The Spark that Ignites Vocational Rehabilitation.
An interview with Rick Sizemore about Vocational Rehabilitation and the VR Workforce Studio as he concludes a 33-year career at Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center
The primary purpose of the Institute on Rehabilitation Issues (IRI) was to develop publications for use in training and technical assistance for vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselors, consumers, administrators, and other partners in the VR process. IRI publications provide a unique perspective on emerging issues in vocational rehabilitation as both the topics and the content are developed by practitioners.
For more than 50 years, the IRI was a national forum for discussing the important challenges facing the State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services Program. It is the longest running event of its kind in the rehabilitation field, and one of the longest in the human services profession. The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) sponsored the IRI in collaboration with representatives from the State VR agencies, consumer groups, and other stakeholders in the VR program, to establish a link between knowledge development and practitioner utilization.
Episode 69 Transcript
Speaker 1: (singing)
Speaker 1: VR Workforce Studio, inspiration, education, and affirmation at work. Welcome to another episode as we open up the VR Workforce Studio to champion the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation from individuals with disabilities.
Speaker 2: Listen to our amazing stories.
Speaker 3: Fear to joy and share in our inspiration.
Speaker 1: We’ll also meet the champions of business and industry.
Speaker 4: I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that some of our best employees have disabilities.
Speaker 1: And hear from the VR professionals who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping individuals with disabilities go to work. Now, here’s the host of the VR Workforce Studio, Rick Sizemore, along with the executive director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation, Anne Hudlow. Four, three, two, one.
Anne Hudlow: Welcome to episode 69 of the VR Workforce Studio. We have a special guest that might just surprise you as we take a look ahead at how the VR Workforce Studio Podcast is growing, expanding, and becoming America’s voice for people with disabilities and vocational rehabilitation. Today’s guest is Rick Sizemore, my friend and cohost of the podcast. We’re talking to Rick about what has been a phenomenal career at Wilson Workforce. Welcome Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Episode 69 and I finally get a spot on the podcast.
Anne Hudlow: Right. It had to happen sooner or later.
Rick Sizemore: You’ve hit the bottom of the barrel, Anne.
Anne Hudlow: No, no. No, no.
Anne Hudlow: (singing)
Anne Hudlow: One of the things about Rick is that while he does a great job with the podcast and as the director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, he has not talked much about himself. I guess we need to start with the fact that you’ve just concluded a 33-year career at Wilson Workforce. Rick, how does it feel to be transitioning away from your extremely important role as director of WWRC?
Rick Sizemore: Well, this has been a phenomenal experience. A lot of mixed emotions because this has been really my life for the past three decades. I added up the other day, in addition to actually being here on campus, I’ve been on call 181,000 hours and-
Anne Hudlow: And you’re not counting.
Rick Sizemore: I’m not counting, but let’s just say 181,000 hours. The center is a special place and I remember walking through the doors here back in 1986. It just strikes you. Every day is different and filled with inspiration and opportunity and the stories that actually created this podcast. So it’s hard to leave that behind and at the same, the podcast has grown in such a way that the demand is there. It really requires me to focus on this podcast. So I’ll be leaving the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center as the director to focus on this podcast with all these wonderful partners we have developed, partners like the very important Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation.
Rick Sizemore: This is their podcast. They just allow me to host it along with the phenomenal Anne Hudlow. The CSAVR, the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation, and the National Rehabilitation Association, the Rehabilitation Services Administration, and many others have really focused on these success stories. So I’m going to be leaving the center as director, but I won’t be leaving behind its mission or its message as we focus on this podcast, Anne.
Anne Hudlow: Well, and for that we are very thankful.
Rick Sizemore: I’m excited about it.
Anne Hudlow: I’m going to do this because I know Rick will not say these things about himself.
Rick Sizemore: I told you not to do this.
Anne Hudlow: Well, you know. But his career in vocational rehabilitation has been something extraordinary. 33 years, that’s a long time.
Rick Sizemore: That’s a long time.
Anne Hudlow: It is. That’s a long time. Are you tired?
Rick Sizemore: I’m good. I’m good to go.
Anne Hudlow: You’re still going. That’s amazing.
Rick Sizemore: I’m still going.
Anne Hudlow: The last 12 as the director, and he started as a music teacher. I don’t know if people know-
Rick Sizemore: Starving musician.
