JESSICA'S DISCOVERY
Jessica, 30, she/her

The employment team with Branches of Life got to know Jessica through visits at her house and out in the world. They spent time at the library looking at comic books, talked to her parents and neighbors about all the great things Jessica has done throughout her life, and tagged along during grocery shopping and a trip out to dinner to learn how Jessica solved problems with her support staff.

Jessica shared that she wasn’t fully happy in her new group home. Branches learned that, in addition to experiencing an intellectual disability and Autism, Jessica is hard of hearing and never learned sign language. She felt isolated and frustrated. However, Jessica was eager to share her love of reading and drawing manga, and was always excited at the prospect of helping with animals.

By the end of the Discovery period, Jessica and her support team had chosen 3 possible themes:

1. Libraries/bookstores
2. Pet-related work
3. Artistic work

CHARLES' DISCOVERY
Charles, 55, he/him

The Branches employment team met with Charles and his partner Maria both in their home and during outings to lunch and a baseball game. Charles was eager to swap stories and share interests, especially his love of space exploration and research. He told the team about his 5 years working in a call center as an operator -- in fact, that was where he and Maria met. After being laid off, Maria took on the breadwinner role while Charles stayed at home to raise their son with the help of their nurse, Pearl. Charles expressed that he wanted to “get back in the game” and work to help support the household. Even with his worry that the technology had changed too much, he was determined to try.

The employment team noted Charles’ unique needs (such as wheelchair accessibility) and strengths (such as his sociability and enthusiasm), and worked with Charles and Maria to choose three major work interests:

1. Call center
2. Reception/secretarial/greeter
3. Point of sale/ticket checker

NIC'S DISCOVERY
Nic, 22, they/them

The employment team first met Nic at their loving grandparents’ home, where Nic lives. Nic was a bit shy, but with their grandparents’ help, they explained their past work experience and hopes for the future. Nic had previously worked as a dishwasher, but the work was too hectic and chaotic, and the other employees never took the time to understand their pronouns or disability.

Nic expressed that they really wanted to work and be more independent, but felt scared that nothing would “fit” just right.

Employment services also tagged along to Nic’s day support, where the team met Nic’s friends and saw how much Nic enjoyed playing football, making crafts, and teaching everyone cool facts about insects.

By the end of the Discovery period, Nic and their support team had chosen three potential job development areas:

1. Working with kids
2. Garden/outdoor work
3. Cleaning

DIMONTE'S DISCOVERY
Dimonte, 32, he/him

Branches employment team met with Dimonte and his big brother Devon in their childhood home. Devon was eager to show the team his brother’s great skill with his hands -- Dimonte likes to sew and make origami and other miniature items.

Devon explained that he loved his brother, but as his only supporter (Dimonte had no day support, home staff, or other local family or friends), it was hard to balance personal life with providing for Dimonte. He explained that Dimonte had worked before, but struggled with customer-facing jobs. He wasn’t entirely sure if Dimonte even wanted to work, since he only spoke via body language and his communication device.

By the end of Discovery, the employment team learned that Dimonte did want to try work. He began to show more interest when ES came to visit, and expressed via his device that he “wanted to help” and make his brother proud. The employment team looked at types of environments rather than types of industries for Dimonte, suggesting that his ideal workplace might be:

1. Quiet
2. Familiar, with lots of routine
3. Based around organization/detail work

DIMONTE'S SITUATIONAL ASSESSMENT

Branches of Life employment services and Dimonte began to explore work environments with situational assessments. To keep Dimonte comfortable, the Branches employment team conducted assessments in quiet, familiar areas, usually with his brother tagging along.
His situational assessments included:

1. Raking leaves in his home's backyard. Dimonte seemed to feel relaxed, being in a familiar place, and handled the rake well. He was very careful to get all the leaves in the yard.

2. Sorting books at his local library. Dimonte enjoyed looking at the different books and finding different ways to sort them, but felt anxious when people would come to ask him questions to correct his work.

3. Re-shelving items at a sleepy paper-crafts store. Dimonte seemed very curious about all the different types of papers and other items. Sorting these items was easier than sorting the books - it was more obvious what to place where!

JESSICA'S SITUATIONAL ASSESSMENT

Branches of Life employment services and Jessica began to explore her job categories with situational assessments. Because Jessica likes animals, books, comics, art and has a strong skill in reading, she tried:

1. A one day volunteer opportunity at a local animal shelter, where she bathed, fed and walked dogs. Jessica really liked being with dogs and was able to to physically complete all of the tasks, even though she needed lots of help and directions.

2. A few hours at a retail store for pets, where she restocked items and cleaned some animal cages. She liked seeing the dogs when they would come into the store, but part of that job was cleaning out the snake cages, which she didn’t like very much. She was also asked a few times for help by others to find things in the store, and felt discouraged that she couldn’t hear them asking for help nor could they understand her response.

