Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rolling out the red carpet for our graduation

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Yoga is part of the fun at the Child Development Center!
Things took a turn for the extremely cute last Friday morning here at Catholic Charities.  Our Kennedy Institute’s Child Development Center held its annual graduation ceremony to send off the kids who are now ready to begin school.

The children perform a song for the crowd (and run by in a blur)
We had it all: camera-wielding parents bursting with pride, kids in yellow caps and gowns and a musician playing classic Pomp & Circumstance for the entrance of our honored graduates.

Okay, I’ll admit, it was a little chaotic with 4-year-olds running around in handmade costumes, exploring the room and somewhat participating in the performances they painstakingly rehearsed for weeks. But as our program manager Barbara Lankster put it, “The children wander because that’s what children do. We want them to feel comfortable in their environment.” 

The red carpet treatment!
The Child Development Center works with both typically-developing children and children who have delayed development, providing therapeutic and occupational therapy on a daily basis.

It is truly inspiring to watch the children learn from an early age to interact and accept one another without question.  With the help of loving staff specialists and a team of volunteers, we can see children who show early signs of a delay in cognitive development “catch up” to where they should be. The program runs nearly year-round, with a two-week break in August for staff professional development before the new school year begins.

So that brings us back to Friday’s celebration – our gym at the Kennedy School was transformed with vibrant balloons, rows of chairs filled with parents and friends and cute kids. Each age group took turns performing for the crowd, singing “The Wheels on the Bus” or doing choreographed dances to a remixed version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

“Thanks to all of you – parents, staff and volunteers – these children have had a great start in life,” said Mary O’Meara, the event’s keynote speaker and Executive Director of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office on Faith, Deafness and Disabilities. “These children have learned that they are loved.”

Need more of the Child Development Center? Check out our Facebook photo album to see some of the day-to-day fun

Monday, August 8, 2011

Finding her freedom in work

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Tanesha, right, chats with her job coach Steve Mathis at work.

Tanesha loves to work. It’s her passion. She loves focusing in on a problem and solving it. As a Courtesy Clerk at the Giant grocery store in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC, each day Tanesha is solving the problem that adults with developmental disabilities cannot work.

The 27-year-old, who was born with a developmental disability, has learned with the help of the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute how to turn challenges into moments of learning in the working world. Along the way, she’s become an expert in customer service.

Tanesha is often found in the front of the store, bagging groceries during peak hours and assisting customers. A recent mystery shopper sent by Giant to conduct secret quality assurance checks gave Tanesha a 100 percent pass rating. But one of her favorite parts of the job is shop backing.

Do you ever wonder what happens to that extra frozen pizza or can of beans you decide you don’t want in the checkout line? Tanesha is the one who makes sure all of those items get restocked by “shop backing.” Tanesha could fairly be described as a shop back expert.

She carefully ensures that all of the cold and fresh items, such as a fruit and veggies, are restocked quickly and tidies up the front end of the store when she isn’t called to help with bagging groceries. Her knowledge of the store is pretty complete and often her colleagues often ask her where to find certain items.

“I love to work. At this job, I like working with people and being able to move around the whole store,” she explains to me as we walk the milk aisle, putting back butter, a half gallon of milk and a block of cheese. She stops to neaten the coffee creamers. “You’re supposed to always greet the customers and see how you can help. It’s good.”

She has spent her life working to overcome the perception that someone with a developmental disability cannot work – and each day she brings that determination to her job. She never asks off and routinely calls the store to see if she can pick up an extra shift.

As part of our Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Supported Employment Program, Tanesha receives guidance and job searching support from her Job Development Manager Steve Mathis. They have worked together at Kennedy for four years. He helped her fill out the application at Giant and continues to visit her at work and support her with any challenges. For two years now, she’s been a model employee.

Tanesha recently took part in a hearing with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Her testimony, along with that of her boss, General Manager Jack Eaton, helped highlight the great work that Giant, along with many other local employers, is doing to give those with disability the chance to work.

“She’s grown by leaps and bounds since starting this job,” Mathis said. “I think the biggest improvement has been in her self-confidence. She’s really opened up and began to understand how much she can learn and do. It’s been incredible to watch.”

In the last five years, under the leadership of Eaton, the Giant store in Columbia Heights has hired five people from our Kennedy Supported Employment Program. If you are an employer looking to partner with us, contact the office nearest to you.