During the pandemic, how and where we serve our clients has changed considerably. Much of what we did in person has become virtual. Some of it is hybrid, with some services done in person and some done virtually. Despite the issues caused by these changes, and everything else that went with the pandemic, the people who come to us for help finding employment have had many successes.
Because of her health conditions, one person looking for employment could not pursue work that took her outside her home. After several stalled attempts to find appropriate work, she began working with Ron Taylor, an Employment Specialist with Easter Seals Greater Houston. With his help, she was found employment with Walgreen’s processing online prescription requests. She was able to gain help from her Texas Workforce Commission Counselor to find office furniture for her home, and from Easter Seals Houston in obtaining a suitable computer for the work she was doing. She has been working for Walgreen’s for a year and is well established as an employee with the company. She can now pay her own way in life without outside assistance and is looking forward to working with Walgreen’s for a long time.
Two persons who recently came to us for help finding employment had to suspend their job search for almost a year because of the pandemic. After a complete assessment of their skills and desires around setting a plan, they began their job search. After placing many applications at different businesses, they were both recently hired by Macy’s. They are both finishing their initial training in their stores, and will work with Robert Aranda, another Employment Specialist with Easter Seals Greater Houston, to learn their jobs and help them fit into culture in their new workplace. They are both looking forward to becoming more independent as they embark on their new careers.
Although the pandemic has forced major changes on all of us, the dream of employment for persons with disabilities is still alive and is being fulfilled every day, it may just look different. At Easter Seals we will continue to do everything we can to help our clients achieve those dreams.
While there are countless ways that my job is fulfilling, sometimes, there are stories that really take the cake. My job is to help youth gain the skills they need to become successful members of their communities. Success will, of course, look different for each of them as they plan their futures and set their own goals. If I have been successful at my own job, they will all have the confidence and support to pursue whatever “success” looks like to them.
I’ve learned over the last seven years that there is often a lot of potential hiding behind a seemingly quiet student. Norma Puente is my favorite example of this. When I first started working with her at Margaret Long Wisdom High School, she largely kept to herself but would always participate when it was asked of her. Her sweet demeanor and the kindness she always showed to her classmates (and her ability to avoid joining in when all the students around her started to get rowdy) lead me to invite her to our annual Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program Conference in Washington D.C. that summer. Never having been on a plane, she was equal parts excited and nervous, but ultimately so proud of being considered for the opportunity and representing Houston.
When we arrived in D.C., there were students from RAMP sites around the country and without a hint of nerves or trepidation, they all became fast friends. I’ve heard so many stories over the years from these students that making friends was hard for them, but at this conference, you’d absolutely never know it. There is an immediate sense of camaraderie and any walls that they had up fall with breakneck fervor. I’ve never left this annual conference without crying at least once. These kids are truly inspiring…and putting them all together in one room? It’s something to behold.
Part of being invited to the conference is that each student has to deliver a presentation about their future career goals or projects they’ve worked on at their respective RAMP sites that school year. Norma chose to present on Criminology which would soon be her college major. The previously reserved student lit up with apparent passion when she got to talk about her future. She would be the first member of her family to go to college. She would help people who needed her. She would make something of herself – and she couldn’t wait to do any of it.
Norma was then given the opportunity to join local students at the Teen and Police Service Academy; an important and amazing partnership between the Houston Police Department and the University of Houston Clear Lake designed for at-risk youth and police officer mentors. She said it made her feel like a leader and made her confident in speaking in front of groups all while giving her more insight into the future she was carefully preparing for herself. The next summer, I asked her to return to Washington D.C. with me. She was the leader of the pack; guiding all the students who attended and offering encouragement to nervous students giving their presentations for the first time. During a long silence where a student couldn’t bring himself to speak from fear, she stood up, told us all to cheer him on, and got us all clapping. After that, he gave a great presentation. And I really looked at Norma in awe.
She graduated high school in 2019 and has gotten right to work since then. She is working at Care Optical where she deals with prescriptions and sealing glasses and she is enrolled at Houston Community College in their Criminology Program – yep, the first one in her family to go to college. When she graduates, she plans to attend the police academy and go for her Bachelor’s degree in Criminology.
I keep in touch with Norma and when I recently asked her if she thinks RAMP helped her, she responded:
“RAMP helped me in so many ways. This program helped me get on track with my career path and to think ahead to the future. It helped me to grow and allowed me to come out of my bubble and interact with other people with no problem. It made me a leader and because of this program I can say I have grown as a person and am doing better. It made me want to keep up with my studies and to become someone.”