3. Volunteering at a local comic shop, where she organized items for an upcoming sale and hung advertisements. She got to try out the cash register and packed books for online shipments.

NIC'S SITUATIONAL ASSESSMENT

Branches of Life employment services and Nic began to explore their job categories with situational assessments. Nic tried their hand at:

1. Volunteering at the local botanical gardens by weeding and trimming plants. Nic loved being around the plants, animals, and insects and already knew how to do a lot of the work without help or explanation, but they found the hot, direct sun exhausting.

2. Joining a team of cleaners to tidy the stadium of a football field, including sweeping the stands, taking out the trash, and picking up stray trash on the field itself. Nic enjoyed the environment, but didn’t love the cleaning… they would have rather been sitting down watching a game. Besides, some of the rows of the stands were narrow and hard for Nic to navigate comfortably.

3. Helping as a teacher’s assistant in a summer camp for kids. Despite feeling some frustration with the quick, chaotic pace of the job, Nic liked working with the kids and showing them how to make crafts, even suggesting some of their own craft ideas to the teacher.

CHARLES' SITUATIONAL ASSESSMENT

With the help of Branches Employment Services, Charles experimented with a few different work environments to see which ones felt right. Charles volunteered his skills as:

1. A ticket-taker, back at the baseball stadium once again
2. A receptionist/greeter at a spa
3. A phone greeter/operator, at an animal shelter

Charles reported that he had a blast at all three, but lamented that taking tickets prevented him from watching the game. He seemed to really enjoy the work at the spa and the animal shelter, because he got to chat with the staff and customers. His phone skills came right back, and he answered calls with clarity and warmth.

CHARLES' JOB DEVELOPMENT

Employment Services and Charles set out on the job-hunting trail, casting a wide net to search for opportunities. With an updated resume and a renewed sense of confidence, Charles applied (and snagged a few interviews!) at:

- A credit card support line
- A tech support line in a big-box electronics store
- Several chain restaurants which needed greeters and/or hosts
- Membership-only retailers (as a greeter/card-checker)
- A travel agency

NIC'S JOB DEVELOPMENT

Nic was cautiously excited to move on to the Job Development phase. None of the assessments had been exactly perfect, but they were so much more fun than their previous job! With the employment team’s help, Nic prepared a resume (which now included all their new volunteer experiences!) and visited businesses in person to say hello and to follow up.

With Nic’s wide range of potential interests, there were plenty of opportunities. Nic applied to all of the assessment locations for paid positions, and additionally applied to:

- Some quiet, local restaurants with gentler staff and easier schedules
- A chain bookstore
- A library with a kids’ corner where Nic could organize books and read to the kids
- The butterfly house at the botanical gardens

Nic interviewed at the football field, the library, and the butterfly house. Nic was especially excited about the butterfly house, and (after seeing Nic’s passion and the employment team’s dedication), they were offered the job!

DIMONTE'S JOB DEVELOPMENT

Dimonte seemed to particularly enjoy the paper store -- Devon was impressed at how curious Dimonte had been in such an unfamiliar environment.

Employment services decided to propose a customized position. The store’s budget was tight, but with reassurance from the employment team, the owner and manager decided to give it a try.

Employment services and the store manager sat down to discuss a schedule: 2 hours per day, 3 days per week. Dimonte’s shifts could be scheduled during off-peak hours, in order to minimize interaction with unfamiliar people, and he could be given the same tasks each day. The employment team relayed the offer to Dimonte and Devon, who excitedly accepted.

JESSICA'S JOB DEVELOPMENT

The employment team helped Jessica fill out applications, follow up with those applications in person, complete and submit a resume, and have interviews and conversations about work. They cast a wide net to local businesses in the following industries:

Dog kennels/boarding
Doggie daycare
Pet Spas
Animal hospitals
Big box pet retailers
Specialty pet stores
Local comic stores
Local art supply stores
Local bookstores
Big box bookstores

JESSICA'S PLACEMENT & TRAINING

After a fast paced job hunt, Jessica was offered work at a local doggy day care! Her job included walking and feeding the animals during the morning / early afternoon rush. Jessica was thrilled to be spending time with pets and making her own money to buy supplies for her hobbies.

Jessica worked with an employment specialist to learn the responsibilities of her new job. It wasn’t easy at first, because Jessica struggled with people skills and had trouble communicating with her new co-workers. Sometimes she got frustrated with the animals and with her colleagues, too!

Jessica valued her work at the doggy daycare, and worked to learn new skills to express her concerns and her needs to others. Through the use of visual supports and some new ASL skills (taught by her employment specialist), Jessica's communication with her co-workers became easier. Jessica learned to ask for some cool-down time at work if she needed it, and her colleagues learned to be patient and communicate to Jessica in ways that she could understand.

