Friday, March 26, 2010

The Positive Cafe

Do you know about the Positive Vibe Cafe? If you do not, your taste buds are missing out! The menu features upscale, down home, healthy cooking that will please your palate and your pocketbook. Chefs from around Richmond contribute their time and talents to the restaurant. They fix everything from beef and buffalo to seafood and vegetarian dishes.

This restaurant is near and dear to my heart because of its mission: To provide training and meaningful employment in the food service industry to people with physical and intellectual disabilities. I spoke with its founder, Garth Larcen, last week at the Transition Forum. He said since 2004 more than 300 people (all with scholarships) have received hands-on training in all aspects of the restaurant business. The students also learn job-seeking skills. More than half of the employees volunteer their time to ensure that the restaurant achieves its goals.

If you live in the Richmond area, or when you are passing through, please stop in and see for yourself how fabulous this place is. Consider buying a copy of the recently published book that details the origins of why Garth founded Max's Positive Vibe Cafe.

In early May I will be taking my class to the restaurant to experience the food and the atmosphere. It is important that students with disabilities see people with disabilities active in the community. I want my students to have role models with disabilities. I want my students to dream big. By shooting for the moon, they might settle among the stars!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Project Search

One of the women I met at this year's Transition Forum is Erin Riehle. About 15 years ago, this pioneer heeded a 1995 statement adopted by the American College of Healthcare Executives that reads, in part, " executives must take the lead in their organizations to increase employment opportunities for qualified persons with disabilities and to advocate on behalf of their employment to other organizations in their communities." Thus began Project Search, a transition program for high school students with significant disabilities that totally immerses the students into the world of work. The first program began at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

In what Erin describes as an "Ah-ha" moment, she recognized that more than 50 percent of the revenue for her hospital's emergency department came from providing care for people with disabilities. Yet, no emergency department employee had a significant disability. She also began thinking about the fact that her hospital had a 40 percent turnover rate of its employees; many employees do not like repetitive-type work, which is what a lot of entry-level positions entail, or those newly hired use entry-level positions to gain a foothold into working for the hospital. She realized that with proper training, people with significant disabilities can do complex, systematic jobs.

Erin began the training program, a one-year internship program for students with significant disabilities who want to work. Once accepted into Project Search, the students no longer attend their high schools. Their schooling takes place at the business setting and the students become interns. The year provides the opportunity for them to complete three 12-week rotations within the business.

During the internships, the students learn employment skills, independent living skills, and the culture of the business. They spend the rest of their day performing their rotations and they meet at the end of the day for individual feedback. Many of the interns require accommodations, includng picture checklists, but they are expected to perform their duties and abide by all policies of the business just as any employee must.

The Project Search Model has proven to be so successful that industries outside the healthcare field are replicating the model, including Medtronics, a company that produces medical devices, and Raytheon, a company that manufactures rockets, and banks. The federal government has at least one program up and running in Washington, D.C., and three more will begin in the city this fall. You'll find Project Search in Australia and the United Kingdom, too.

Several health systems in Virginia have embraced Project Search. Sentara has one program in Hampton and will start a program in Williamsburg in the fall. The Virginia Commonwealth University Health Service has a program at St. Mary's, a Bons Secours hospital, and plans to open several more soon. The Carillon Hospital System in Roanoke also will start a program this fall.

I am lobbying to start Project Search at the Riverside Tappahannock Hospital. I would like to be the classroom teacher. I have an extensive work history in the healthcare industry, including working as the public relations associate at Virginia Beach General Hospital when it was part of Tidewater Healthcare Inc., before it aligned with the Sentara Health System. I have a strong business background, and I am passionate about helping students transition from high school to adulthood.

Erin says from conception to launching a Project Search site is a two-year process. Fortunately, our clock has started ticking. I have spoken with several colleagues in the Tappahannock area and all are on board. We just have to get THE key players to give the green light: the executives with the Riverside Health System and the local school small feat. I'm up to the challenge, and so is Erin. The target date is August 2012!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I'm Tyler

I truly enjoyed this year's Transition Forum. I attended two awesome sessions this morning as the conference drew to a close. A remarkable young man, Tyler, of Waterloo, Iowa, delivered the closing presentation. He encouraged us to look past a person's disability and help that person discover what he or she CAN do!

Tyler has been a busy young man. He has earned a yellow belt in karate, played percussion in his high school's marching band, performed in plays, and produced a DVD to promote ability awareness. The DVD helped him earn the rank of Eagle Scout. He currently attends his local community college and aspires to be an author, consultant, and motivational speaker. He's on his way.

Visit See for yourself that physical challenges do not have to be barriers to leading full lives. As Tyler says, what a person CAN do is far more important than what a person can't do.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

2010 Virginia Transition Forum

Day Two of the 2010 Virginia Transition Forum has come to a close. I feel so energized! I have networked with people I see only at this conference each year, and I have met young people who are accomplishing amazing academic and vocational milestones. These young people have a range of physical and intellectual disabilities, but their disabilities aren't preventing them from transitioning into meaningful post-secondary educational and vocational endeavors.

I talked with Adam, a freshman at my alma mater...Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk. He's a member of the Youth Leadership Forum and participates in the I'm Determined program. Adam, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, told me about the changes underway at the campus that will make getting around easier for people who use wheelchairs. He specifically mentioned the renovation of the science building, a building he described as old. It was new when I was a student there!

The students from Wise County, Amy, Heather, Mason, Coleman, Matthew, and others, operate a consignment shop and run a catering service. Their enterprise, Duds & Dough, will be included as a chapter in my upcoming book, The School-Based Business: A How-to Guide for Teachers of Students with Intellectual Disabilities. This is the third year the business has been up and running and the second year the students and their teachers have presented information at the Transition Forum. They are such an inspiration that six other schools in Virginia have opened stores based on their model!

One of the stores is in my backyard: Purple Pride, a post-graduate "classroom" for students at Essex High School in Tappahannock. I will feature them in the book, too. A few of my students and the paraprofessionals who work with me were among the store's first customers opening day. I had the privilege of shopping at the store that Saturday...the day of the grand opening.

Stay tuned for more information about the Transition Forum and the book!