As school gets geared back up, you may be like many parents who are looking at the last few years of their teenager’s school years and asking themselves questions such as, “What happens next?” or “Are they prepared for adulthood?”. If you need guidance getting your teen ready to transition to adulthood, our website,www.TexasYouth2Adult.com, is a great place to start!
TexasYouth2Adult empowers parents by giving them the questions they did not know they needed to ask in lists organized by age and easy-to-search categories including Medical, Education, Social & Recreational, Legal & Advocacy, Financial Management, Independent Living, and Employment. So for example, for a task categorized as Medical, they know to start with their child’s physician when asking questions. Because TexasYouth2Adult is organized not only by categories, but also by lists created based on age ranges, parents are able to look ahead so that they can be prepared for discussing transition before the school waits to begin the discussion, which is often right before the student’s 14th birthday.
TexasYouth2Adult also contains a wealth of articles and apps related to transition needs. For example, maybe you or your adult child needs to notarize a document. Did you know there is an app that allows you to have certain documents notarized using the camera on your mobile device? Check out the BridgingApps review of Notarize to learn more. Maybe your young adult needs assistance reading certain materials for class or for their jobs? In this case, a text-to-speech app like Speechify could be a great tool for them to have on their smartphone or tablet.
To learn more about helping your loved one move from childhood to adulthood, visit www.TexasYouth2Adult.com and create a free account so that you can access the recommended tasks lists and all of the helpful articles. For more suggestions on recommended apps or to search for your own apps, visit www.BridgingApps.org.
Easter Seals Greater Houston, in partnership with Advance Auto Parts, the Easter Seals National office, and the James Emmett Company, has begun a project to recruit persons with disabilities for positions within Advance Auto Parts stores and the distribution center for the Houston region. Advance Auto Parts has a company-wide initiative to increase the number of employees who have disabilities throughout the company. Both full-time and part-time jobs, across all shifts, are available at three Advance Auto Parts stores in Houston and at their parts warehouse in north Houston. Houston is the fourth city in America where Advance has initiated this project. A similar project began in Dallas the same day as the Houston project. Advance has a goal of increasing the number of employees with disabilities in every state in which they have facilities.
Easter Seals staff have reached out to Texas Workforce Solutions (TWS) offices to include them in the partnership through their services for persons with disabilities. TWS can provide equipment an employee may need, job readiness, and job training and job coaching if an employee needs assistance on their job. We have also made information about this initiative available to the Easter Seals Veterans and THRIVE programs.
When a person with a disability wishes to apply for a job with Advance, they should go online to https://www.advanceautoparts.jobs/en-US/page/retail-careers to determine the job(s) for which they wish to apply and contact Robert Williams at RWilliams@eastersealshouston.org to make sure their information is given to the James Emmett Company, which will shepherd their application through the interview process. Persons who apply through this initiative will receive a job interview and extra points toward meeting the requirements for their chosen jobs.
2020 has been anything but usual for the adolescents and adultsEaster Seals Greater Houston serves and it has certainly been different for our staff. We have learned to provide services remotely and to help both job seekers and employers adapt to the changing circumstances in which people work and supervise the people who work in their companies.
In March, COVID-19 halted in-person services for high school students in our summer program which, after a two month hiatus, returned as remote services. Our staff, Robert Aranda, Ron Taylor, and Jacquie Privitera, had to figure out how to make lessons interesting and engaging for the students while meeting the requirements of the Texas Workforce Commission, the sponsors of the program. Our students and staff designed a commercial for a network consulting firm and then presented that commercial to a panel of judges from local corporations. All of this was done remotely, including a job performed, for pay, by one of our students for the networking company, Sepulveda Technology Consultants.
Job seekers, and the companies that employ them, have also had to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, a group of young men with autism, who were completing internships in the IT Department for Chevron, had to adjust to working from home. Despite the stereotype of persons with autism preferring solitude, these men had a difficult time adjusting to not being with their supervisors and coworkers. Their Employment Specialist, Robert Aranda, had to switch from providing face to face services to making contact only by telephone. After many sessions between Robert and the employees and supervisors, all four of the interns were offered permanent positions at Chevron. They still hold their positions and are successfully working remotely today.
For some workers, going to work in an office or warehouse is not possible because of medical issues or mental illness. Ron Taylor, one of our Employment Specialists, worked remotely for several months with a person with severe back pain, searching for the right opportunity. They found a position with Walgreens that let her work from home. Ron worked with our partners at Texas Workforce Solutions to procure a chair and desk that would support her back and let her work. As her personal computer was not suitable for her job, Ron arranged for a donated computer to be made available until she can purchase her own laptop. She is now working from home, processing orders for Walgreens and is on her way to having the funds to purchase her own computer.
Easter Seals Greater Houston provides Transition Services for youth ages 16-27 with autism and mental health conditions. Services include transition evaluation and planning, social skills training, family and community resources and goals which reflect the youth’s realizable aspirations in areas of education or work, peer supports, job placement, job coaching and supported employment. Learn more.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Easter Seals Greater Houston has adapted to social distancing and other measures to slow down the spread of the disease by providing as many services as possible remotely for the people who come to us for help. Our staff in Transition and Employment Services have successfully provided all services virtually thanks to our partnership with Texas Workforce Solutions. 2020 marks one-hundred years since the federal vocational rehabilitation program was established. In normal times all job placement services, in fact all services, are carried out face-to-face with the job seeker in accordance federal regulations. This became impossible with schools, businesses, and state offices closed in March. TWS staff immediately set about the task of assuring that persons with disabilities continued to receive high-quality services from agencies like Easter Seals. This included completely changing rules and procedures to allow for remote services and relaxing other rules to make it easier for agencies to be paid and making our work with young adults and veterans possible.
Through the entirety of #StayAtHome, we have received immeasurable support from individual TWS Counselors who are themselves adapting to new conditions by working from home with limited access to their offices. Without their help, we would not have been able to maintain contact with our clients and they would not have received the assistance they need. TWS support staff, also working from home, have kept the TWS system working which means we have the information and resources we need to help our mutual clients. This partnership has resulted in Easter Seals job placement staff helping over a dozen persons either gain employment or keep the job they have. Moving forward, we know that this shared experience between TWS and Easter Seals will mean better services for our clients, leading to a better quality of life for them and their families. Which is, after all, our mission at Easter Seals Greater Houston.
We celebrate successes large and small and want to congratulate four young adults with disabilities in particular. Beginning on March 3rd, four young men with Autism Spectrum Disorder began working at Chevron in an internship program that would, if they performed well, lead to full-time employment in Chevron’s IT Department. Chris, Luke, Shaye, and Steele were chosen from a pool of candidates that were screened and referred to Chevron by Potentia. At Chevron, they are assisted and coached by Robert Aranda, Easter Seals Greater Houston Employment Specialist. Robert also helped the interns establish eligibility for services from Texas Workforce Solutions. Chevron staff from within each intern’s section act as mentors and buddies to help them become a part of Chevron’s social family. During the course of the internships, Chevron, like many other businesses, began having their employees work from home in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This proved to be quite a challenge for most of the interns. Robert worked with them remotely to overcome their anxiety at their changed situation and develop routines that allowed them to complete their training and work assignments. Given that these circumstances are new for everyone, Robert had to come up with new ways to communicate and solve problems without being able to see the interns at their jobs. Robert became part guide – part cheerleader as would any coach. All of the interns worked very hard to overcome the difficulties working at home caused. All four successfully overcame all obstacles and, in the last few days, were given the opportunity to become a full-time part of Chevron’s workforce. They will make the transition from intern to employee during the second half of May. Robert will continue to help the new employees face their continuing challenges as they begin their careers as IT professionals at Chevron.
Oh, the mixed feelings. The proud “mama bear” feeling. The ecstatic “look at them go!” feeling. The sad “they’re leaving” feeling. All of ‘em. I’ve got all of ‘em.
For the past six years, I’ve been working with at risk youth with disabilities in the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program at Easter Seals Greater Houston. The goal is to prepare them for life after high school while also making sure they feel the support and heed the guidance that aims to keep them out of the juvenile justice system and aiming instead at college and work. As you might imagine – working with teenagers is equal parts fun and *enter face-palm emoji here*. While we work on resume building, interviewing skills, and career exploration, they are also testing, and subsequently, pushing boundaries every chance they get. I’ve learned to navigate the energetic mischievousness and get as much done as possible, while still begging a handful of class clowns to “sit down”, “fill this out please”, and “please stop throwing erasers at his head”. I can’t complain too much, though. Most of the time I’m laughing as I say it because they truly are some of the funniest kids I have ever met.
For the last three years, I have had the same group of students at KIPP Northeast College Prep. Since day one, when they were all feeling me out and seeing if they actually liked me at all, they still made me laugh. There’s the one who can do any sound effect in the book and always has videos of his plays in the past weekend’s football game to show me, the one who prefers to walk around barefoot, the one whose smile is actually legitimately contagious. They all walk up and hug me when I walk into their classroom each week – and not superficial hugs, either. I mean big, crack-your-back bear hugs. The fact is, though, it’s time for some of them to move on; my five seniors. I’ve prepped them for this since their sophomore year, but it crept up on me a lot faster than I would have liked.