Anne Hudlow: Well, hey. You’ve come a long way, baby. He led the agency’s leadership programs. He served as the president and vice-president of the nation’s VR Training Centers, where he was credited with distinguished service and was awarded the Virginia Rehabilitation Association’s Anderson Leadership Award and the National Rehabilitation Association’s Bell Greve Award in the same year.
Rick Sizemore: What a mouthful.
Anne Hudlow: He’s recognized for starting this podcast that has now developed an international audience, so we are thankful.
Rick Sizemore: A lot of folks listening.
Anne Hudlow: I’m telling you. I’m telling you.
Rick Sizemore: We’re grateful for each and every listener.
Anne Hudlow: Very grateful, yes. What a career. How does it feel, looking back on all this?
Rick Sizemore: Well, I feel blessed. I feel honored to have been part of this center because its impact is substantial on the lives of people with disabilities. I think one of the things that is most meaningful is being part of the stories of people’s lives who have been radically changed because of a disabling accident or because they realized one day that something was a little different and they had to begin thinking about their world in a different way because of autism. Just to hear the stories. I’ve got a couple of soundbites. If you’re a person who listens to this podcast every month, maybe you’ve heard some of these.
Rick Sizemore: But I’d like to start with Rod Early. He said something to us one day and it really brings it into focus just how dramatic changes can be in a person’s life. Let’s take a listen to Rod.
Rod Early: And I broke down because that was the day that I knew I was going to get back up and get walking.
Rick Sizemore: These stories go on and on. We’ve talked with linemen who have had their legs blown off because of high voltage electricity lines and other people who have been in car accidents or motorcycle accidents. We talked with one fellow who was trying to help a friend get a motorcycle home and he woke up under a guardrail and almost died. Any of us at any time can join those who are living with disability. I just feel such a sense of good fortune to have been involved in meeting the people who rise up in body or spirit and say, “This disability is not going to keep me from working.” It’s amazing to hear what they do, how they do it, and also to meet the businesses who have realized, wow, the answer to our pipeline problem or where we get employees particularly in this environment of low unemployment, the answer, as we often say, standing knee-deep in a river dying of thirst, the answer’s right in front of you.
Rick Sizemore: 60 million people in this country have at least one disability. I’ll tell you, they want to work. So it’s really been an incredible opportunity and a blessing to have been part of what the center does and to meet the people who have made these changes and who have gone to work and said, “This disability’s not going to stop me at all.”
Anne Hudlow: In all that the center has accomplished, what are you most proud of?
Rick Sizemore: Well, certainly, those individuals who have made the journey and who are out there working, but the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act has been such a powerful influence on vocational rehabilitation. I’m going to do this one more time. Those six measures that come right out of WIOA, the person leaving voc rehab working for six months and then working for an additional six months, so we know they’re still employed at 12 months. What are their wages out at six months? Then the heart and soul of our mission at Wilson Workforce is to help that person get that skill gain and to document that we’re giving something that’s really going to enable a person with a disability to walk through the employer’s door and have the skills they need to do the jobs that employers need to fill.
Rick Sizemore: WorkForce credentials, that’s the same sort of bread and butter of the comprehensive vocational rehabilitation center, to offer that training that enables a person with a disability to take that national exam or to pass that certification that documents that they really have what an employer’s looking for. Anne, how many employers, champions of business and industry who hire individuals with disabilities, have we had the good fortune to meet through this podcast? Many.
Anne Hudlow: Many. Countless, really.
Rick Sizemore: I mean, we could just go on. That list is just never-ending of the businesses who are waking up to the concept of hiring people with disabilities. That’s that sixth measure of WIOA. Taking the center from where it was prior to WIOA in 2014 through today with its complete alignment, every service here, even the pre-employment transition services and those five required elements of that, and then those six measures, everything that you experience when you walk through the doors here at Wilson Workforce is focused on meeting those objectives. After 33 years I can tell you, WIOA is the best thing that’s ever happened to voc rehab.
Rick Sizemore: Seeing the center align itself with that has been certainly something that has been, in my opinion, a great accomplishment, but not without the help and support of phenomenal commissioners like Jim Rothrock and our current commissioner, Kathy Hayfield, who’s given us that support and helped us integrate what we do here into the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. I’ve already mentioned all those national partners. One, of course, Steve Wooderson, at CSAVR and his emphasis on Vision 2020 that dual customer focus, mission-driven and dual customer focus. I mean, that is giving life to the fact that we’re helping business, but we’re helping the individual who’s training for employment in that business as well.
