FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 10, 2020
For more information, contact:
Erika Spalding, Didlake Inc.
Didlake Makes a Splash at Manassas Waterpark
Manassas, Va. (February 10, 2020) – Every summer, thousands of area residents flock to pools, beaches and waterparks as a way to beat the heat in the nation’s capital. One of best-known local spots to seek relief is Splashdown Waterpark in Manassas. A Washingtonian best pick, the magazine describes Splashdown as a place where “kids can zip down four-story-high water slides, float on a lazy river, step across a pool on logs and lily pads, and play volleyball at a sand beach.”
With 13 acres of water features, SplashDown is not just among the region’s best, but is also one of Northern Virginia’s largest water parks, employing 365 employees, 180 of which work in aquatics – serving as lifeguards, lifeguard assistants and in various other jobs across the facility.
Last summer, about 25 employees were Didlake clients – young people with disabilities who work at the park as part of Didlake’s Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) Program. Offered by the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), Pre-ETS helps identify supportive on-the-job learning environments for kids as young as 14 who may one day enter the workforce. Didlake is an approved provider of Pre-ETS services through DARS
“The Pre-ETS program brings the Schools, DARS and Didlake’s ongoing work to support transition age students with disabilities into sharp focus,” says Erik Smith, Didlake Director of Employment Services. “Pre-ETS opportunities leverage dedicated resources and a higher level of collaboration to ensure that students have an opportunity to understand, explore and experience what it will take to be successful in the workforce – the initial Pre-ETS outcomes, like Splashdown, speak volumes about the program’s potential to enrich students with disabilities lives.”
Splashdown started hiring Didlake clients as part of a Pre-ETS pilot program in 2016, starting with six positions. Since then, say park managers, the impact has been positive not only for these employees, but for guests and other workers at the park as well.
“Splashdown is amazing; they are so invested in the kids and the program that some of the staff have almost turned into job coaches themselves,” says Didlake Program Manager Stacy Chapman, referring to the role played by Didlake coaches who provide support to students throughout the process. “The park also has a lot of natural supports because the existing staff is used to working with young kids.”
During the summer, Splashdown employees may rotate through the park’s three divisions. In aquatics, they help kids on the water slides or clean life jackets. In guest services, they provide directions or supervise lines. And in the facilities division, they may clean snack tables and perform other custodial services.
“It’s created a different environment for other people who work there,” says Chapman. “Our clients come here and get real job experience and no one really sees them as different, as opposed to school where they might be separated into different classrooms. Here, they’re just part of the team. They want to be here, they want to pick up the hours and they take pride in a job well done.”
As part of Didlake’s partnership with DARS, students participating in Pre-ETS receive job exploration counseling, education and training counseling, and workplace readiness training, and guidance for self-advocacy – in addition to their work-based learning experience at SplashDown. Pre-ETS marks the beginning of a continuum of services that DARS offers to students with disabilities, starting in middle school.
“Our partnership with Didlake has had enormous benefits for our guests and staff,” says Chris Kelly, Manager of SplashDown Waterpark. “And you can see how the students grow and learn dramatically during their employment with SplashDown. It’s a rewarding experience for us and an important part of our mission to create workplaces in parks and recreation that are fun and inclusive.”
At SplashDown and other Didlake employment sites, students learn to meet employer expectations and achieve professionalism by doing things like arriving on time and in uniform. Along with earning a paycheck, they learn to develop good relationships with co-workers and learn how to ask questions – an important part of self-advocacy – when they need help. The SplashDown program has been so successful, Didlake wants to find similar settings for Pre-ETS students in the future.
“Prince William Parks and Recreation is a model employer for creating an inclusive community,” says Didlake Vice President of Corporate Communications & Marketing, Erika Spalding. “From accessibility accommodations to inclusive hiring practices, Splashdown and Prince William Parks and Recreation are leading the way in successful employment outcomes for people with disabilities in our community.”
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Didlake is a not-for-profit corporation headquartered in Manassas, Virginia. It was founded in 1965 to create opportunities for people with disabilities through services that connect them to employment, education and the community. It provides contract business services for commercial and government customers, employing over 1,200 people, and has won numerous awards for its facilities maintenance, packaging and assembly, and administrative services. The organization operates throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., serving more than 2,000 people with disabilities annually. Didlake is licensed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, accredited by CARF, is CIMS-GB-certified, and proudly serves the nation through the AbilityOne® program. For more information, visitwww.didlake.org.