Episode 107 VR Workforce Studio
They contacted Flora because of her workforce credentials, and the VR Workforce Studio has a new spark
VR Workforce Studio Singers: V-R- Workforce Studio
Flora Frazier: They taught me that my disability can’t stop me from doing what I love to do.
Steve Sweeney: 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.
Jered Lem: Tech Support this is Jered speaking how may I help you?
Rose Hilderbrand: I have a position at Masco Cabinetry.
Alfred McMillan: I’m a supervisor at Sedexo.
Steve Sweeney: 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.
Steve Sweeney: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Steve Sweeney: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there is such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Steve Sweeney: Now here is the host of the VR workforce studio. Rick Sizemore.
Rick Sizemore: Rick Sizemore here, along with Betsy Civilette, the Communications Director for the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, with episode 107, featuring Flora Frazier and our focus on Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center.
Betsy Civilette: One of the most exciting aspects of Wilson’s approach is how they are focusing on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, or WIOA, as it’s referred to. Here are some really important things to consider. While WIOA focuses on second and fourth-quarter wages and the degree to which vocational rehabilitation engages business, there are two measures that are really the drivers and what it hopes to accomplish, and that is skills gains and industry-recognized workforce credentials.
Rick Sizemore: Wilson has a nationally recognized model for helping people with disabilities to prepare for and enter the workforce, and it’s very unique because they operate under the auspices of the Virginia Department of Education Special Education Programs, and offer career and technical education that’s tailored to meet the needs of people with disabilities; and at the same time, these programs are firmly rooted in vocational rehabilitation, which is part of the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services.
Now, it’s really important to see how Wilson has not only sustained its operations throughout the pandemic, but it’s also pushed forward with vocational rehabilitation services. What Wilson offers is inextricably linked and in lockstep with the needs of business. Now, it’s worth mentioning that the business development unit at DARS has a singular mission to connect business with the center’s programs. That’s why if you follow us on social media you’ll routinely see business partner tours at the center, where large groups of representatives from business, education, and the workforce are here touring the facilities, and it’s that connection with business that drives Wilson’s approach.
So, the curriculum they offer in the classroom is driven by what employers are looking for to fill their talent pipelines. Wilson has been recognized for working with business and industry to bring job opportunities to people with disabilities who are clearly willing and able to assume their rightful place in the workforce, and that is the key: with the skills and credentials that allow a client to walk through an employer’s door on day one, ready to be part of whatever that employer needs.
Betsy Civilette: In our big inspiration showcase today, Rick welcomes a woman whose journey through VR gives us a remarkable example of how Wilson has embraced WIOA and the needs of business, which provided the pathway to her new job at Atlantic Office Technologies.
Rick Sizemore: Welcome to the podcast, Flora Frazier.
Flora Frazier: Thank you, and good morning.
Rick Sizemore: It’s so good to talk to you. We’ve been following your story as you’ve gone through the job search process and landed this exciting new job out at Atlantic Technologies. Tell us about this new job.
Flora Frazier: I’m an office administrator. I work with the project manager of the company. It’s a little small business, local business. They’ve been here for about 30 years, and they sell, rent, and service copiers, fax machines, and we have our own IT services. So, it’s actually pretty interesting to not only be working in a job that I know, but working in a field that I understand. I understand the copiers, and toner, and things like that, so it’s a double positive on that one.
Rick Sizemore: It sounds like the perfect setting for you. And, if you’re just getting to know and hearing about this exciting place where Flora’s working, I’ll read this. It says about Atlantic Office Technologies: “Our loyal customers keep coming back because we go to great lengths to make sure our customers feel they are dealing with us as people, not as a faceless business.” So, Flora, how did Wilson prepare you to take on a mission in a setting like that, where customer service is so important?
Flora Frazier: They taught me that my disability can’t stop me from doing what I love to do. It may be uncomfortable at first, but we understand it. It makes life so much easier, when you understand that your disability doesn’t have to stop you from doing what you love.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Well, when you started looking at this place to go to work, did you tell them about your disability?
Flora Frazier: Honestly, this place found me, and no, I didn’t tell them. But, I didn’t apply here. I had put my resume on Indeed, and because in my class we worked on resumes so well, I had put my Microsoft badges on my resume instead of writing them out, and that drew her attention to me. So, she found me because of the way my resume was prepared.