CHARLES' PLACEMENT & TRAINING

Charles received job offers from the electronics store and two of the restaurants, and Charles chose the electronics store for its less-chaotic environment and higher pay. Charles was delighted: he could put his smooth customer service skills to use again, and best of all, it would be in an environment which was generally quiet and relaxed. He was excited to learn about the store’s products in order to assist customers.

During the initial stages, however, Charles and his employment specialist ran into a big barrier. Charles needed to use a desktop computer to research products and log customer complaints, and the keyboard was too far away for Charles to use properly.

Charles, his employment specialist, and the store manager put their heads together and came up with a solution: Charles would be allowed to use a tablet to navigate the system instead. By adding a detachable holding clamp onto Charles’ powerchair, the tablet could be positioned at the perfect distance from Charles’ fingertips.

NIC'S PLACEMENT & TRAINING

As Nic excitedly prepared to start work at the butterfly house, the employment team helped with the more cumbersome parts, like filling out paperwork and explaining pronouns to the other staff ahead of time. Nic had a lot of responsibilities to learn, but they were so happy watching the butterflies that nothing else seemed as hard.

As shifts went by, however, minor annoyances turned into bigger problems. Nic tired quickly in the hot, humid butterfly house, and wanted to be able to sit and rest. Talking was still hard and Nic had to do a lot of it, as they had to brief each set of guests on butterfly protocol. Nic often tripped over their words, which made them feel self-conscious and frustrated.

Together, Nic and the employment team worked out some solutions. Nic’s employment specialist started bringing along folding chairs which Nic could use to sit when there were no guests. Nic’s employment specialist and manager also helped Nic come up with a “script” for talking to visitors, which Nic could simply memorize and recite to new guests, rather than fumbling for new words. Nic still spoke slowly, but did not stutter nearly as much. This took some pressure away, and Nic felt relaxed and happy at work again.

DIMONTE'S PLACEMENT & TRAINING

During Dimonte’s first few shifts, both his employment specialist and Devon tagged along in order to make sure he felt safe. Dimonte was anxious, and sometimes needed to take several 5-10 minute breaks to relax, but his interest in all the cool supplies seemed to helped him overcome his fear.

The employment specialist introduced Dimonte’s new coworkers to him slowly, reminding them to be calm and distant until Dimonte was comfortable. Dimonte’s boss and his ES helped him practice using his communication device more often, which helped him feel more confident in voicing his thoughts and needs.

NIC'S LONG-TERM FOLLOW-ALONG

After just under 3 months of working at the butterfly house, Nic felt confident enough to move to long-term follow along. With the help of their team and employment specialist, Nic chose a workplace assistant to help with the little parts of the job that were still hard (like navigating the park, explaining to guests where to find the bathroom, and learning any new tasks that their manager assigned).

Nic reports that they still enjoy working with the butterflies, and are getting better every day at talking to guests. They have more and more mental “scripts” for different conversations, which make communication much easier. They have a new friend in a coworker who also loves football, and the two are planning on going to a game together soon.

DIMONTE'S LONG-TERM FOLLOW-ALONG

When the time came for hiring a workplace assistant, Dimonte’s employment specialist was careful to involve Dimonte and Devon in the process as much as possible. Dimonte clicked very well with Megan, a woman with a background in visual supports and communicating nonverbally. To be extra sure that Dimonte and Megan were comfortable and happy with each other, the employment specialist
continued to conduct frequent check-ins for an additional month.

Nowadays, Dimonte continues to be a man of few words -- but has the confidence to ‘speak up’ with his device if needed. He enjoys and has mastered his work, and Megan reports that he is showing interest in learning new tasks and becoming more friendly with the other staff. Best of all, he now earns his own money for hobbies and treats, and his relationship with his brother is more balanced and loving than ever before.

JESSICA'S LONG-TERM FOLLOW-ALONG

After two months of working at the doggy daycare, Jessica and her team agreed that she was comfortable enough within her job to move to long-term follow along. Jessica helped hire a personal workplace assistant to replace the daily help provided by her employment specialist, and she enjoyed helping train the assistant in how to best support her on the job.

Jessica reports that she is happy having more time out of the house, interacting with the pets and with other people. Her newly learned skills from work have begun to translate to her home life, where communication and bonding with her housemates is steadily getting easier. Jessica continues to visit the library, occasionally attending ASL classes with her support staff, and drawing manga in her spare time.

CHARLES' LONG-TERM FOLLOW-ALONG

After a few months of learning the computer system and store products, Charles had enough confidence in his work to transition to long-term follow along. By this time, Charles had already made a few good friends at work thanks to his sociable personality, and they helped him out whenever he had additional questions or concerns.

Nowadays, he continues to be a very popular employee at his store, even helping to teach some newer employees about products and services. He reports that he is pleased to finally be able to help support his wife (who, he proudly adds, now often calls his work to check in and say hello), and give her more time to relax at home.