VR Innovations and Celebrations
PERT-Mart, plus Carol Dobak on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the rehabilitation act
VR Workforce Singers: VR Workforce Studio.
Alison Shaner: So, PERT Mart was a great opportunity to engage with our clients. It was fantastic, and I did get the opportunity to buy a wonderful tie-dye t-shirt.
Rick Sizemore: I saw that.
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 118 of the VR Workforce Studio Podcast. Lots of excitement here in the studio this morning. Carol Dobak from the Rehabilitation Services Administration, standing by with a special update on the celebrations being planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act.
Betsy Civilette: And Rick, Alison Shaner rejoins us to continue our conversation on WWRC.
VR Workforce Singers: Big, big, big.
Betsy Civilette: And in our Big Inspiration Showcase, it’s PERT Mart, an innovative program that helps students not only get some hands-on retail experience but also earn a National Retail Federation Credential. And here to discuss more about PERT Mart is Tracy Rodammer and Jimmy Blackburn.
Rick Sizemore: Well Tracy, tell us about PERT Mart and how you hope this helps students.
Tracy Rodammer: We think that PERT Mart can really help our students get a leg up when they begin the workforce. We do instruction on proper customer service, how to handle different aspects of retail, and then our students actually work in the store that we’ve made. Well, once they do that, their confidence just blossoms. We can see our students change so much from when they come in on Sunday to when they leave on Friday, and it is an amazingly great feeling. It’s, it’s just so cool to see their successes and know that when they leave Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center, they’re on their way to an independent life, that they can have a career that’s gonna be what they want.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, it’s so exciting. I was over there this morning and so much excitement in the room. I know Betsy has some questions about the setup.
Betsy Civilette: Tracy, I’m curious, where did you get the inventory for this event? And could you explain how money is exchanged and how this supports the requirements for the NRF credential?
Tracy Rodammer: What a great question. Betsy, thank you so much for asking about money. When we first started off, we used part of a grant for the Virginia Department of Education, and we enjoyed a lot of funds from them. They helped us to get a cash register so that our students have a real experience with them. But as we’ve evolved, it’s become more of a Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center, sort of PET product. Our, the people that work here drop off things that have been gently used, sometimes they’ll brought, drop off brand new things like gels or perfume, lipstick, and then we, we sell that. Now, we’re using the word, “Sell,” but frankly we use, “Funny money,” or, “Play money.” Our students are given a stipend when they arrive, they are given $75 because they are learning employees, and they, they have given a lot of opportunities throughout the week to earn more money so they can buy more things.
Rick Sizemore: Awesome! Let’s switch…
Tracy Rodammer: Mm-hmm.
Betsy Civilette: Well, now I know where to drop off all those travel…
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely!
Tracy Rodammer: Exactly.
Betsy Civilette: Toiletries that I’ve been collecting.
Tracy Rodammer: Yes, ma’am.
Rick Sizemore: Jimmy, tell us, how did you wind up in PERT Mart? Did you know what a PERT Mart was when they first brought this up?
Jimmy Blackburn: I, I did not.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. What were you thinking about this whole concept of a PERT Mart?
Jimmy Blackburn: I thought it’d be a really good learning opportunity for people who never really did this kind of stuff before.
Rick Sizemore: Uh-huh.
Jimmy Blackburn: I thought it was a good idea and I was interested.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. So, what did you learn at PERT Mart?
Jimmy Blackburn: I learned a lot actually.
Rick Sizemore: Well, tell us about it!
Jimmy Blackburn: I learned…
Rick Sizemore: What happened?
Jimmy Blackburn: I learned how to use the cash register, and how to properly greet my customers, and how to make sure they have the best opportunity to get what they want, and so they can get the best service they have.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Was there anything that surprised you about interacting with customers? I mean, tell us a story of this morning, what was, what was going on in your mind as you’re greeting and selling stuff?
Jimmy Blackburn: Sometimes it can be really busy and you have to try to get as many people as you can to talk to you or to ring up. Sometimes customers will be a little confused with some products or sometimes they can be a little bad mood, but it’s just okay.
Jimmy Blackburn: And we have to try to accommodate their needs the way we can best like handle it.
Rick Sizemore: Now, are you learning some of that technique from this preparation for the NRF credential?
Jimmy Blackburn: Yes.
Rick Sizemore: Tell us about some of that!
Jimmy Blackburn: We learned proper grounding techniques for when we feel kind of anxious before the program and store opens. We learned how to kind of focus and breathe so we can be ready. We learned how to deal with our customers properly, no matter what situation.
Rick Sizemore: Right.
Jimmy Blackburn: And we just learned how to have a good time while doing it as well.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Betsy, you’re off-site, of course, in, in Richmond. I had the chance to go over this morning. It was an absolute flurry of activity and I know you’ve got more questions about how this actually ties into the workforce.
Betsy Civilette: Well, Jimmy, it sounds like you got a good dose of multitasking at the PERT Mart. A lot, a lot of balls in the air, right?
Jimmy Blackburn: Yes, definitely.
Betsy Civilette: How do you think what you learned here will help you as you plan for work in the future?
Jimmy Blackburn: Well, a lot of people when they start getting jobs at my age, it will be like a grocery store or a restaurant, like fast food, and learning how to work cashier and customer service is a big deal in this time and this age, and it’s really helpful for when you want a job. I’m 19, actually.
Rick Sizemore: You’re 19. So many people moving into the workforce and honestly you have this path now, you have this thought about where you want to go. I’m here to tell you, I know a, I know some 19 year old’s that don’t have a clue about where they’re headed. And so you talked about being grounded in the, in the work area before it opens and all these wonderful skills. So, it’s exciting to, to know that you have a direction in where you’re heading and this academy has, has helped with that. So, Tracy, what have you seen that makes you believe that this is a positive learning experience for our students?
Tracy Rodammer: One thing I’ve noticed, I, I eluded to before, is that our students sometimes come in very quiet, a little unsure of, of what’s gonna happen, maybe even a little scared, but the longer that they’re with us the more they open up, they begin to enjoy each other’s presence, and actually enjoy the opportunity of the instruction, the stress management, the opportunity to work in the store. So, you can, like I said, you can see them blossom and there’s really no greater feeling.
Rick Sizemore: Right.
Betsy Civilette: I think it’s exciting. I always love hearing how students can get hands-on experience and also working towards a recognized credential in retail which, you know, jobs, the job market is huge still right now, it’s such a demand for, for work in retail. So, Jimmy, I think you have a great chance to use this experience looking for, for job in the, jobs in the future.
Tracy Rodammer: I really have a lot of excitement when I, when I wonder what they’ll do with their credential, what career path they’ll end up with. Many of our students expect return to Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center for the Work Readiness Program, which is a six-week, soft skills program. And then, when they’re done with that, for example, Jimmy is gonna go on to the Manufacturing Academy here at Wilson Workforce.
Rick Sizemore: Awesome.
Tracy Rodammer: And then after that, he’s on his own and he’ll create his own path.
Rick Sizemore: Right.
Betsy Civilette: Jimmy, what would you say to a friend who is considering coming to Wilson for PERT Mart?
Jimmy Blackburn: I would highly recommend it. It is a tremendous opportunity for anyone who wants to try it. There’s so many paths and directions you can take with a really good amount of guidance by every teacher here. And I think it’s a wonderful thing to do. There teachers here are amazing, the food’s good.
Jimmy Blackburn: And…
Rick Sizemore: We don’t always get that.
Jimmy Blackburn: Yeah. Pretty much this is one of the best things and best paths you can take to do here.
Rick Sizemore: Well, this has been a great conversation. Thank you for joining us from, from Richmond, Betsy. Tracy Rodammer is one of the program’s organizers here at Wilson Workforce, and Jimmy Blackburn is from Tazewell, Virginia, pursuing a career through vocational rehabilitation. Thank you both for being here.
Tracy Rodammer: Our pleasure.
Jimmy Blackburn: Thank you.
Rick Sizemore: Betsy, we are delighted to welcome Carol Dobak of the Rehabilitation Services Administration to the podcast today with a special message about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act. Welcome, Carol.
Carol Dobak: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much, Rick, and I’m really happy to be here in order to inform your listeners of the truly momentous and exciting occasion that is coming up on September 26th of this year, the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. And I really thank you for all that you’re doing with RSA to help promote the true success that individuals with disabilities have achieved in their lives as a result of this landmark legislation, particularly in the employment of people with disabilities.
Rick Sizemore: And you have a video coming up too.
Carol Dobak: Yes! We are so pleased that you with your support and expertise are going to be helping RSA in collaboration with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation to develop a video that will be released on September 26th. And that video again, will portray the way in which the vocational rehabilitation program has contributed to the successful achievement of employment for people with disabilities, particularly high quality competitive integrated employment.
Betsy Civilette: So, Carol, what does the 50th anniversary of the Rehab Act mean to you personally, not only as a key leader in our nation’s VR program but as a person with a disability?
Carol Dobak: Well, certainly this 50th anniversary does mean an awful lot to me personally as an individual with a disability myself. I know that I would not be where I am today in my career if it were not for the vocational rehabilitation program as designed under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and all that it offers for people with disabilities. The vocational rehabilitation programs have helped me in, in my career goals and aspirations, by supporting my education, and helping me to receive other needed services as an individual who is blind, that I use every day. Whether it is my ability to travel from my home in Baltimore and into DC and to events across the country in my role as Deputy Commissioner, as well as to just engage in my daily work activities. The vocational rehabilitation program has sent, meant so much to me personally as I know it has to individuals with disabilities across the country.
Betsy Civilette: Thank you, Carol, for sharing that with us. If you are joining us for the first time and you’d like to hear Carol’s story, visit the library at vrworkforcestudio.com and look for our April 2018 episode entitled, “Why Carol Dobak Is So Passionate About Vocational Rehabilitation.”
Carol Dobak: I, for one, am truly looking forward to your podcast and the video.
Rick Sizemore: That podcast, episode 119, featuring VR success stories from all across the country will be available throughout the month of September as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act. Carol Dobak joins us from her office at the Rehabilitation Services Administration in Washington, DC. Thank you, Carol.
Carol Dobak: Thank you, Rick. Thank you, Betsy.
Rick Sizemore: Well, Betsy, as we promised last month, Alison Shaner joins us now to continue our conversation about Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center.
Betsy Civilette: Alison, it’s such a pleasure to welcome you back to the podcast.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah, Alison, we just talked with some students who were in the PERT Mart and Tracy Rodammer who organizes that program, and that occurred on the very first day you were here! Your first official act was to go down and be part of, of PERT Mart. So, what was it like to be involved in that and what is your impression of Wilson since joining the team here?
Alison Shaner: That was such a great opportunity to see kind of the end result, right? When we’re looking at the goal there is individuals being successful, being independent, showing off the skills that they have developed while they’ve had the opportunity to be here at Wilson Workforce. And so PERT Mart was a great opportunity to engage with our clients, to engage with the staff and the support teams that are down there, really showing off what our clients were doing in that moment. It was, it was fantastic and I did get the opportunity to buy a wonderful tie-dye T-shirt…
Rick Sizemore: I saw that!
Alison Shaner: That I then wore all weekend long and ran into two people at local stores wearing my tie-die t-shirt, so.
Rick Sizemore: That’s cool.
Alison Shaner: It was great.
Betsy Civilette: Great.
Alison Shaner: It was a really wonderful opportunity. I also got to see graduation that first week which…
Rick Sizemore: Oh, that was a good time to start, wasn’t it?
Alison Shaner: Yeah, it really was. I had the opportunity to engage with so many people and the energy and the excitement around the success of our students was palpable. And so, I think that was a really great way to get started in terms of springboarding me into understanding the end result. What we’re really looking for at the end is successful students and I got to see that right out of the gate.
Rick Sizemore: That’s awesome!
Alison Shaner: So, it was exciting.
Betsy Civilette: All right. That’s awesome. Well, now that you’ve gotten more acclimated in your leadership role at the Center, what are the most compelling aspects of the Center, you know, in, in helping someone with a disability preparing for their career and for life?
Alison Shaner: So at, I believe at the Center we have a really unique perspective and understanding of the, the whole client, right? When we’re looking at an individual, that individual is much more than a disability and we need to focus on all of the aspects of an individual that are going to be successful in the workplace. So, thinking about those soft skills, thinking about digital literacy, thinking about the communication skills that are required for an individual to be successful in the workplace. We are really looking at the whole person and that’s an important part of the work that we do here at Wilson. So, when I think about the success for students in their future workforce environment, the work that we’re doing around all parts, all aspects; the dorm life, the training programs, the workplace readiness program. All of those help ensure success for our clients in the future.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. That’s amazing. Well, Alison, what are your thoughts about the unique opportunities that exist for a person with a disability in a campus and on a campus like Wilson, where you not only have education-based programs through Virginia DOE, but also the full range of services you provide around vocational rehabilitation? Having those two things in the same space is pretty unique and pretty powerful.
Alison Shaner: It is and it’s really a great opportunity to understand how those two work together, right? We know that education is important, we know that the vocational rehabilitation piece is crucial, the counseling piece, support in the field, working with all of our partners, as well as addressing the campus piece of life. When we think about the recreational therapy and support that goes into that. We often, you know, in other areas, lose sight of the interpersonal skills that are necessary to be successful in a workplace environment. So often those are things that can be barriers for individuals in the workplace and we address all of that, right? We address things like, “Are you coming to work on time? Are, are you managing yourself appropriately in a workplace environment?” So, we’re teaching all of those skills in a very integrated type way which is, matches what they will be expected to do in the workforce with that integrated type of environment where you have to be able to do the job but also all the other parts that go along with being in the workplace. So, here I, I truly believe that Wilson is addressing all needs that are required to be successful in the workplace. And then recognizing with individuals when they might need additional supports when they go into the field and knowing what those are and being able to make those recommendations, I think is crucial.
Betsy Civilette: It is truly a powerful combination of services and in fact, Rick and I were ready to release, “A day in the life,” video of a student that highlight the unique nature of the Center’s ancillary services, such as, occupational, speech, and recreation therapy, driving services, and how they enhance the core vocational rehab and educational program. What’s your reaction to this video we’ve got representing what you just described?
Alison Shaner: The video is a great way to highlight all of the really amazing things that are going on that sometimes we don’t always highlight, right? We think about those kind of behind-the-scenes services that are going on that may not be as visible as like say vocational training program might be. But they’re just as crucial and so thinking about communication, for example, there’s a, a block of time dedicated during our work readiness program where communication is specifically addressed with the use of speech and language pathologists and support staff to make sure that we are addressing all of those needs. When we talk about the OT and the driving piece, that’s a huge, a huge resource that we have here. When we think about so many of our communities in Virginia, public transportation may not really be available to so many of our clients. The opportunity to drive brings about a tremendous piece of independence in the opportunity to get to work and to live the life that they want to live in their community. So, we are really trying to address all of the areas that help an individual be successful going forward in their life and this video really sums that up nicely and allows others to understand all the pieces and parts that are going into Wilson to make this a very unique and successful experience for our clients.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Well, we’ll include a link to that video as soon as it’s available in either the show notes or at vrworkforcestudio.com. You’ll have to see the footage of Gabby Delgado Castro driving. And again, this is a young person, they’re excited, they’re moving into this part of their life where they’re feeling independent and the smile on her face when she is able to negotiate lane changes and maintain speed, you know, and they’re sitting there with a trained occupational therapist that’s a driving specialist. That’s, that’s pretty powerful so check that out. So, Alison, give us your thoughts about the staff and how they may shape your vision for vocational rehabilitation and education here at Wilson.
Alison Shaner: This is one of the most amazing parts about joining Wilson. Before I joined Wilson, I knew the reputation of the, the staff that’s so loyal and so dedicated to Wilson and to the work that we do here. And then since joining the team, it’s been something that is just really amazing to experience the excitement, the enthusiasm, the true dedication to this Center of people is just that energy is contagious and so, I’m very excited to be a part of that. I think that when we look at serving the communities in Virginia and serving individuals with disabilities in Virginia, we have the staff that can do anything that we need to do to make sure that we serve. They are knowledgeable, they are passionate, and dedicated to the work and to the clients, and that’s, that’s just amazing to see. People that have been here for years are just as passionate, just as dedicated and that is… As we look at where we’re headed post Covid and all the things that we know have changed and, in Virginia and across the nation, I believe that Wilson is very poised to take the next steps to be really the best Center it can possibly be, largely because of the staff and the faculty that’s here and wanting to make a difference in the lives of Virginians.
Rick Sizemore: Well, Alison Shaner is the VR Program Director, and as the students refer to her, “The myth, the legend herself!” Is with us and we hope, this is only the second of many times we’ll count on you to be a member of the VR Workforce Studio Podcast team.
Alison Shaner: Yes, thank you.
Rick Sizemore: All the best to you as you continue your work here.
Alison Shaner: Thank you so much for this opportunity and I do definitely hope to visit again.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s time for the always entertaining and informative Heather Servais with our National Clearinghouse report. You’re out of here for vacation, the last stop on your work day before you go on a cruise. Welcome to the podcast!
Heather Servais: Thanks, Rick. I’m happy to be here.
Rick Sizemore: What a setup, right?
Heather Servais: For sure.
Rick Sizemore: Well, what did you think of the PERT Mart story?
Heather Servais: I enjoyed hearing about PERT Mart and especially the credentials. It’s always really good to hear about students and youth in employment settings and learning these job skills that are really take them out into the workforce and to be ready.
Rick Sizemore: Awesome, and I bet you have some great resources if we’re talking about younger people getting into the workforce.
Heather Servais: I do! I have four different resources that are our, that are all targeted towards students and youth with disabilities. The first is called, Young Adults in Transition: Vocational Rehabilitation Services Guide, and this was created by the RAISE Center. And this is actually a six-part guide that’s designed for advocates that’s, that work with students, families, and guardians to help facilitate the involvement of the state Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies in the special education transition process. So, this guide includes six different parts and it covers everything from vocational rehabilitation services and how the VR services connect with special education transition. It also gives a lot of information about rights and responsibilities and of course, advocacy tips. There’s also a glossary of terms involved. So, you know, sometimes getting into this and working with education and working with VR there can be a lot of new terms so the glossary is set up there to help anybody who this is their first time navigating this world and so that’s there to support this, this effort.
Rick Sizemore: Well, awesome.
Heather Servais: Yeah! The second resource that I have is called, Video Topic: Vocational Rehabilitation, and this was created by the National Parent Center on Transition and Employment. And it’s a video series and at the time of this recording, there’s 16 different videos that showcase personal stories and advice from individuals with disabilities and professionals on a variety of topics. Things like, employment supports, vocational rehabilitation services, disability disclosure, self-employment. There’s a lot of different options and it talks a lot about how these items intersect and all with the goal of talking about VR services and employment.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. This Clearinghouse is an absolute treasure trove of great information for VR counselors.
Heather Servais: It really is and these resources are also, that, that we’re talking about today, are great for families, and for students and youth, and for educators. So, they’re, they serve a wide audience and especially these resources we’re talking about today. The next resource actually is for parents that have students with disabilities. It’s the Transition IEP Check List, and this was created by the Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center, also known as PEATC, and this is a checklist to help parents aid in the development of the individualized education plan for students with disabilities. So, it gives really clear steps to ensure their child’s specific educational needs are met effectively. And then lastly, I have an On-Demand training from REAL Transition Partners. It was a partnership between SPAN Parent Advocacy Network and the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition: The Collaborative, and it’s called, REAL Transition Partners Discussion on VR, Pre-ETS, and the IPE, and this particular training is geared towards professionals. So, think new VR counselors, service providers, educators, and this explores the collaborative relationship between the individual education plan, or IEP, and the individualized plan for employment, or IPE. I know those sometimes get mixed up. What this training does is it highlights how these two components work together and it also discusses deeply the role of VR and supporting families, and youth, and students with disabilities. And then we talk a lot about pre-employment transition services and transition services, this training goes over the differences between transition services and pre-employment transition services so that it offers a more clear understanding of the distinct purpose and the benefits of each of those service types.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Heather, this conversation that we have on this podcast about disability employment, people with disabilities, the workforce, you know, we’re engaging people who want to go to work, and what always keeps coming up is the role of the parent, or role of the family member. So, if you know someone who’s a parent and they’re looking for information, we would point you towards this National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials, just an absolute treasure trove of great information for families, for counselors, for anyone interested in disability employment and vocational rehabilitation. Heather Servais, directs RSA’s National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials and joins us each month for the Clearinghouse report. Links and resources from the NCRTM are included in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. Thanks, Heather.
Heather Servais: Absolutely, thanks for having me, Rick.
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.