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June 2017

Woodworking Program helps Adults with Developmental Disabilities

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An initiative that began with one person in a woodworking shed has grown into a vocational program for people with developmental disabilities.

Skidz Reimagined was created by Tony Mitchell, president of Residential Community Care in Lebanon. People in the program learn woodworking and carpentry skills as a stepping point toward finding a job in the community.

For example, Jay D. Farmer is an adult with cerebral palsy in the program.

“He has been attending the Skidz Reimagined program for a couple of months now and loves it. He is a hard worker, he takes pride in his work, and he likes building the furniture and seeing how he turns the lumber into useful items,” said Holly Boyd, Jay’s service coordinator with the Warren County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

The finished products are offered for sale to the public, including items such as deck chairs, butcher block kitchen islands, bookshelves, end tables, birdhouses and other home decor.

Skidz Reimagined, located at 560 W. Main St. in Lebanon, is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Mitchell tells more about the program and its impact.

Q: What is Skidz Reimagined?

A: Skidz Reimagined is a vocational habilitation program that is part of Residential Community Care and is centered around woodworking.

Skidz offers individuals with developmental disabilities a robust learning experience that is centered around building independence and success in work environments. For those individuals not able to maintain a job, we instruct the proper work skills necessary for employment and social skills necessary for working with co-workers, supervisors and those beyond the work environment.

Q: How did it begin?

A: Skidz started out in a small woodworking shed in April 2015 making small crafts for individuals in our day program. We started with one individual, and within about three months, we added a couple more individuals and needed to add on to the shed.

By September 2015 Skidz was working with an average of five individuals a day. We then moved into a 3,200-square-foot building on the property. Come June 2016, we outgrew that space and moved into a 13,000-square-foot building where we average working with 18 individuals each day. Some days we will have 25 individuals with special needs working.

Skidz Reimagined grew to a dynamic vocational program for adults with developmental disabilities.

Q: How does Skidz Reimagined help people with developmental disabilities?

A: At Skidz, our individuals learn in an environment that empowers them to be as independent as possible in the workforce. We use the woodworking as the resource to teach our individuals the proper social and communication skills needed to keep and maintain a job in the community. In addition, we work with them on learning and understanding why it’s important to appreciate the value of a good work ethic.

Q: What makes this program unique?

A: One big reason Skidz is unique is we pay each individual $8.10 (Ohio minimum wage) per hour when they’re working. For many individuals, they now feel like they are finally earning a decent paycheck. This has led to many of our individuals having pride in their work. Many of our individuals have begun to recognize that by focusing on their abilities instead of their disabilities, they are getting one step closer to being as independent as possible.

Another reason Skidz is unique is that our individuals have many opportunities to be a part of their community while working at Skidz. Whether it is going to pick up materials or going to customers’ homes or business to install a project, they get an opportunity to be a part of that experience. Very rarely do any of our staff leave the shop without taking at least one individual with them. This helps further their education on how to communicate with customers as well as suppliers.

Q: Why is it important to teach vocational skills to people with developmental disabilities?

A: As with any person, learning what your gifts or strengths are is very valuable in life. This provides a greater opportunity for you to not only be productive but also enjoy that process. Many individuals with special needs will not further their education past high school. More often than not, any non-disabled person that doesn’t want to further their education will learn a trade. While learning this trade is important, if they don’t learn how to communicate effectively with their co-worker or boss, they are hindering their chances of being successful in that trade.

At Skidz we use the woodworking as our “tool” to teach the individuals the importance of good communication and social skills, therby providing them with a greater opportunity to gain and maintain a job in the community. Plus, they really enjoy the end product they helped create.

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Four Skills You Can Transfer to a Healthcare Career

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Changing careers to healthcare, but think your previous experience is irrelevant? Think again. These four common skills are all transferable.

If you’re a newcomer to healthcare or are considering entering it, you may think your job history and experiences outside the field are irrelevant. You’re wrong. Many of your strengths and skills — whether they include customer-service expertise or the ability to multitask under pressure — are probably more relevant and transferable to healthcare than you realize. A healthcare professional and two recruiters offer a rundown on some valuable transferable skills as well as advice on how to showcase such attributes during your job search.

Common Transferable Skills and Strengths

  • Compassion and Empathy: Tony Rush, a nurse in the orthopedic trauma unit at a major medical center in Rochester, Minnesota, was in the seminary for several years after high school but ultimately decided not to enter the priesthood. He then worked as a counselor for troubled and refugee youth before entering nursing. Rush says his seminary training and counseling experiences sharpened some of the strengths — empathy and compassion for the poor and troubled, good listening skills, an understanding of different cultures, and a respect for teamwork — that make him a good nurse. “If I [had] gone into nursing right out of high school I wouldn’t be the RN I am now,” he says.


  • Strong Communication Skills: Speaking clearly and listening carefully are other transferable skills that are indispensable for people who hope to be at the bedside providing quality healthcare, says Gabriel Heckt, a vice president at healthcare recruiting firm Martin, Fletcher. Clinicians must communicate effectively not only with patients, but also with physicians, managers, colleagues and patients’ families. The ability to provide accurate and concise documentation is also very important in healthcare, Heckt notes. A new clinician’s communication skills could have been tested and improved in many nonhealthcare job situations, such as speaking up in meetings, writing stellar memos and understanding the verbal and nonverbal language of the 2-year-old child she nannied.