Rick Sizemore: That’s so exciting, because we’ve been talking about how the centers focused on industry-recognized credentials and certifications. So, tell us a bit about what you did at Wilson and what kind of credentials that you obtained preparing for the workforce.
Flora Frazier: Well, I think the most important credentials that I got were my Microsoft credentials. I received one certification in all of the programs, and then I’m expert and certified in Word and Excel, which makes me Microsoft Master-certified, and I wouldn’t have been able to get even one of those certificates without Woodrow.
Rick Sizemore: Well, tell us about the class. How did they do it? How did you learn and prepare for those workforce credentials?
Flora Frazier: Well, the teachers, they’re very helpful, their instructors. They work with what you need. They cater to each person, is the best way I can say it. What I needed help with wasn’t what other people needed help with, and they gave each person the time that they needed. It wasn’t like one big class and they’re talking to everybody, and everybody’s lesson is the same. They cater what they do to what you need.
Rick Sizemore: This is really exciting. You know, I’ve known you for a while now, and in the classroom, if you talk to Jeff Waite, the instructor, he’ll say that Flora was, by all rights, a rockstar in his classroom. You said to me several months ago that your social anxiety was so challenging before you came here to the center that you didn’t even really want to be around people. What do you think caused the changes in you that are significant that you’re now part of a team of people that focuses on world-class customer services? How did you overcome social anxiety? What brought about the change?
Flora Frazier: I still struggle a little bit. What made me comfortable as far as going back into a customer service setting was that I was comfortable there. I was comfortable at Woodrow, I was comfortable with the people, and it didn’t make me… It made me focus on what I wanted instead of how I felt about the situation, because I felt fine. I wasn’t worried, I wasn’t stressed out, so I could focus more on what I needed to as opposed to if I had went to probably a regular big college or something. The size of the people on campus would have made me feel uncomfortable anywhere I went. But, with Woodrow there’s enough students that you have people around, but it’s not crowded and there’s not pressure. Does that make sense?
Rick Sizemore: It makes absolute sense.
Flora Frazier: Okay.
Rick Sizemore: You’ve talked about moving into the workforce, and that you really didn’t tell them about your disability, and that’s ultimately the goal, is for you to have that job and to fit in, and employers say to me routinely, “We really don’t care about the disability. We care if the worker can do the job.” What’s it like there on any given day… knowing you have a disability, but being so accepted for your skill level and the work you do? Walk us through one of your average days.
Flora Frazier: I’ll go in in the morning. I check the meter readings, which is the number on the copier and things. I go and put in meterings. There’s not many people there at one time, and it is a big building, so I maybe see three or four people when I walk in the door, and then get doing my work, and then after that I deal with the customers that call in and the few that come in. But, the people there are so… They’re nice, but they’re more than nice. They’re like a family. If you don’t know how to do something, anybody in that building is going to help you do it, and it’s funny because the other day I was putting invitations in envelopes and mailing them, and they weren’t the self-seal kind of envelopes, so I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to sit here and lick all 75 of these envelopes, and I’m just going to hate it. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Well, next thing I know, one of the IT guys, one of the really nice guys in the back, he brings me a wet sponge on a little cut and says, “Here, use this, don’t lick any… Don’t lick them all.” But, the fact that I didn’t even have to ask… I just planned on getting my work done however I had to.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, I wish I had of-
Flora Frazier: And it’s just so nice that they thought of that.
Rick Sizemore: I wish I had of talked to you last week. My daughter’s graduating from high school and we just sent out a truckload of announcements.
Flora Frazier: Yeah.
Rick Sizemore: All of them had envelopes. But, it sounds like such a positive culture where you’re working, at Atlantic Office Technology. Look at their website there, they’re very involved in the community, they give a lot of support to organizations to build up that Hampton Roads area community. What does it feel like working there?
Flora Frazier: It feels like I’m in a little family.
Rick Sizemore: That’s got to be positive.
Flora Frazier: It is, and they just told me the other day they felt like I was picking things up quick, and I was doing great, and they wanted to make sure that I was happy there, and I really appreciated the fact that they checked in to make sure I was happy with what was going on there, and I was happy in the position that I was in.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it seems like Voc Rehab is working the way it should. You were enrolled in vocational rehabilitation training and career tech ed, you got some skills, you went out, and quite honestly, those workforce credentials opened the door for you. You didn’t even have to go looking for a job, they came to you. What do you hope to accomplish while you’re at Atlantic Office Technologies?