Today in class, all five of them told me that they had been accepted to several colleges. This big, scary transition from high school was starting out pretty wonderfully and they were excited to share the news. Again, those mixed feelings. I am so proud of them and I’m so sad to watch them go. When I started at Easter Seals, I knew this program would probably be pretty life changing but I honest to God didn’t expect it to have such an effect on me, too.
I’m so lucky to be a part of something so amazing and to get to spend my time with such talented, kind, intelligent young people. Watching them figure out their goals, work toward them, and achieve them is really incredible. My heart is full.
I still have a few months to prepare myself in an attempt to hold in tears as they walk across the stage at graduation. But that’s nothing a big bear hug can’t fix. Congratulations to the soon to be high school graduates of the class of 2020! Watching you on your journey to college has been a blessing. Don’t forget to visit. I’ll have candy.
Abner Medrano was referred to Commissioner Adrian Garcia’s 2019 Summer Internship Program in June. Abner interviewed with Ms. Yhari Jones, the Coordinator for the internship program, and other staff from Commissioner Garcia’s office. Abner and nine other interns were chosen for the program. They visited a Commissioner’s Court session and met all of the County Commissioners and the County Judge.
He completed the onboarding process and began working in the Human Resources Department on Wallisville Road on June 25th. Abner has a Certificate in Office Administration from Houston Community College and was placed in a job processing mileage checks, filing copies of documents in staff personnel files, updating personnel spread sheets, and checking and verifying online materials that were then added to staff files. Abner’s work schedule was 8:30am to 4:00pm, Monday to Friday.
With the end of the internship in mid-August, Abner now has an addition to his resume and several nice letters of reference from his supervisor and co-workers. Thank you to Commissioner Garcia and his staff for making this opportunity available to Abner and the other interns. This great annual program offers young persons the chance to experience real paid work and to add something to their resume that will make a difference in their future job search.
Abner and our Transition Program staff have complete a number of online applications, which have resulted in six face to face interviews. While none of the interviews have resulted in permanent employment, Abner has worked with the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Security Division for the past two years. This new opportunity to work and gain further hands on experience with the Summer Internship for Harris County Precinct 2 was a great opportunity to demonstrate Abner’s office skills. This will be added to his resume for further enhancement.
Easter Seals Greater Houston provides transition services for youth ages 16-27 with autism and mental health conditions. Services include transition evaluation and planning, social skills training, family and community resources and goals which reflect the youth’s realizable aspirations in areas of education or work, peer supports, job placement, job coaching and supported employment. Learn more.
Jason has been working at the Dollar Tree store on North Fry Road for the past year and a half. At Dollar Tree, Jason works as a Stocker. He stocks the snack chips, soft drinks and paper items like paper towels, napkins and facial tissue. Jason also helps out with keeping the store clean as he cleans the shelves and the perishable items coolers and empties trash.
Recently, Jason started volunteering at Katy Christian Ministries in the food pantry. Jason says he loves to work and likes helping others.
When not at work, Jason loves to watch movies and go the church with his family.
Ron Taylor his Transition Specialist at ESGH says Jason is amazing to work with, ready to learn, on time and happy to be where he is appreciated. Ron says he looks forward to his coaching days with Jason and that it reminds him of why he loves what he does for young adults with disabilities who want to enter the employment sector.
Getting their first job is one of the biggest steps young persons make in their journey to adulthood. Recently, four young persons with disabilities made this step with the assistance of the Transition and Employment program at Easter Seals Greater Houston. Jason, Christopher, George, and Helmer came to Easter Seals Greater Houston by different paths, but they were all looking for the same thing, help with that big step toward employment and independence.
Their paths to employment were different; George found a job two days after our Transition Program staff met him, the others took several weeks to several months to find the right fit in a job. Along the way they all found out what they are capable of doing and how hard they are willing to work to be successful. Their employers – Kroger, What-a-Burger, Dollar Tree and Food Town all report that they are very happy with their new employees. George even has customers asking for him when they shop at his store. Helmer’s employer is asking us if we have more people like him for them to hire.
All of us have had our first job. Some of those jobs we remember fondly, others not so fondly. But, we all learned valuable lessons that we carried with us to our next jobs. These four are learning those lessons now and will use that knowledge to continue to grow as they move forward in their careers.