  • Customer-Service Know-How: Rush jokes that every nurse should have worked as a waitperson before entering nursing (although he never waited tables himself). Good servers must be organized and able to multitask, as must good nurses, Rush says. More importantly, good wait staff, like good front-line healthcare workers, must provide satisfactory customer service. “Hospitals are judged on patient satisfaction,” Heckt says, noting that outgoing hospital patients evaluate workers on whether they were “friendly/not friendly,” “helpful/not helpful” and other measures. Candidates for clinical positions often set themselves apart if they can demonstrate that they provided good customer service in a restaurant or “in an office when seven phones were ringing and you had to greet people,” Heckt says.


  • Grace Under Pressure: Healthcare organizations are usually overjoyed to employ people with military backgrounds. Veterans who have been on the front lines of a war or conflict have undoubtedly accumulated skills transferable to a fast-paced, high-stakes healthcare job. “Obviously time is of the essence, and they’ve had to quickly think on their feet,” says Douglas C. Ansary, Arizona regional director of recruiting for Banner Health’s Talent Acquisition Group. The consequences are far less dramatic in most jobs than in the life-or-death setting of the battlefield — or emergency department. However, people with experience working in other pressure-cooker settings where their adrenaline is regularly pumping — like the stock trading floor — probably have a leg up when it comes to managing the stress of a healthcare environment.

How to Showcase Your Transferable Skills

Once you’ve identified your transferable skills, you still need to impress potential employers with them. You’ll catch the eye (and prevent an employer’s online application system from weeding you out) if you use keywords on your resume that showcase your transferable skills and that match the keywords in the employer’s job posting (such as “effective listening skills”).

Then, expect open-ended behavioral questions in an interview, since healthcare employers today generally identify behaviors important to a specific job and then try to ascertain through interviewing where and how job candidates have applied those behaviors in other jobs or through past experiences. Take advantage of the opportunity to give thoughtful answers referencing the skills and strengths you gained through previous jobs, volunteer work and life experiences that will help you in your new line of work.

Healthcare hiring managers know that if job candidates have “demonstrated behaviors in the past they will do it again in the future, and their behaviors would be applicable from one industry to the other,” Ansary says. “It doesn’t matter where they’ve come from as long as they’ve shown the same aptitudes they’re going to use in healthcare.”

? At People’s Care we are always on the search for motivated, compassionate people ready to make a difference. To find out more about working with People’s Care, visit our careers page. ?

For People With Developmental Disabilities, Food Work Means More Self Reliance

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Every child wants to grow up to be independent — to leave their parents’ home, find work, build a life of their own.

But that seemingly simple step into adulthood can be a monumental challenge for children with developmental disabilities like autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, or any of a range of other such disabilities that affect about one in six American children, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of them remain dependent on their parents and families for support well into adulthood, or they end up living in a home under the care of professional caregivers. Only a fraction of adults with developmental disabilities end up finding steady employment.

But some people are finding work and a path to self-reliance by working in the food industry. Parts of this industry are particularly well-suited to many people with developmental disabilities, like Victoria Reedy of Schenectady, N.Y.

Reedy is 23 years old and lives with her parents and two sisters. When I met her in her parents’ home, she was dressed casually in a sweatshirt and wore sparkly nail polish. She’s of average height now – about five feet five inches – but growing up, she says, she was a very small child.

She has a condition called panhypopituitarism, which is a problem in her pituitary gland that causes it to not produce enough hormones, including growth hormone.

Vicky’s condition affected the development of her brain as well. She struggled with a range of learning problems while growing up, and school felt extremely hard. “I struggled at just about everything but art,” she says. “I had a really hard time reading, [a] hard time writing, and learning things in general.”

Her speech was affected, too. And she shied away from social interactions. As she grew up, she depended on her parents and a close friend for everything outside her home, from getting around to handling money.

Victoria Reedy, 23, has worked at Puzzles Bakery since the day it opened in 2015. It’s her first job as an adult and she says it has helped her grow and become more independent.

Rhitu Chatterjee/NPR

But today, Vicky is a very different person. She’s more confident and independent. She even takes the bus everywhere, all by herself. “I take the bus just about everywhere I have to go, unless I’m traveling with Mom or Dad or any of my friends,” she says.

That’s because a year and a half ago, Vicky got a job at a bakery in downtown Schenectady.

Puzzles Bakery & Cafe in downtown Schenectady is bright and spacious. The winter sun filters through the glass door and windows and fills the front of the café. On the day I visit, it’s packed with customers sitting down for lunch at the small white tables lined on either side.

Vicky is a senior café attendant here. She stands behind the counter, matching orders coming out of the kitchen, making sure the right order goes to the right tables.

Vicky also handles customers herself sometimes. She trains interns, organizes food and clean tables when necessary. Some of her favorite tasks, though, involve working behind the scenes, in the kitchen. She loves doing dishes, slicing meat and cheese on an electric food slicer. It’s mechanical, somewhat repetitive work that takes time, but Vicky says she finds it satisfying.

In the time that she has worked here, Vicky has even made new friends among her colleagues. Her colleagues say she has grown tremendously at the job. She’s now one of the few employees who have a key to the store, so she can open and close the café when necessary.

Sara Mae Pratt, 26, is Vicky’s boss and the owner of the cafe. She says she’s very proud of Vicky. “She’s come such a long way.”

As have many of her other employees, who have some sort of a developmental disability. Pratt opened Puzzles Bakery & Cafe in April 2015 with the goal to employ people with special needs, who otherwise struggle to find jobs. “There [are] not a lot of opportunities, certainly not in the way of employment,” Pratt says. Once they graduate from the school system, they often “kind of fall off a cliff,” she says.

And statistics back up her point. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of working-age people with disabilities who are employed is about one-third of the percentage of people without any disability. And some 50 percent of people who are employed struggle to complete their tasks due to their disabilities, according to the BLS. Many face compensation gaps and discrimination at their workplace, according to the Arc of the U.S.A, an advocacy group for the developmentally disabled.

The BLS also finds that those who are unemployed report many obstacles to finding employment, including the absence of sufficient and appropriate training.

Pratt knew a lot of this from her personal experience. Her 23-year-old sister, Emily, has autism. As her sister approached adulthood, she says, she and her parents worried what her sister would do once she graduated high school and no longer had any support from the state education system. “I certainly struggled with what my sister will be doing for the rest of her life. She has a very long life ahead of her.”

Her sister is too disabled to work – she recently moved out of their parents’ home and into a group home, where she could have round-the-clock help. But Pratt wanted to help those who could work, to find a sense of self-reliance and purpose in their lives.

Before deciding to open a café, she did a lot of research and found that working with food is a particularly good fit for many people with developmental disabilities. For one, “food is very forgiving,” she says. “If you mess up, [it’s] not a big deal. You can throw it away, try it again.”

And it’s no surprise that Vicky enjoys simple, repetitive tasks like doing dishes and slicing and arranging food, she says. “It can be quite therapeutic to kind of do the same thing day in and day out, and it’s something many people with developmental disabilities can actually excel at.”

There is another factor about this work that helps people like Vicky overcome their struggles with social interactions. “They actually get to take part in the creation of this food and bring it to the customer and see that smile on their face,” says Pratt. “They’re seeing this day in and day out. That’s the really wonderful thing about food, it really connects people.”

Madaline Hannon, 23, a café attendant at Puzzles takes a sandwich to a customer. Hannon has autism. Her parents say the job has helped her become more social and independent.

Rhitu Chatterjee/NPR

Similar bakeries and restaurants exist elsewhere in the country. Some, like Jack’s Bar & Grill in Arvada, Colo., employ people with special needs. Others, like Sunflower Bakery in Gaithersburg, Maryland, also train and then place such individuals at other businesses in the food service industry.

Today, more than 50 percent of Pratt’s employees have a developmental disability, she says. That includes 23-year-old Madaline Hannon, who has autism. She has limited vocabulary and according to her parents, she has always been painfully shy.

Now, though, Hannon works four days a week at Puzzles. She only works three hours a day and spends a lot of it serving customers, mostly during the lunch rush.

Dressed in a loose T-shirt, jeans and a baseball hat, Maddy stands behind the counter, keeping an eye on every plate of food that comes out of the kitchen through a little window on the wall behind the café’s counter. She matches the food on the plate with the orders flashing on a little screen above the window, then she calls out the order loudly to find the right customer. “Order for Mary Ann!” she says, holding a plate with a sandwich in her hands. When the customer raises her hand, Maddy walks over the plate of food to her, then wishes her a good day. She rarely makes eye contact, but she interacts with every customer as she serves them their plate of food.

And she tells me she enjoys the work. She’s been working here for about a year and a half, and she says she now has big dreams for her future.

“I wanna work at Disney World, in a bakery,” she says. “They have more gourmet stuff.”

Maddy still lives with her parents and unlike Vicky, she still depends on them to bring her to work and take her home at the end of her shift. So, I ask her if she’d be willing to leave her parents’ home and move out of Schenectady to pursue her dream. “Definitely, yes,” she says with a smile.

Her mother, Kathleen Hannon says, this job has transformed her daughter.

“[The] Maddy that walked in here the first day probably didn’t say hello to people who’d come in,” she says. “Today, she’s out there. I know she will talk to the customers. And we’ve seen a big difference at home. She’s happy!”

The job has given Maddy a sense of belonging, she says. “It’s her job. It’s her friends. It’s her responsibilities. And that’s important. We all want that. We all want to fit in. We all want to belong. We all want friends. And I think that’s helped a lot.”

She says her daughter recognizes that she’ll always need extra support, but the job has made her realize how much she can do on her own.

“She’s wandering further and further away from us,” says Kathy Hannon. “She’s looking for more independence.”

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