At SOAR365, it’s important to us that our Supported Employment participants with disabilities not only find work, but that they find the right job for them. Sometimes the journey is a winding one. When DeAngelo first came to Supported Employment, he had previous experience doing laundry — so a job cleaning bedding and other materials at the Richmond SPCA seemed like a natural fit.
But DeAngelo soon found himself ambivalent about the work, leading him to question whether employment was right for him at all. “He looked me dead in my eye and said, ‘Leo, I don’t want to do this.’ So, I said, ‘Ok! Let’s find something different,’” says his employment specialist (or “job coach”), Leo Castro. Luckily, Leo has a gift for helping others discover their own passions and motivations.
As part of SOAR365’s Supported Employment program, qualified individuals with disabilities from our Workforce Development program are matched with job coaches to find more advanced career training opportunities and competitive employment.
Our job coaches assist with everything from interview preparation and job applications to ongoing, on-site support, maintaining clear communication with both participants and employers. The goal is to increase participants’ autonomy at work over time, as well as find a position that’s a perfect fit for their preferences and skillset.
While DeAngelo’s father worked in the tech field, he hadn’t wanted to push DeAngelo too hard in that direction. But by doing detailed assessments and working with DeAngelo, who has autism, Leo realized that he had a genuine interest in computers.
Leo Castro, DeAngelo’s job coach, observes DeAngelo working at Tech for Troops.
Enter Tech for Troops. Their mission is to empower veterans in need (and their families) by providing affordable, refurbished computers, as well as access to technology education and IT training opportunities. Chris Martin, Director of Workforce Development, first reached out to Tech for Troops about a possible collaboration; Leo then worked to build a relationship with the Tech for Troops warehouse manager, bonding over both being Spanish speakers.
Leo hopes to create a pipeline for participants with disabilities, like DeAngelo, to learn how to disassemble, refurbish and recycle computers for veterans. D’Angelo is currently practicing disassembly, as well as sorting parts for recycling and disposal. “The hope is to get him to graduate to installing Windows and learning how to wipe hard drives. Those foundational skills that he might need if he wants to continue getting a competitive job in this field.”
“He’s loving it. He’s engaged; he’s focused. It’s something that has multiple steps, so it keeps him problem-solving all the time,” says Leo. “They even sent a desktop home with him so he can practice at home.”
Since beginning training with Tech for Troops, DeAngelo has improved his social and communication skills — learning to self-advocate, address challenges and navigate professional relationships. Leo also works hard to boost his confidence by taking him out in the community to practice social interactions, where Leo’s energetic, outgoing personality is a great asset in modeling and role-playing. DeAngelo has even started speaking more at home, where he and his father now share a common interest.
While he previously required reminders and coaching at his laundry job, DeAngelo is now able to work directly with the warehouse manager at Tech for Troops. “Because he has an interest in this particular field, he’s able to work more independently,” Leo explains. Often, the first step to successful employment is knowing what you don’t want to do, so you can find your way to doing what you love. With a little help from SOAR365 Supported Employment, that’s something DeAngelo knows very well.