Rick Sizemore: The foundation, I am so proud to be, at this point, a volunteer for the foundation, but moving into other opportunities through the pathways that they create with our national partners and with business and, Anne, that great work that you and the foundation have done is truly transformational and to see the growth of that foundation. The staff, the staff here, what they accomplish every day. I have the good fortune to be on this podcast and tell the success stories and send out newsletters and to market and engage in business relations. But the work that’s actually done and you and I refer to the champions of business and industry, but we also talk about the vocational rehabilitation professionals that have dedicated their lives and careers to helping individuals with disabilities really become successful.
Rick Sizemore: That’s the accomplishment, that the full engagement of this phenomenal staff we have. And then last, I think the legacy that the center has over three-quarters of a century, I mean, how long does business anticipate a new startup lasting these days? A couple years? Five years? I mean, what percentage of restaurants that open actually stay in business for long periods of time? It’s a challenge in today’s environment. So sustaining the Wilson Workforce for 75 years and seeing the thousands and thousands of people who’ve gone to work as a result of the services here, that’s a pretty significant accomplishment. I have to say as we look at the center and its legacy, the book and the film produced here a couple of years ago, Hope Reborn of War, if you don’t have that and you’re interested in vocational rehabilitation in Virginia, you should really pick a copy of that up.
Rick Sizemore: We’ll put a link in the show notes where you can find it. But that effort to tell the story all the way back to World War II and the things that happened here, and then the evolution of education and vocational rehabilitation is really a story of everyone who works here is really invested in and certainly gratified by. Those are some of the things that have meant the most to me as I’ve gone through, again, 33 years. It seems like two.
Anne Hudlow: That’s wonderful, Rick. We really appreciate you taking the time to reflect on that. I know that you’ve had a lot of gratification, but I know that what you’ve given has been even more so, and people are extremely grateful to you. What are some of your favorite stories from your experiences here?
Rick Sizemore: We played a couple of sound clips about how people’s lives start in those difficult circumstances that disability often brings. But the end of the story, the Chris Hall story and our story of engaging Hershey and the Hershey Company is a true champion of disability employment. They are so awesome. But to hear how Chris’ life was transformed through a pre-apprentice training program and credentials through our friends at the Manufacturing Skills Institute and the staff here. Then opening that up to a registered apprenticeship and seeing Hershey embrace that as a great pathway forward in filling their talent pipeline is a wonderful story.
Rick Sizemore: Of course, we’ve shared that on this podcast. We’ll drop the link into the show notes if you’ve not heard it. But certainly Chris’ story because it opens up so many opportunities for others. Hershey is hiring many of our manufacturing technology training graduates. We also heard that opening clip from Rod Early. He said, “Today’s the day I’m going to get up and I’m going to get walking.” He is fully employed and integrated and back on the job in manufacturing and is a key asset and a resource for his company. The stories just seem to be never-ending. The story of Jared Lynn, a young man with autism who had really struggled and that job that he has been able to obtain out at the US Geological Survey.
Rick Sizemore: I mean, those are the stories that really stay with you because people have to … They have to rise up. My good friend, Jim Rothrock, who says, “Rise up in body and spirit.” You know Jim uses a wheelchair, but you see that here, rising in body and spirit, moving forward and overcoming the obstacles to employment, living with disability. Those are just a few of the stories that I think mean the most to me as we move ahead looking for other stories. CVS Health, you talk about a company who has stepped up. That film that was shot here on campus, Don’t Diss Me, and the powerful messages and the huge numbers of mock training facilities that they’ve established and their inclusive hiring practices certainly have been just extraordinary.
Anne Hudlow: Rick, who are some of the key influencers that we’ve work with that you want to talk about a little bit?
Rick Sizemore: Well, Anne, that is such a great question and I appreciate the opportunity to reflect for a minute on some of the people who have influenced me, certainly all the previous directors of the center and the current and previous commissioners. But I’m going to pick on Jim Rothrock because he is a person that’s meant so much to me, the life he lived as a wheelchair user and his 50 years of service in VR. But he had a little phrase. He said, “Never confuse being awake with being alert.” He is always focused on finding those everyday opportunities to help someone transition in their life.
Rick Sizemore: He and the other commissioners certainly, Commissioner Hayfield now with her. She’ll be mad at me for calling her commissioner. She’s such a nice, pleasant, and down-to-earth lady. She just wants to be called Kathy, but she-
Anne Hudlow: She’s wonderful.
Rick Sizemore: She is the commissioner of this agency and she does such a wonderful job because of her passionate focus on helping people escape poverty and her love of the clients that we serve. They’ve helped shape the center through their visions. But those key people out there at the national level, certainly Commissioner Dobak or Acting Commissioner Dobak at RSA, she’s been a guest on this podcast. Her encouragement has been just nothing short of amazing. I’ve talked about Steve Wooderson. But there’s a whole group of people at CSAVR. Kathy West-Evans and the leadership of the National Employment team, certainly, Danny Guest has been our friend on social media and has helped our podcast grow and reach the audience of individuals with disabilities and everyone who’s focused on disability employment.
Rick Sizemore: Don’t forget, we could not leave out Claudia Albanese and the evolution of this In Focus newsletter that we feature on this podcast. It’s always nice to work with her and to see how she’s blazing new pathways in information and communications to share the stories. She’s certainly a powerful partner to us. CSAVR, the National Rehabilitation Association, Dr. Fred Schroeder, their social media committee has been wonderful. You go to the home page at National Rehabilitation Association and find the podcast on the landing page. Their support has been simply phenomenal. The business development managers under the guidance and leadership of David Leon and Dee Dee Batton here in Virginia, they opened up the pathways to business in vocational rehabilitation.
Rick Sizemore: They have that constant outreach. So they have been the folks who influenced us. Now this was a very short list, a very short, a la carte, picking some folks off. The list would take several podcasts. So I want to thank everyone who has supported me and who has supported Wilson Workforce as we’ve helped to really do this one thing. I have to credit this one thing. Let’s all be the spark that ignites vocational rehabilitation in someone’s life. That comes from Lara Williams. We hope to have her on this podcast in the future, but she stands about three feet tall. She came to the center and came to my office one day and she said, “You know what? I’m just looking for the spark. I want to ignite my life and do something wonderful.” And she did.
Rick Sizemore: She graduated from here and she works at ComSonics up in Harrisonburg with a number of our other consumers who have found employment with this great organization. But I have to credit her with giving me that one phrase that defines this whole thing, this whole thing. Finding the spark that ignites voc rehab has been powerful, I think, in my own life and hopefully in the culture of Wilson Workforce.
Anne Hudlow: Absolutely. If I might add too, what we did not mention before in your list of accomplishments here at the center is what you have done to really move the foundation forward as well. All of these key influencers that have influenced the center and the podcast have also had a hand in helping the foundation and that’s very much because you and I have been able to work together. You’ve created that pathway for us. You being a volunteer of the foundation has been extremely impactful on our side, where we have been able to give back to the center and support that way.
Anne Hudlow: We, in turn, are grateful to you for the time and the energy that you’ve given, the spark that you have brought to this whole environment and how you’ve also brought these key influencers in to help us as well. We’ve been able to grow and see many great efforts come to life. It’s exciting. So we thank you for that, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: It really is an issue of all things working together because those influencers that I talked about are so crucial. None of this would have happened without the foundation and the influences they’ve had in pulling all these different partners together into a focus. This is not a podcast about podcasting. But while we’re thanking people, Eric K. Johnson is a person who has helped us shape and develop this podcast. Dave Jackson at the School of Podcasting, we’ll put links to both these great fellows in the show notes. But the podcast has been a phenomenal vehicle for us to tell our story in vocational rehabilitation and to get on social media and offer that to the people who are interested in the topics we’re discussing, which are helping people with disabilities find that pathway to employment.
Rick Sizemore: So it’s exciting and it’s especially meaningful to families, to counselors, to businesses who may not have heard about disability employment or to businesses who want to share their story about hiring someone with a disability. Last month we had Tim Schwartzel on from 7-Eleven and he said he talked to one of his friends that’s going, “Well, I’m not sure about this.” He said, “Man, you got to get involved in this because this is powerful.” So our podcast has been a phenomenal outreach opportunity and, Anne, I’ve greatly enjoyed your cohosting and look forward to many more episodes as we move into the future.
Anne Hudlow: Absolutely. Absolutely. What do you see ahead in the future for yourself and for WWRC?
