, we only get one chance and I didn’t want to waste it. I wanted to put myself out there because really what do I have to lose? I’ll get anxious, I’ll get nervous, I may get a little scared; I may get a little overwhelmed or intimidated, but as long as I keep on trying I can do it.

[Anne] Wow, that’s incredible.

[Rick] Powerful, powerful statements.

{Anne] very powerful

[Rick] We are fortunate to have with us Jenny Roudabush who is a behavioral specialist. You worked with Jenny.

[Chris] Oh yes. Quite a bit.

[Rick] As part of the MTT program. What kinds of things were you able to help Chris with during the program here?

[Jenny] Well, Chris is a very motivated individual. He came here, you know, trying, with a purpose to try and get back into the social aspects of his life. I tried, I think, with Chris we just had a lot of conversations. We talked a lot about even though you do feel like you have to be perfect, you don’t have to be. I tried to instill in him that confidence and what I see because a lot of time I would say that he would say “I get really anxious” or “I have trouble staying focused” and I would say that doesn’t…that’s not what I see. So we kind of had some of those chats. But Chris has always been quiet, he’s also…he participates. He’s one of the most cooperative students we have. He’s a role model for his team, he’s got really good mediation skills and anytime I saw any of these behaviors, these things that Chris doubted about himself, I would say, hey you know you just mediated a conflict with your team, and you did it in such a manner that was, it was really just excellent the way he did it, because I just stood there and watched him and was like “wow you really just, look at what you did”.

[Rick] Now Chris can you tell us about one of those times? Because I’m hearing about in the past, that would have been out of the question and now in the work environment, you’re someone who could even help others in their social interactions. So, tell us about a time where you did that.

[Chris] Well let’s see. Do you mind if I use an example in the classroom?

[Jenny] No, go ahead. Absolutely.

[Chris] yeah, for example, in my classroom, in the MTT classroom, we’re divided into three teams which is meant to represent the manufacturing environment because everyone is separated into teams and you’re meant to work in cells of sorts. And our team didn’t exactly work together well to say the least. Uh there are two members that didn’t really cooperate and there was one that no one in the class particularly cared for. I mean…

[Rick] Which might happen in an actual workplace setting.

[Anne] Absolutely.

[Chris] Yeah. And he would kind of do his own thing and the other guy didn’t really care for it and there was some conflict between the two. They started arguing and before Jenny got involved, I could see too that she was getting a little frustrated by the situation. I was able to intervene and try to get them to understand that each of them had you know like….the guy that was doing his own thing, he was trying to help in his own way. Yes he was off on his own doing his own thing, but he was trying to help in his own way. He was trying to contribute to the team in his own way, you know, and I, you know, made sure that the other guy recognized that and you know the guy that felt isolated, the guy that was doing his own thing and maybe felt attacked, made him realize that the other guy just wanted him to contribute and just want him to cooperate with the team and that it was nothing personal against him, that he just wanted us to all work together

[Anne] Right. A lot of real life experiences there. (laughter)

[Rick] And I think you’re going to find that happens.

[Anne] Sure, sure.

[Rick] In the work environment those skills that you’re learning here are really gonna pay huge dividends in the future.

[Anne] Chris, can I go back and ask you a question? Um, it warms my heart to hear the things Jenny’s saying about you. How does it make you feel to hear all these affirmations?

[Chris] Honestly, it feels really good. It makes me feel like I’ve made a lot of progress in the program.

[Anne] Great.

[Rick] You know, many of us have lost family members through our lives and it, it’s very touching to hear what you went through and then through the years how that affected you. How do you think your family, if they were here today, would feel about your success?

[Chris] Well, I still have one family member, my grandmother, who supports me wholeheartedly and she’s very proud of me, she’s very proud of all of the work that I’ve done and she supports me wholeheartedly. And I’m sure that, you know, my father was never in the picture, but I’m sure that if my mother and my grandfather were still around that they would be very proud of me as well.

[Anne] I’m sure they would.

[Rick] I can assure you they would be because we all are.

[Anne] So what are your plans for the future, Chris?

[Chris] Well I had gotten an opportunity to work at the Hershey plant actually. But, and while I would absolutely love to work there because the pay is fantastic and the benefits are amazing as well, it’s a little bit far from where I live to work there. You know, for my first full time job.

[Anne] Mhm.

[Chris] So I think I’m gonna work somewhere a little more local for a little while and then maybe try to transition to Hershey after that because for the moment I want to stay where I live and take care of my grandmother.

[Rick] Wonderful.

[Anne] That’s great.

[Rick] Let’s talk about some of the technical skills and the credentials.

[Chris] Certainly

[Rick] The Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act which supports what we do here at Wilson Workforce really challenges us to do a couple of things. To help those who are here to gain skills and we have to show people that we’ve helped you gain skills and credentials. We’re also gonna be concerned about how, what type of living you make once you start to work in manufacturing. What skills and credentials have you gained as a result of being here at Wilson?

[Chris] Well, I’ve gained quite a few. One thing that I’ve always had issues with, as I mentioned near the beginning, one of my disabilities is, or it’s, I consider it a personal disability just because it crippled me in such a way, is my anxiety. And I’ve never been able to drive just because I have a fear of getting behind a several thousand pound machine and hurting someone because my ADHD, it causes me to lose focus so much and not pay attention, to be absent minded, to forget things. And I don’t want to lose attention for a split second and potentially hurt someone. So I’m taking the driving course here. I’m going home for a couple of weeks and then I’m coming back for the Behind-the-Wheel program to get my driver’s license.

[Rick] What a step forward!

[Anne] Great!

[Chris] Yeah. I completed….one thing that I think helped a lot with my anxiety is I’m still a little anxious about driving a car but I recently did forklift training, which I tell you my heart was just pounding when I was on that forklift because it weighs even more than a car and it can be even more dangerous than a car. But I got to a point where I was relaxed, I was very much in control of it and it put a lot of my anxieties and fears to rest about you know actually being in a vehicle.

[Anne] Seems to me like you are really making some huge strides. Some things that maybe held you back because of fear before, you’re really just working through.

[Chris] I’m trying to.

[Anne] Does that feel good? I know that must feel good. Yeah.

[Chris] Yeah, I’ve got my forklift certification, my OSHA 10, my gold CRC. I’ve got my um MS, my MT1

[Anne] Wow

[Rick] An MS and an MT1. Tell us more about those credentials.

[Chris] Okay, well MS is a Manufacturing Specialist certification and then the MT1 is the Manufacturing Technician and it’s actually kind of strange the way it works. You can’t get the MT1 without the MS. It’s essentially an upgraded version of it. The MT1…the MS basically…I actually have a paper here if you don’t mind me reading off a little bit about this. About the course.

[Rick and Anne] Sure. Tell us.

[Chris] Essentially, the course talks about overview of; let’s see…mechanics and special reasoning, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, electricity, mechanical controls, chemistry and things along those lines. And the MS signifies that you have a competent understanding of that and shows that to employers.

[Anne] I think he’s done his homework, Rick


[Chris] And then the MT1 shows that you have an understanding of lean six sigma, XPC, business acumen, math for quality, the business side of things.

[Rick] I’m just imagining a Human Resource manager at a plant listening to you rattle off those content areas and going where are the show notes and how can I get a hold of this guy because I’d love to have him come to work for us.

[Chris] Well hopefully you get them to them because I’d love to hear from them.

[Rick] Well there you have it. If you‘d like to hire this fellow go to the show notes at Drop us an email and we will connect you with Chris.

[Chris] We would much appreciate it.

[Rick] Awesome

[Anne] So Chris, what would you tell someone who was interested in coming to the Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center and, or someone with disabilities who might be thinking about vocational rehabilitation?

[Chris] I’d say that it can be scary, it can be a big change, but it’s definitely something you should go for because it can completely change your life, definitely for the better. You really have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

[Rick] How would rate the quality of your life now that you’ve gone through voc. rehab as compared to before you got here?

[Chris] I think it’s far greater. I think things have far improved for me and more than anything else, like I said, it may be somewhat different for other people, but because of how much I’ve improved with my social awareness and my social understanding of things, I think that that’s improved drastically because I had been in social reclusion for so long and I’d withdrawn so much, and it’s nice to get back into the world and finally be myself again.

[Rick] Have you visited any plants or manufacturing facilities to see the environment?

[Chris] We have actually. We visited GE in Charlottesville and we visited Hershey in Stuarts Draft. And both of those were fantastic tours. We even got gift bags which I unfortunately may have eaten all the candy from the Hershey tour in one day.

[Anne] Sure, sure.


[Rick] I’ve been restricted from more tours.

[Rick] Well, what was…when you saw the plant floor and all the mechanization and the number of people and the volume, for someone who’s was reclusive to use your word, isn’t that a pretty huge step forward to put yourself in that environment as an employee?

[Chris] I’d say so

[Rick] Are you ready for that?

[Chris] I feel I’m ready. I feel Wilson Workforce has made me ready.

[Rick] How did it do that?

[Chris] Let’s see, they’ve given me the skills, they’ve given me the opportunities to learn everything that I need to learn to make myself a qualified and capable member of the workforce. To be able to get out there and really show myself, improve myself.

[Anne] Improved you have.

[Rick] So Chris, are there any similarities between the training environment here and those plants that you visited? Did it help get you ready? Did the training environment here help get you ready to be on the floor at Hershey or some other facility that you might want to work at?

[Chris] Oh most certainly. As we walked around we saw people in teams, and we recognized, you know, because Jim Leech, our main instructor who’s been in the manufacturing industry for over thirty years, and is a fantastic asset to our team, as well as Jenny Routabush and Steve Sweeney who are as I said our instructors. Just wanna give a shout out to every one (laughter)

[Rick] Of course

[Anne] It’s like the academy awards. You can’t forget anybody.

[Chris] Exactly

[Rick] So what are those similarities? Back to the similarities

[Chris] Right. Got a little off track there

[Rick] That’s okay. The similarities between the training environment and actually the plants you visited

[Chris] Like I said, we would walk around and we would see everyone on teams and we would recognize that, you know, they put us in teams for a reason. Everyone really does work in teams, they work in four five man cells and everyone really has to really cooperate together because if one man doesn’t pull his weight than the entire team falls apart, just like they told us in class. And we could look around and we would recognize all the processes, we would recognize the machines just from everything that Jim has told us about. And, you know, it was actually really reassuring to be able to look around and see a machine and be like “I know what that does, I’m familiar with that process”

[Anne] That’s exciting for the manufacturers as well. The employers are you know really impressed with everything that’s going on here so that’s great.

[Rick] What a transformation

[Chris] I like to think so

[Rick] From being reclusive to being able to put yourself in a fast paced, social environment, that seems pretty incredible to me.

[Chris] Ah thank you, I’m still working on improving myself, I’m still trying to be the best me that I can be after all, but I’m working on it day by day and yeah I think I’ve come a long way.

[Rick] So what would you say to an employer who has never hired someone with a disability? What would your advice and encouragement be to an employer who was thinking of hiring someone with a disability?

[Chris] I would say that certainly while people with disabilities there may be a lot of stigmas surrounding them, while there may be a lot of misconceptions and you may not think much of them, that….give them an opportunity, give them a chance. They may surprise you.

[Rick] How do you think they’ll surprise the employer who’s not given that chance before?

[Chris] I think that especially if they’ve had vocational training, especially here at Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center that they will surprise them with the knowledge, with the skills, with the wealth of information that they have about the processes, about the job, about the skills, about everything involving it, and will just blow them away and say ‘I think I made the right choice here”

[Rick] What about soft skills? You talked about technical skills and all the knowledge you have to do the job but what soft skills do you learn in addition to learn?

[Chris] Actually the first two weeks of the MTT program are spent learning soft skills with Jenny, which is MTTRG as I mentioned earlier, and that’s a class specifically dedicated just to that. And also during the class, she usually about during the last thirty to forty minutes or so sometimes Jenny will kind of take over the class and we’ll do little exercises, learning soft skills and seeing things from other people’s point of view, how to mediate conflicts, learning different conflict resolution methods, and things along those lines. And it’s helped a lot.

[Rick] You will make someone a fabulous employee. And you had a question.

[Anne] well I just, Jenny, I have so much respect for the staff here and everything that you all do. And I wonder if you could just tell us what you love about being here and your job here.

[Jenny] Oh wow, um, a lot. Everyone here at Wilson Workforce is so dedicated to the job that they do and it’s nice to just be in a supportive environment not only for the students but for the staff. But I really enjoy the fact that students, like Chris, who are motivated and come here and they’re like I wanna change my life. We can help them, we can help you, we’ll support you no matter what.

[Rick] The story seems unbelievable to go from a point where a person really didn’t wanna leave the house to being fully ready and trained to be in a manufacturing environment. And there are a lot of manufacturing jobs, trust me. We anticipate somewhere in the neighbor of 66,000 openings in Virginia in just the next few years. So you’re in what they call the target rich environment, looking for a job, Chris. But my question for you Jenny is what are some of the specific things you helped Chris with in that classroom, to get him ready for this challenge?

[Jenny] I think, building that self-confidence, learning that it’s okay not to be perfect, just accept who you are, nobody’s perfect, conflict resolution skills, mediation skills. I think we did some emotional intelligence exercises, communication, job interviewing skills which Chris is excellent at.

[Rick] Well, he’s proven that here today.

[Anne] I see that.

[Rick] But would you say that so much of what you hoped Chris would be was just sitting there inside of him, waiting on the opportunity to come out?

[Jenny] Absolutely. And I think I said that to him during one of our first conversations when he told me that he gets really anxious in social environments. And I said, you know that’s not at all how you present.

[Anne] Mhm

[Jenny] So that was something that he wasn’t showing on the outside, but he was feeling that on the inside. The thing about Chris that I have so much admiration for is that he, in spite of how he feels on the inside, in spite of his fears, he keeps pushing on.

[Rick] Some would make the case that individuals with disabilities make better employees because they’ve had to figure out how to overcome that thing that scares them to death and many people in life who don’t have an obvious disability or maybe their disability is very very slight, they don’t have to think about it so much. Things just happen for them. But on an average day, if you’re worried about moving forward, if you’re anxious and you gotta get up your courage and your energy to get over that hump, then you’ve built character that makes you have the potential to be I think a much better employee. What, how, how do you feel about that Chris?

[Chris] I believe there’s a lot of truth to that. I mean, honestly, if I may be entirely frank, I’m feeling a lot of anxiety right now. I was very anxious about coming here. I thought, I would much rather not do this. I would rather have a three day weekend. I would rather not deal with the anxiety, but I pushed myself to come here because I knew that it would be good for me, that it would push me out of my comfort zone, because you never grow unless you push yourself.

[Rick] I have the greatest respect and admiration that even though you had that anxiety, you came in here and you brought some powerful reflections on vocational rehabilitation. Your case just simply seems like the ultimate citizen and productive employee whose moving ahead in life after a long period in their life of not engaging and being out of the loop.

[Anne] Something you said struck me. You know you’re working on building self-confidence. I can imagine that’s a huge challenge. I mean, do you find a lot of success with that? Is that something that you really have to work through or are people making such great strides like Chris?

[Jenny] For the MTT specific students, I think that the more they learn and see their abilities, things that they thought they could never do, like we have some students that never had algebra and then they have, you know, they got their MS. Things like that build confidence. So I think the more that they can do and learn and achieve, along with just being here, being in this environment, doing the extra activities, going to, you know, groups, hanging out with peers. I think that helps them to build confidence. And it depends on the person. Everyone’s different.

[Rick] What do you want people to know about Chris Hall?

[Chris] I’ve grown a lot over the past couple of years.

[Rick] So from a life of being reclusive, filled with anxiety and depression and all the things we hope to avoid in life, you’ve transformed yourself into a person who is skilled, credentialed, and ready to take on the workforce in manufacturing. We wish you nothing but the best in 2017 and beyond as you continue writing your courageous story of vocational rehabilitation. Thank you, Chris Hall.

[Chris] Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it.

[Anne] Thank you, Chris. Thank you, Jenny, for taking the time today.

[Jenny] Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure to meet you.

[Anne] You too.


[Anne] Rick, what a great episode!

[Rick] Oh it was wonderful. I’m so inspired to continue the conversation about jobs and training. As we take a look at what’s ahead here in the VR Workforce Studio, in the big inspiration showcase it’s the story of Jim Rothrock and a life well lived, five decades of selfless service to others in vocational rehabilitation. Injured as a teenager in a sledding accident, Jim knows the struggles and the challenges of disability first hand. We’ll not only hear his amazing story, but get his perspectives on vocational rehabilitation and disability employment.

[Rick] And coming in November, we’re taking the podcast on the road to CSAVR’s fall conference in Greenville, South Carolina, podcasting from the conference on career pathways for individuals with disabilities. In our VR briefing room, we’ll have four of the country’s leading experts in VR as they discuss how CPID is opening new pathways to employment for individuals with disabilities. If you’d like to contact us, check the show notes at Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.

[Anne] And I’m Anne Hudlow.

[Rick] With the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation

Support for the foundation’s production and distribution of the VR Workforce Studio comes from CVS Health, Dominion Energy, the Virginia’s Manufacturer’s Association, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, and AmeriCare Plus.