Brandon started his employment journey with Didlake as a Project SEARCH program intern during the 2021-2022 school year at the UVA Prince William Medical Center in Manassas. He completed three internship rotations, in the hospital’s Materials Management, Patient Transport and Linens departments. With the support of his Didlake job coach, Employment Specialist III Theresa Polk, and Prince William County Schools Skills Instructor Heather Brown, he learned hard and soft skills to help him excel in the internship and future employment.
As graduation approached, Brandon began looking for opportunities to put his job skills to work. After 13 unsuccessful applications, his perseverance paid off. On June 7, Brandon presented about his skills and job interests during Didlake’s inaugural Business Advisory Council (BAC) meeting. The BAC is a group of local business and community professionals who strive to advance and increase employment options and opportunities for people with disabilities. Staff from the Hylton Performing Arts Center, a founding member of the BAC, invited Brandon to do a situational assessment at the theater. Situational assessments provide opportunities for individuals to learn about and try different jobs, assess interests and determine what types of jobs would be a good fit.
The day after the situational assessment, the Hylton Performing Arts Center offered Brandon a job as an Usher. When Polk told him the good news, “He jumped up and threw his arms around me and then around the instructor, Heather. He was pumping his fists in the air saying ‘I got the job, I got the job!’ People around the hospital stopped to cheer! It was a very touching moment,” said Polk.
“My job is perfect. I get to escort people to their seats. Sometimes I get to do ticket scanning and sometimes I get to watch the play or band. Later, I check the seats to see if anyone left any personal items like glasses or phones,” Brandon said. “I am able to take responsibility and adapt quickly. I may need help because of my disability, Autism. There are good people there that can help.”
Brandon works independently for the most part, with support as needed from Polk and his supervisor, Victoria Unterberger. “He has grown in learning new skills and adapting to a new work environment that he had not otherwise experienced. His soft skills are getting stronger, and he is beginning to learn his schedule and responsibilities as an usher,” Unterberger said.
Regarding working with Didlake’s Employment Services Program, Unterberger said, “It has allowed us to expand our hiring opportunities to a new community. This creates a more fulfilling work environment and learning experience for all ushers, supervisors, and coordinators involved. By working with the Employment Services Program, we are able to better enrich our employee environment with diversity and learning opportunities. I would highly encourage it as a course of action for hiring… Every Didlake job coach and employee is always willing to find new ways for their mentee to succeed.”
Brandon says having a job makes him “feel that I am now a grown-up.” When he’s not busy working, Brandon likes to relax and hang out with his dog and family.