Rick Sizemore: Well, I’m leaving the center as the director, but I’m going to focus on this podcast, VR Communications with all those partners telling the story of voc rehab, primarily through the podcast but in some other ventures that I’ll be involved in. The center itself is simply positioned to move into the future as a national superstar in helping people with disabilities get the skills they need because of that alignment in WIOA activity and in their commitment to service excellence. There’s three key values at the center. There’s actually nine elements to our vision, but those first three elements of that vision, focusing on customers, putting clients first, and working as a team. They really tell the whole story about the culture here.
Rick Sizemore: We get into things like innovation and excellence. We have all these services under one roof, maintaining the public trust and all those kinds of things. But that focus on customers, taking care of clients first as a priority and doing that in a team setting is really what brings magic to the center and enables it to position itself to move forward as we embrace more businesses, continue to outreach, that network growing, the career pathways for individuals with disabilities, as well as the V-to-V grant. All that outreach has really opened up avenues to more apprenticeship training, to the Department of Labor, at the federal and local levels, to workforce boards, to those networks who are learning about the power of vocational rehabilitation to partner with apprenticeships and to really create real opportunity for people to work and to overcome the obstacles to employment and to move into that future with a family-sustaining wage, just like our commissioner has challenged us to help people escape poverty.
Rick Sizemore: It’s a temptation that I will not resist in my one podcast guest opportunity, the old ZZ Top song. We couldn’t play it because of copyright laws, but the future is looking so bright we’re going to have to wear shades.
Anne Hudlow: If you had given some heads up we could have sung it, but I’m not ready. I’m not ready.
Rick Sizemore: We’re not doing it.
Anne Hudlow: You were a music teacher. I mean, this is not a problem for you.
Rick Sizemore: But I never said I was a singer.
Rick Sizemore: Well, thank you for the opportunity being on the podcast today, Anne. We’re excited about moving ahead. I thank you for all of your support.
Anne Hudlow: Well, thank you very much for everything that you’ve done. We’re excited about the future as well. We appreciate your time. I just loved having this interview. You know how they say you really can’t pick favorites, but this was definitely one of my tops.
Rick Sizemore: Awesome. Thank you.
Anne Hudlow: Thank you, my friend.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time for our National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials update with Cherie Takemoto.
Cherie Takemoto: Hi Rick. You always ask others to share their stories. Today it’s been fun listening to yours. Well, today I’d like to share one of my favorite oldies but goodies, the Institute on Rehabilitation Issues that we call the IRIs.
Rick Sizemore: Well, that sounds a little institutional, Cherie.
Cherie Takemoto: The IRIs go back almost as far as you do. Just as you were the longest-running director at the WWRC, these IRIs represent the longest-running event of its kind in the rehabilitation field and one of the longest in the human services profession.
Rick Sizemore: Well, what does the IRI cover?
Cherie Takemoto: Their topics range from medical consultation and VR, and client motivation in the early ’60s, to the future of VR, of course, in 1985, and return on investment in 2015. They cover underrepresented populations, veterans, business engagement, substance abuse, and pressing challenges in VR, just like this podcast.
Rick Sizemore: Well, Cherie’s included links to the IRIs in our show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. Any last words, Cherie?
Cherie Takemoto: Sure. The IRIs have been around almost as long as you have and just like you, they are timeless and will have a lasting impact.
Rick Sizemore: Cherie Takemoto, the National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials.
Anne Hudlow: The WWRC Foundation is grateful for the continued assistance that we receive in support of the center. Additionally, we extend our gratitude to our wonderful partners in podcasting who made this episode possible, Aladdin Foods.
Rick Sizemore: Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities.
Anne Hudlow: Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge.
Rick Sizemore: The Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Anne Hudlow: CVS Health, Dominion Energy.
Rick Sizemore: Certainly can’t forget our friends at the Global Impact Today Radio Network with Deb Ruh and her team.
Anne Hudlow: That’s right. And we have Hershey Chocolate Company, Jessie Ball duPont Fund, United Bank, Valley to Virginia grant, Virginia Manufacturers Association.
Rick Sizemore: And we are always appreciative of our partners at the Virginia Voice who broadcast these episodes.
Anne Hudlow: That’s right. And last, but not least, Wells Fargo.
Rick Sizemore: The one thing I know you would like is that if our listeners would sign up for your newsletter.
Anne Hudlow: That’s right. We do have a newsletter. We’d love to have you all involved, so please join us by signing up at our website at www.rcf.org.
Rick Sizemore: Well, until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.
Anne Hudlow: And I’m Anne Hudlow.
Rick Sizemore: With the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation.