Through its Employment Services program, Didlake connects individuals with disabilities who want to work with businesses that are hiring. With the support of Didlake’s employment specialists, more than 900 people with disabilities currently work in community jobs throughout the Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Md. and Hampton Roads, Va. metropolitan areas. The employment journey of one such individual – Trey – exemplifies how the program benefits individuals with disabilities as well as their new employers.
After Trey graduated high school in 2017, the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) referred him to a rehabilitation vocational training program in Southern Virginia. That didn’t work out for Trey, but he and his family did not give up. DARS then referred Trey to Didlake, where he was assigned to Employment Specialist III Mike Thornton.
Thornton worked with Trey in various settings in the community to assess his interests and abilities, as well as if he’d benefit from additional skills or supports. He also assessed if Trey would be able to stay on task with specific instructions and, therefore, be likely to achieve employment success. Trey successfully completed the test runs and Thornton assisted him with searching for possible job matches. Based on Trey’s interests and home location, Thornton suggested the Hampton Inn Manassas might be a good fit.
Thornton reached out to the manager of the hotel chain’s Gainesville, Va. location, where he had assisted others with finding employment. The manager connected Thornton with Jennifer Decker, General Manager of the Manassas hotel, and recommended Thornton and Didlake’s Employment Services program.
Soon thereafter, Trey started working for Hampton Inn Manassas, cleaning ice and drink machines, mopping hard floors, removing trash, dusting hallways and light fixtures, and vacuuming all hallways and the lobby. Always eager to learn new skills, he recently added towel folding to his list of duties and completed a special project in the summer, flipping all of the mattresses in the hotel.
According to Decker, “He is definitely a hard worker. He comes in, clocks in and gets the stuff he needs; then, he is off to the races. He sometimes works so hard that other staff have to remind him when it’s lunch time. He is friendly and he is really funny. He makes everyone laugh. He is always happy. He comes in with a smile. He has filled our needs. We had something that we were struggling to keep up with so it was a perfect fit.”
“He’s dependable – he’s always on time, works hard and has an exceptional attitude. He truly loves his job. He loves being at work. He’s happy and he likes the people. It makes for a very fantastic employee,” Thornton said.
Trey worked three days a week at first, but was temporarily laid off in the spring due to the pandemic. He started working again in June, one day a week at first and now, two. In time, Decker plans to increase his hours and responsibilities.
“What impresses me is he has this need to continue to learn new things. He asked us to teach him to fold towels and when he was flipping mattresses, he helped make the beds afterward. Every time we have something new, he gets very excited,” Decker said.
When Trey first started his job, Thornton joined him on-site regularly to help him fully integrate into the workplace culture. He taught him task strategies, such as a systematic way of vacuuming hallways, and job skills such as finding a new task after completing one. He also taught Hampton Inn managers strategies for training Trey. As Trey and Hampton Inn settled into the working relationship, Thornton gradually phased out his visits to monthly. He now provides Trey with Following-Along Support Services, as Didlake does for many of its clients, to help him maintain his job.
“Mike has been very communicative. Anytime I had a question or any time I wasn’t sure Trey understood something, I would send him an email and he always responded quickly. He always made sure Trey understood,” Decker said. “We met multiple times even before we got started to make sure it was a good fit and Mike continues to check in with us regularly. The process is easy and to have that constant communication back and forth to make sure it is working, is great. Other businesses should try this.”
Decker is so pleased with Trey’s performance that she featured him on the Hampton Inn Manassas Facebook page during National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) in October.
“They like Trey so much that Jennifer wanted to highlight him for NDEAM. It was completely her idea and she approached Trey and Didlake about the idea. She sees him as a total asset,” said Thornton.
It’s stories like Trey’s that keep Thornton coming back to work – for 15 years and counting. “I like making a difference in people’s lives. I get to see someone like Trey who is so happy to be working. His brother is so happy. They were deflated when he was told he couldn’t work. They are excited for him and proud that he is working.”
Thornton added, “It also enriches the lives of each person who is employing someone. I often meet people who aren’t used to working with people with disabilities or who are even resistant to it, but with our program and support, they are willing to try it. They are helping that person meet their dream to be a productive member of society. All of these people are playing a part. They call and thank me all the time. I can see the differences being made.”
By all accounts, Trey is excelling in and enjoying his job.
“I have a good time at work and I like to get paid so I can save up for clothes, food, shoes… I want to get a new coat and X-Box games,” said Trey. He added, “I like my co-workers,” then listed the names of all of his closest colleagues.
When he’s not working, Trey enjoys outdoor walks, family dinners, video games (football and basketball), movie nights and TV shows. He likes to spend time with his brother and sister-in-law, and their three older children.
“Didlake connects businesses with a valuable workforce – with employees who are capable and enthusiastic about the opportunity to work and who can provide them with the kind of performance that can help their businesses thrive,” said Erik Smith, Director of Employment Services. “When that is done well, you end up with a situation like Trey’s where the employer benefits, the employee benefits and everyone is on the same team. It’s not just impacting the business from the perspective of revenue and services, but it’s also clearly impacted their culture as a business.”