Flora Frazier: Well, I would like to eventually move up. Right now, I’m only working three days a week as an office administrator, but the owner has mentioned she could use assistant-type things done, too. So, I’m kind of hoping to move up into that business a little bit more and just further their business.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah.
Flora Frazier: The further they go, the further I go.
Rick Sizemore: So many people who listen to this show are, whether either from a business and they’re looking for someone like you, or they’re training to enter a business, what is your advice, really, to people with disabilities or business owners about how this works? Bringing someone with a disability into the workforce, what’s your advice to people with disabilities or business owners about how this actually can be successful?
Flora Frazier: Well, I think it goes back to what you said earlier, and the business should see how the person works before they even consider their disability. And, the person with the disability, I would say, don’t think your disability stops you from doing anything, because like I said, when I got to Woodrow I didn’t want to go outside, I didn’t want to talk to anybody. My anxiety was so bad, I didn’t want to do anything. And the fact that I can overcome that… just, don’t let your disability stop you.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Well, that’s awesome advice. Awesome advice. Any final thoughts you have about the Voc Rehab experience you’re going through, or anything else you’d like to add to your story?
Flora Frazier: I would just like to say thank you, because none of it would have been possible without the support of Woodrow, and the staff, and my instructors; and not even just that, but the students there. The students there were very accepting. So, if anything, I just want to say thank you to everybody for all of that.
Rick Sizemore: Flora Frazier is the office administrator at Atlantic Office Technologies, serving the Hampton Roads area with office solutions and technologies. Flora, it’s great to hear your story. Thank you for joining us on the podcast.
Flora Frazier: Thank you. I appreciate it. It’s great.
Rick Sizemore: The Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation has been a phenomenal partner to the podcast since it began back in February of 2015, and with the recent news about the foundation’s closure, we want to thank them for their support through the years. With this change, however, the VR workforce studio moves boldly into the future with a refreshed look and a new spark as we continue to be the nation’s voice for vocational rehabilitation. We’ll be working with our partners in podcasting to bring you those powerful and compelling stories of disability employment from the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, and the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center. Both DARS and WWRC are recognized for their extraordinary work, which continues today and will for years to come in helping people with disabilities as they train for and enter the workforce.
Betsy Civilette: Rick, as we start this new era in podcasting, we want to take just a couple of minutes to bring back one of the rockstars of VR that has been so instrumental in building VR Workforce Studio through the years. We welcome Anne Hudlow, former co-host of the podcast. Welcome, Anne.
Anne Hudlow: Hey. Good morning, guys. Thanks so much for having me.
Rick Sizemore: This is a great moment in podcasting, to have Betsy and Anne both on the podcast, and we have so many new listeners who may not have heard how the podcast started. Take us back to the early days.
Anne Hudlow: Okay. Well, I will start with saying I know everybody knows you, and so, you know it started with a bang. The great thing was, I think we were having one of our weekly meetings and you said, “You know, I have had an epiphany.” And from there it grew, and I will tell you, it was one of the most exciting experiences that I have had in fundraising, because we all know how important it is to really get out there social media-wise, and connecting with people online, and making things accessible, and this was a great start to that, and then has grown into just something that we all hoped it would, but even more so, I think, so.
Betsy Civilette: And what are some of your favorite memories or stories from the podcast over the years?
Anne Hudlow: I think having all the guests that we had… You know, I’ll tell you, and I know that I’ve probably said this before, from one week to the other I thought, “Well, you just can’t top that story, that’s an amazing story.” But I was wrong every time. There was someone that came in and just had shown examples of how they rose above challenges in their life, and it was an inspiration for me. There were so many great, great stories, and I think, Rick, you just did a great job of getting them all organized. And I think the other thing that really was cool for me was the experience of the homestead. We were able to go and kind of be live on panel. Really enjoyed that, hearing stories and feedback from people there. So, just one of the many, many experiences that I think was brought out in this great development of the podcast.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. From your perspective, as the former director of the foundation, how do you think podcasting helped vocational rehabilitation in general? Who have we reached? Whose minds have we changed? What impact did we have?
Anne Hudlow: Oh my gosh. Well, obviously, you could see by the listenership growing, really we agreed at one point, at an exponential rated, based on where we started and then ended up. but, I think what we did was really just bring to light the fact that it’s hard to rise above challenges sometimes, but there’s so many inspirational stories that we were able to connect people with, and I think for me it was just something that, on a weekly basis and a monthly basis, we were able to just brighten peoples’ day. I mean, really, there are so many challenges that we have from day to day, individually, but just knowing somebody is out there, dealing with things that you may be, and feeling like you have a partner, and feeling connected.
The other thing is, too, I believe truly that we were able with the podcast to raise vital funding for the organization to… WWRC is a phenomenal facility, and I was really surprised and happy to see all the ways that we were able to create sponsors and connect people not only through listening, but also through funding, and that made a difference in people’s lives, as well.
Rick Sizemore: It was really cool to get involved with folks like the Virginia Manufacturers Association, of course, Hershey, and CVS, and some of the great opportunities we had to tour and be involved with the industry.
Anne Hudlow: That’s right. That’s exactly right. Yeah.
Rick Sizemore: Well, we have to have just a little bit of fun. I’m curious: Betsy is the co-host and Anne is the former co-host. Here’s a fill-in-the-blank for you: Rick drove me crazy over this podcast twin. Who’s going first?
Anne Hudlow: Oh, Betsy, are you taking this one? You know I had Betsy.
Betsy Civilette: I’m sorry, I didn’t prep for this one.
Anne Hudlow: Well, okay. I have to say, as much fun as we want to pick with, I think that the scripting was incredibly difficult for you, Rick. I mean, I don’t know how you did that and stayed on top of it all. I was just amazed by that. It helped to keep me on my toes. We did have changes quite a bit, but it wasn’t a bad thing. It just was what we do in podcasting, right? So, Betsy, I’m sure you have some stories as of late.
Betsy Civilette: Well, to be continued, I think.
Anne Hudlow: Yes.
Betsy Civilette: I’m just so grateful to Rick for coaching me, getting me more comfortable in doing the podcast. I’m sure he did the same with you, as well.
Anne Hudlow: Absolutely. For sure.
Rick Sizemore: You’re both absolutely fabulous, and Betsy, as a professional journalist, has helped me in so many ways as we continue to try to make this podcast the best it can possibly be. But, I’ll kind of finish up with my favorite Anne Hudlow shocking moment, and she looked at me one day and she said, “You want me to buy another microphone?” She said-
Anne Hudlow: Oh, the microphones. Oh, now, Rick, you know you’re a microphone snob. I do remember that. I do remember that. But then I thought, when I got the new microphone, I thought, “Oh, I get it. I see what he means.” So, you kind of changed my mind on that. Yes, definitely. It was worth every penny. Worth every penny.
Rick Sizemore: I think the phrase was, “This man can spend more money on microphones than anyone I have ever met in my life.” But, anyway, it was a lot of fun. Anne Hudlow, from the years that you spent on this podcast, join us to talk about as we move into the future, and Betsy, with our enduring thanks for all that you do to help us.
Betsy Civilette: Well, thank you, Rick.
Anne Hudlow: Thank you so much, Rick. Thanks, Betsy.
Rick Sizemore: We want to finish up with a piece that we’ve featured through the years in various live settings, called The Sizzler, and it’s some of our best pieces featuring some of our most compelling clients, and so we’ll finish up with that. Give us just a few minutes, and we’ll take you on the journey of a lifetime.
Bruce: It startled me, so I went to run. I tripped on one of the strings that was on it, lost my balance, fell 25 feet off the loft headfirst, and I landed on concrete boards.
Anne Hudlow: A disability can strike like lightning and in the twinkling of an eye change your life forever. In the United States alone there are over 60 million people with a disability, so chances are you know, work with, or love someone with a disability.
Rick Sizemore: A disability can alter your life even when you’re pursuing your most deeply held passions.
Jennifer: I had a couple things that day telling me not to race. Every medical professional who has seen the video, they asked the same three questions. One: how am I alive; Two: how did I not end up with a cervical-level injury; and three: how did I not end up with a severe brain injury?
Anne Hudlow: People with disabilities have proven time and time again to be some of the most resilient, talented, and capable people on earth, and employers are beginning to recognize the passion, energy, and dedication that individuals with disabilities are bringing into the workplace.
Larry: Rod’s been with us for a long period of time. It’s a return on investment. That’s the pure and simple business angle of it, but beyond that, he teaches, he trains, he’s a subject matter expert. So, being able to access all that eight, nine, 10 hours a day is, quite frankly, in our best interest.
Rick Sizemore: That’s why we’ve opened up the VR Workforce Studio, a place where we can all celebrate the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation.
Anne Hudlow: Stories from those on the journey.
Rod: And I broke down because that was the day that I knew I was going to be a… that I was going to get back up and get walking.
Rick Sizemore: Stories about the champions of business and industry that hire individuals with disabilities.
Austin: Oh, it’s the best company I’ve worked for. They’re very professional, they’re very nice. The company is like a big family.
Anne Hudlow: Reflections from the professionals that have dedicated their lives and careers to helping individuals with disabilities go to-
Kristen: Working with the students closely, to see them come in and think that, “Oh, I don’t know if I can do this,” and provide support for them to where they are empowered and they are achieving their goals, and just to see their confidence-
Rick Sizemore: Now you can be part of this exciting podcast revolution. Welcome to the community of people who want to champion the causes of disability employment.
Alexander: Diving down into your own personal hells and then coming out of that hell with a smile on your face, but with the bumps and bruises in the process, and you can walk away smiling and feeling proud of those bruises.
Alex: Every time my son drives off to work, I mean, I just feel so good about what it is that you nice folks prepared him for.
Pam: Getting people back to life and back to work.
Rick Sizemore: These powerful stories as told by those on the journey are just click away on your computer, your cell phone, or mobile device.
Rob: I think what you’re doing is really kind of unique, and we’re in a period where people can get information from lots of different sources, and I’m just trying to make people aware of that. I thank you guys for what you’re doing.
Rick Sizemore: It’s time for National Clearing House Report with the always entertaining and informative Heather Servais. Welcome, Heather.
Heather Servais: Hi, Rick. It’s good to be back, thanks for having me.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely. May is Mental Health Month.
Heather Servais: Yes, it is. We look at mental health awareness this month, so I’ve got several resources for you that are all geared towards mental health this month. The first I have are two information briefs and guides. The first is workplace mental health after COVID-19, which was created by the VR Technical Assistance Center for Quality Employment, and what I love about this information brief is that it provides over 60 resources for VR counselors, employers, and job seekers regarding mental health in the workplace. So, if you’re looking for some fast resources, this is a great tool for you to take a look at.
The second guide that I want to share with you is called, Supporting Child and Student Social-Emotional Behavior and Mental Health Needs, and this was created by the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, known as OSERS. And this guide really provides focused information and resources to enhance the promotion of mental health and social and emotional wellbeing of students. It actually takes a look at mental health support across early childhood, K-12, and higher education settings for students with mental health needs.
And the last resource I have for you today is an on-demand training event, called Mental Health and Employment: Why Wellness is Important and How to Help, and this is brought to you by Real Transition Partners. This is an on-demand training that you can take at your convenience, so whether you’re on your phone or watching from your computer, you can do this in a setting, in a place that works best for you. During this webinar you’ll get to hear from Michael, who shares his personal experience in mental health-friendly workplaces, and as an attendee you’ll get to understand the importance of normalizing mental health and also discovering how to support and avoid common pitfalls with youth and young adults with mental health conditions.
So, it’s a very exciting and engaging webinar. I hope you’ll check it out. And then, lastly, I just want to encourage you to check out the NCRTM events page. You can get to our events page from the NCRTM homepage by going in the upper navigation and just clicking on events. We have a lot of great training and resources that are featured this month, especially related to mental health awareness, that are coming from the Department of Labor, the US Department of Education, and many other stakeholders who are putting out events this month. So, we always are updating that, so we always encourage you to check it out.
Rick Sizemore: Heather Servais directs the Rehabilitation Services Administration’s National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials. All of the links and resources to the materials she discussed today are in our show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. Thanks, Heather.
Heather Servais: Thanks, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Well, that’s it for today’s show. Learn more about the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services at V-A-D-A-R-S dot org. Til next time, won’t you join us as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation.