Job Seekers - Success Stories
Horntown resident Anthony Selby was jobless and living on food stamps after a long struggle with depression and anxiety. His intellectual disabilities, combined with a history of worsening seizures, cost him several jobs. But Anthony wanted to work. “I wanted to get back on my own again like I used to be,” he said. He had worked nearly 20 years at the Tyson Foods plant and fast food restaurants.
In 2014, he was referred to DARS’ field office on the Eastern Shore. Job placement staff worked with him over the next year, conducting mock interviews, developing his resume and helping him apply for jobs online. Anthony said, “They encouraged me to do things for myself.”
DARS partnered with VersAbility Resources, which was screening applicants for custodial jobs at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility through an AbilityOne federal contract. The federal contract requires that 75 percent of direct labor hours be performed by people with significant disabilities.
When VersAbility acquired the contract in 2014, it had 18 months to phase in 17 new employees with qualifying disabilities for the Wallops facility. DARS assisted with recruiting, screening and hiring job candidates as well as providing job coaches to ease new employees with disabilities into their new jobs.
Of 22 candidates put forward by DARS, VersAbility hired 11, including Anthony. He was offered a full-time custodial position with benefits at the NASA facility.
Anthony and his co-workers are responsible for cleaning 80 buildings, including high-visibility command buildings and large bays where they assemble rockets, said David Neary, assistant director of government contracts with VersAbility. “Anthony is one of our stars. He is a very good worker - dependable and self-sufficient,” Neary said.
“I love my job,” Anthony said. “I'm learning every day, doing different things. They are very patient with me.” He now lives on his own in a trailer he rents, obtained his driver's license and bought a car to drive to work.
Jesse sought DARS’ services in May 2012 after graduating from George Mason University with a degree in international studies. He was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome and other disabling conditions.
Jesse worked with Northern Virginia field office staff to obtain a minimum wage job as a food preparer with Gate Gourmet at Dulles Airport to have health benefits, but he aspired to work for the federal government, in particular the U.S. State Department.
Following a successful unpaid internship with the human resources division at the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the agency arranged for Jesse to be hired by a contractor for the same position.
The next year, the director of OSMRE’s Office for Equal Opportunity encouraged Jesse to apply for a position in that office. Jesse was hired under Schedule A and started at a GS-7 pay level as an equal employment opportunity assistant.
Jesse moved into his own apartment in the District of Columbia. Contemplating his journey, Jesse states, “Without opportunity, no amount of effort or personal virtue will suffice. I am here because many people have given me opportunities.”
Elvis Cheatham was referred to DARS’ Lynchburg office in May 2014 for job development services. In 1985, he received a certificate in drafting and computer-aided design from WWRC and worked 20 years as a CAD operator and electrical designer until he was laid off. “He was having a difficult time finding a job and needed to gain the confidence to continue to search for meaningful work,” said his vocational rehabilitation counselor.
Elvis worked with DARS’ business services staff to update his resume and hone his interviewing and networking skills. The Harrell Design Group in North Carolina reviewed Elvis’ application and contacted him about an electrical designer position. His counselors helped him debate the pros and cons of relocating to North Carolina. Elvis interviewed and was offered the job with a starting salary of $69,000 and full benefits starting in December 2014.
DARS’ rehabilitation engineers helped Elvis, who has physical disabilities, obtain an ergonomic chair and wrist pad for his office. Elvis reports that he is very happy in his new job and appreciative of the assistance he received from DARS.
Tevin O'Brien first entered Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center (now Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center) in 2011 for its 10-day Postsecondary Education Rehabilitation Transition program after graduating from McLean High School. He later attended the Life Skills Transition Program, followed by vocational training focused on grounds keeping and maintenance. Tevin's instructors demonstrated how to model supervisors and take initiative on a project, as well as the importance of punctuality.
"Woodrow prepared me for taking care of myself independently and time management, which has been a huge issue for me," Tevin said.
After graduating from WWRC in 2013, Tevin worked with Sheli Sotiropoulos, a job placement counselor in the DARS Fairfax office, and her intern, Tonya. "They were very helpful and took a lot of time with me, finding jobs that were best suited for me," Tevin said. They met weekly at a local workforce resource center to search and apply for potential jobs and went on several informational interviews with potential employers.
As Tevin lacked work experience and did not drive, his job choices were limited in the competitive Northern Virginia market. Sheli helped Tevin gain an unpaid work experience in groundskeeping at the Sully plantation, a historic site in the Chantilly area.
In the spring, Tonya helped Tevin apply for a seasonal, full-time job at the Reston Association, a planned community in Northern Virginia, with the trail maintenance crew. Tevin was hired in April 2014, making $12 an hour.
To help Tevin succeed at his new workplace, Sheli discussed Tevin's learning disabilities and his work-related strengths with the supervisor. They spoke about accommodations Tevin needed, such as extra time to learn tasks and learning through observation and hands-on practice. The staff was willing to work closely with him on tasks that challenged him and assigned him duties that were most compatible with his abilities.
Tevin's experience illustrates the valuable partnership that exists between WWRC and the Division of Rehabilitative Services in ensuring success for our consumers.
Daniel Altomonte, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and a learning disability, had good references from previous jobs servicing vehicles, painting and custodial and manufacturing work when he met with a job placement counselor in DARS' Fishersville office. Penni Wetherell began working with Daniel in June 2013, when he was working part time at a local grocery store.
He had taken some college courses and wanted to work for an employer who would provide him a stable, secure workplace.
The Hershey Co. launched its H.E.R.O.S. (Hershey Extends Real Opportunities to Succeed) initiative in 2012 at its Lancaster, Pa., manufacturing facility. Bolstered by the program's success in Pennsylvania, the company began recruiting candidates to replicate the effort at its Stuarts Draft plant.
Penni thought that Daniel would be a good fit. "When I approached Daniel about this opportunity, he immediately stated he felt this was the job he had been waiting for, for many years," she said. Prior to his interview with Hershey, Penni reviewed the company's policies, demands of the job and the possibility of mandatory overtime hours or swing shifts.
Daniel interviewed with Hershey in July 2013, but did not get a position. "We were told there may be more opportunities in the future, but no guarantees. Daniel chose not to give up hope and worked harder on his interviewing skills," Penni said.
Over the next months, as Daniel continued working at the grocery store, he worked with Penni on his interviewing skills in case Hershey called. Six months later, a position became available.
During the interview, Daniel explained why he was the perfect candidate for the job, focusing on his skill set, what he could offer the company and his flexibility in working overtime or swing shifts. He knew the history of the company and its H.E.R.O.S. program, and he thanked the company for employing those who otherwise might not be considered.
After the interview, the hiring manager said, "Wait here," and left the room for about 10 minutes, Daniel described. To his surprise, the hiring manager returned, saying, "We are prepared to give you the job now," and handed Daniel a written job offer.
Daniel now works 40 hours a week, making $16.62 per hour with full benefits. Career Support Systems, Inc., one of DARS partner Employment Service Organizations, provided job coach training services for Daniel for the first six months on the job. This was an important partnership in Daniel's success as the services provided him with moral support and encouragement.
"I like going there for the people," Daniel said. "My boss has been great. He said I'm one of the best workers he has had and that I'm part of the family now."
Mark Schomaker has long been recognized by DARS staff for his keen intelligence and fierce determination to accomplish his goals. Mix that with his friendly, engaging personality and DARS' vocational rehabilitation staff knew that Mark would succeed.
Mark is a control engineer for Delta Star in Lynchburg, a national manufacturer of power transformers. Working with customer specifications, he designs and develops drawings for transformer control systems using AutoCAD.
After suffering a spinal cord injury in his early teens, Mark started working with DARS. His rehabilitation counselor worked to ensure that his high school provided accommodations that allowed him to do everything from navigating the school's five floors to taking the SATs. He attended the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center Center (now Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center), where he took driver's education and earned his license, eventually purchasing a vehicle and retrofitting it with equipment recommended by WWRC.
Mark aspired to be an electrical engineer and his counselor laid out a blueprint of how DARS could assist with college preparation. St. Andrews Presbyterian College, in North Carolina, had an accessible campus but not an engineering program. He chose a "3-2" program in which he attended St. Andrews for three years and North Carolina State University for two years, allowing him to earn degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering. To provide support, his mother lived with him while he attended classes at NC State. DARS assisted with personal care costs during college.
After graduation, Mark found that the job market was difficult. DARS helped him to find internships and part-time jobs, but the challenge was finding a full-time job using his math and engineering skills. He gained experience teaching math and computer classes at Central Virginia Community College and interning at CommScope, an international network infrastructure provider, in its Wireless Innovations Group. In 2012, a DARS employee gave his resume to Delta Star. He interviewed with the company and was hired.
"Mark has been an excellent employee. He has brought knowledge to our company and made it more diverse," said Brenda Fairley, human resources manager for Delta Star. "Employees with disabilities add to the variety of viewpoints needed to be successful."
Mark in turn appreciates his employer's willingness to help him build a successful career.
"Delta Star has been good to me. They put in some features so I could work, like automatic door openers. They have a workspace for me with a computer and desk and plenty of room to maneuver."
Visit YouTube for Mark's video.
Valerie Jones, owner of All Ways There Home Care in Newport News, has hired three DARS clients to work at her home health care agency. However, her first experience with DARS was as a client, after an injury left her on worker's compensation.
Valerie worked as an RN for 38 years, focused on staff development and training. She also worked as a child development specialist in the local health department, assisting children with disabilities and behavioral issues, which led to her desire to help people with disabilities.
Then she became an independent contractor helping clients with disabilities and older Virginians navigate through the public health system to get needed services. She learned of the business opportunities it would open for her to work through home health care agencies and set out to open her own agency.
Valerie did much of her career preparation on her own and also benefitted from the mentoring she received from DARS employees.
"My counselor was there step-by-step . She was a good mentor, very helpful in giving her candid opinion without being critical. I felt very comfortable calling her for information any time," Valerie said.
Her rehabilitation counselor was instrumental in connecting her with Larry Roberts, coordinator for the Self Employment Enterprise program at DARS, to guide her through the process of starting a business. Larry provided her training and helped her access financial and training resources, write a business plan and create marketing materials, including a website, brochures and business cards.
DARS provided startup capital for her business and financial assistance to attend a five-day "boot camp" on how to manage a home health agency. She learned essential business lessons, such as how to market her business and work within government regulations.
Valerie opened All Ways There Home Care in 2011. She went on to hire a DARS client, Juanita Zguro, as an LPN with 25 years of experience to work with their clients. The two were honored as Champions of Disability Employment in 2013 by DARS.
Visit YouTube for Mark's video.
Justin was a senior at King William High School, weeks from graduation, when he was involved in a car accident that severed his spinal cord.
"My disability opened my eyes up to life a lot more and focusing on what I need to focus on," he said.
A rehabilitation counselor from DARS contacted him about what services the agency could offer him. He resisted, but then discovered the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center (now Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center) and contacted his counselor, saying, "I want to go there."
He received medical rehabilitation services at WWRC for six months and then returned to WWRC as a student for vocational training courses in drafting and AutoCAD. To fulfill his external training requirement, he contacted businesswoman, Susan Moore, who ran a roof consulting and repair business from her home and was willing to offer him a six-week internship as an AutoCAD operator. She provided the technology he needed for the job as well as made her home accessible with a wheelchair ramp, one which Justin designed at WWRC for the Center's carpentry class to build.
After graduation, Justin did not have a job. Susan had since joined a national firm, Roof Consulting Services Inc., in suburban Richmond. Soon after, the company offered Justin a temporary job as an AutoCAD operator that was expected to only last six weeks. Six years later, Justin continues to have great success working there.
DARS assessed Roof Consulting Services' office to make sure he had the needed accommodations. His needs were minimal as the building was fully accessible. Justin needed only a desk and track ball instead of a typical computer mouse.
DARS also modified Justin's vehicle and home, including adding special hand controls to drive, and for his home office, a universal remote, computer with AutoCAD software, countertop desk and accessible power outlets and light switches. DARS "definitely changed my life a lot as far as being more independent," he said.
Roof Consulting offered him flexibility in his work schedule to pursue his passion in custom-detailed vehicles and share with others with disabilities.
Visit YouTube for Mark's video.
Damon Anderson’s interest in physics and computer science had him reaching for the stars in pursuing postsecondary education and a related career.
When he is determined, he works hard and “doesn’t mess around,” he says. As Damon, who has muscular dystrophy, transitioned from high school to college, he worked with DARS to explore his options for higher education. After considering Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and University of Richmond, he decided to attend the University of Mary Washington. At UMW, he majored in computer science and physics and made the Dean’s List for two semesters.
The University of Mary Washington was very accommodating and responsive to his wheelchair accessibility and mobility needs, Damon says. The school refurbished the bathroom in his dorm and made sure entry into classrooms, elevators and other buildings were suitable.
Through the ACCESS program (Achieving Competence in Computing, Engineering, and Space Science) conducted by NASA in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Damon completed an internship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in August 2007 and received a Certificate of Achievement.
During the program he worked on an X-ray polarimeter, using the results to study the internal structure of astronomical objects such as black holes. Damon enhanced a simulator for the instrument, to be used with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.
After graduating in 2010 in a tough economy, Damon worked with a job coach through DARS and widened his job pursuit to include information technology jobs. “For many years, my counselor and DARS have been there for me as I’ve tried to become more independent,” Damon remarks.
His grandmother, a teacher, put him in contact with a computer specialist whose company, Manus Dei, provides IT work for many Catholic schools and churches. Damon interviewed and was hired as a technology specialist at Manus Dei, working on computer servers and developing web pages. He telecommutes from home, where he lives with his grandmother.
In September, Damon took the driver evaluation at Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center and was recommended for adaptive driver training. He says he is determined to obtain his driver’s license and buy an accessible van so he can pursue greater opportunities in his career and life.