|Employment Success: Corey's Story|
When All the Pieces Fit Together
Each morning Corey Buford greets students at Fred Page High School as they come into the cafeteria. The laughter and bustling of students grabbing their breakfast before they head to class is not foreign or distant to him. Corey, now 24 years-old, graduated from Page High School in 2010 at the age of 22 with a special education diploma. He has returned to his former high school in a new role: a school employee.
While still in school, Corey’s goal was to work in the food industry. When he graduated from high school in 2010 he seemed well on his way to reaching this goal as he was already receiving services from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). As part of his transition plan, Corey had been learning job skills at the local Tennessee Rehabilitation Center (TRC) with the goal of securing employment after he graduated.
In 2011, after 18 months at TRC, Corey and his Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) determined that he would be able to achieve his employment goal under the supported employment program. Under supported employment, a VR client, like Corey, can access supports such as a job coach, but first they have to complete a situational assessment. This assessment is a tool used to help a job placement vendor understand a client’s strengths and weaknesses and is useful in helping them find the best job fit for someone. A situational assessment is usually a series of mock jobs arranged by the assessor and must be completed in a setting that pertains to the client’s employment objectives.
The assessment came back with discouraging news for Corey. The job placement vendor, who completed this situational assessment, recommended that Corey work in a sheltered workshop, as he was not capable of working in a competitive employment setting. This determination disqualified Corey for continued VR services and his case was closed.
It was at this point in his employment search that I met Corey, who has an intellectual disability, and his mother Donna Buford. “I just want my son to have the opportunity to be successful,” stated Donna at our first meeting. “The first situational assessment did not show Corey’s ability to work because of the lack of relationship the assessor had with Corey and the tasks he was asked to perform,” she explained. The vendor assigned to Corey the first time did not complete the assessment in a food service environment and made inappropriate judgments based on limited contact with him. With this information, I worked with Corey and his mother to review his VR file, re-open his case and secure a new employment vendor to complete a new assessment that was better able to measure Corey’s skills and match him to a job that fit his interest. For Corey this has meant returning to Page High School.
Every morning Corey arrives at work and helps prepare breakfast and lunch for the students and teachers. He shakes hands with students as they come through the kitchen, chats with some briefly, all without missing a beat. “I was nervous about hiring Corey,” states Lisa Burke, Page High School cafeteria manager. “I was concerned that as a former student Corey would spend more time conversing with old teachers and classmates than doing his work.” Ms. Burke, as well as other employers, was concerned that she did not have the time to supervise Corey in a way that would make his employment beneficial to both the school and him.
This is where Marci Hess, Corey’s job placement provider from Job WISE, was instrumental in making the experience successful for Corey and the school. Ms. Hess arranged with Ms. Burke a two-week training period for Corey to learn his work tasks and develop accommodations that would help Corey adapt to his work environment. “I went through the kitchen tasks and made a list of things Corey could do,” explains Ms. Burke. “I gave this list to Corey’s job coach and she worked with him.” Ms. Hess developed a checklist for Corey that he wears around his neck each day to help him remember his work assignments. One of the most helpful accommodations is the doorstop that holds the refrigerator door open while Corey stocks the beverages each morning. “I would never have thought of that,” shared Ms. Burke.
Not only did Ms. Hess coach Corey, she also educated Corey’s co-workers on how best to support Corey. “I wanted to be sure that the staff allowed Corey to learn his tasks,” explains Ms. Hess. During that two-week training period, Ms. Hess joined Corey each day at work. Because of the success of the training period, Corey was hired as a paid employee. Ms. Hess has gradually removed herself as she has found Corey very capable of performing the essentials of his job without any assistance. “He knows what needs to be done when he is finished early and they have been adding new tasks slowly as he became more comfortable,” she finishes proudly.
Donna’s involvement is also limited, containing her involvement to dropping off and picking up Corey from work. On witnessing the success of her son, Donna beams. “It just bothers me to think of how many folks are out there that don't get the help that they need,” she says. “I knew that Corey could work and I’m glad he had a second chance to show that.”
At his job for about 4 months now, Corey is role model for all who are lucky enough to see him in action. He is very happy and proud of his job. In addition to his participation on the Special Olympics bowling team, he has his job to look forward to each day. The support of his mother, good high school transition services, advocacy help from DLAC, and the support services and job training provided by VR and Job WISE together equal success for Corey. This is the outcome when all of the pieces fit together.