AbilityFirst Supports Clients Working on Front Lines

Rafael Vera just began his new job at Smart & Final when measures to curb the spread of coronavirus hit. Since then, with support from AbilityFirst, he’s been working hard to keep the store stocked.

In recent weeks, grocery store employees have been working harder than ever to accommodate the increased demand triggered by “Safer at Home” policies to slow the spread of coronavirus.
One such employee, Rafael Vera, is a client with AbilityFirst who began his new job at Smart & Final the week the pandemic broke in California and local officials announced measures to encourage residents to stay at home.
Vera, 30, said he is proud to be working on the front lines as a sales clerk and happy to be helping the public during this trying time.
“We’re super busy, it’s hard to determine when exactly it will get very, very busy, but it’s always hectic on the weekends,” said Vera, who’s grown accustomed to wearing a mask and a double layer of gloves to work at the front-end of the store, restocking items and cleaning carts and door handles.
“I try to give people a good experience and brighten up their day; I really enjoy helping people out in general,” he said.
Vera, a Pasadena High School graduate, first came to his job at Smart & Final through the AbilityFirst supported employment program, which gives guidance in building a resume and filling out applications, as well as job training and valuable life skills like time management.
From the beginning, program officials were able to determine that Vera had the ability to work and a natural interest in connecting with others. However, he didn’t quite know how to start the process of getting a job, and he would feel anxious anytime he needed to ask questions. Before he could begin applying to jobs, he needed to get comfortable with the application process.
Since Vera enjoys being around people, his job developer at AbilityFirst helped him look for job openings that involve interacting with the public. He also worked on tools to increase his prospects, like studying math so that he would be able to use a cash register.
AbilityFirst CEO Lori Gangemi said part of the secret success of its job placement is that the nonprofit takes a very individualized approach to all its programs, including supported employment.
AbilityFirst, an organization that advocates for and alongside people with developmental disabilities and their families, has helped more than 500 people with disabilities find employment over the years and has supported even more in successfully maintaining their jobs.
“Our staff work closely with clients to determine their strengths as well as their desires and matches those with positions available with prospective employers,” she said, adding that they identify jobs through traditional methods as well as with the help of board members and other supporters. “Our clients are good, reliable workers because their skills and desires have been matched well with the job and because of the strong support they receive on the job from AbilityFirst job coaches.”
For Vera, even though he knew what kind of job he would like, he needed to train for the interview process by doing mock interviews to gain confidence in answering and asking questions. That also helped him create a daily check list, including dressing properly and making eye contact.
Taking a rest from his busy schedule in the break room recently, Vera said how much he appreciates AbilityFirst helping him find this job.
“I came to AbilityFirst through the regional center — it’s a great organization and was key in helping me apply to this job,” he said.
Vera also has an AbilityFirst job coach, Alisa Marin, who stops by during the week to see how he is progressing and make sure there is clear communication with his managers on expectations and performance.
“Rafael has been handling his new job and these unusual circumstances very well; he was supposed to only work part time but due to the situation they asked him to come on full time, so it’s a lot,” she said. “There’s a lot to be done, so he’s working hard. He tries to make each customer feel good.”
Meanwhile, Vera said even though working at a grocer is a lot of work during a pandemic, he enjoys using the money to help provide his family with some extra “hazard pay.”
He’s also learned about interacting well with others, even though for a while he had to help enact some rationing measures so people wouldn’t hoard at the store.
“I’ve seen my fair share of panic buying … the first two weeks it became really chaotic and we had to implement rations and tell people ‘Only one pasta, one carton of eggs, one milk’; people didn’t like it but you had to roll with the punches like that,” he said, adding that he also likes the fast pace he’s grown accustomed to at the store lately. “I enjoy my coworkers and my manager, it’s a really good store and a good company. I’m excited to continue to work here once this is all over too.”

AbilityFirst Supports Clients Working on Front Lines

Photo courtesy AbilityFirst
Rafael Vera just began his new job at Smart & Final when measures to curb the spread of coronavirus hit. Since then, with support from AbilityFirst, he’s been working hard to keep the store stocked.

In recent weeks, grocery store employees have been working harder than ever to accommodate the increased demand triggered by “Safer at Home” policies to slow the spread of coronavirus.
One such employee, Rafael Vera, is a client with AbilityFirst who began his new job at Smart & Final the week the pandemic broke in California and local officials announced measures to encourage residents to stay at home.
Vera, 30, said he is proud to be working on the front lines as a sales clerk and happy to be helping the public during this trying time.
“We’re super busy, it’s hard to determine when exactly it will get very, very busy, but it’s always hectic on the weekends,” said Vera, who’s grown accustomed to wearing a mask and a double layer of gloves to work at the front-end of the store, restocking items and cleaning carts and door handles.
“I try to give people a good experience and brighten up their day; I really enjoy helping people out in general,” he said.
Vera, a Pasadena High School graduate, first came to his job at Smart & Final through the AbilityFirst supported employment program, which gives guidance in building a resume and filling out applications, as well as job training and valuable life skills like time management.
Continue reading “AbilityFirst Supports Clients Working on Front Lines”

AbilityFirst Helps Kids Ring in Summer Fun

graduate Billy Jones, program supervisor Lisa Duenas and participant Alec Hamilton
OUTLOOK photo
AbilityFirst after-school/summer day program graduate Billy Jones, program supervisor Lisa Duenas and participant Alec Hamilton plan to have a lot of fun this summer during dance rehearsals, basketball games and field trips.

When Billy Jones first came to the AbilityFirst after-school program at age 7, he was already in intensive therapies for some learning difficulties and trouble communicating. Sometimes, he would give in to his version of the fight-or-flight instinct and just take off, or go AWOL, as he calls it.
But at AbilityFirst, Jones tried to run away only once. They told him if he wanted to stay, he had to follow the rules. And as it turns out, he did.
“That’s how much he loved and bought into the program,” said his mother, Stephanie Jones. “For him to turn on a dime like that — running was his impulse for everything that upset him. … I always wondered, what is AbilityFirst doing for him that no place else is?” Continue reading “AbilityFirst Helps Kids Ring in Summer Fun”

AbilityFirst Helps Make Employment Dreams Work

Photo courtesy AbilityFirst Long-time AbilityFirst board member Mark Fedde and his son, Taylor, participate in a “Stroll & Roll” fundraiser for the nonprofit.
Photo courtesy AbilityFirst
Long-time AbilityFirst board member Mark Fedde and his son, Taylor, participate in a “Stroll & Roll” fundraiser for the nonprofit.

Like any young adult, 27-year-old Jessica
Marrero is steering her own course, working toward becoming a chef and someday earning enough money to afford her own apartment.
The clear-eyed, upbeat Marrero, a determined woman who has Down syndrome, takes her own transportation to work at HOPE Cafe and Catering. She arrives early, promptly changes into her work clothes, keeps a clean work station and smiles broadly at co-workers as she does food preparation. Continue reading “AbilityFirst Helps Make Employment Dreams Work”

HOPE Cafe Thrives on Serving Food With a Mission

Photo courtesy Tony Lancaster HOPE Cafe and Catering owner Tony Lancaster and his wife, Ann, donate 10% of their sales back to local nonprofits such as Door of Hope that work to help families experiencing homelessness.
Photo courtesy Tony Lancaster
HOPE Cafe and Catering owner Tony Lancaster and his wife, Ann, donate 10% of their sales back to local nonprofits such as Door of Hope that work to help families experiencing homelessness.

Some stories tell themselves, and that of HOPE Cafe and Catering owner Tony Lancaster might just be one of those, including chapters that could be titled Rehab, Rebirth and Redemption. Continue reading “HOPE Cafe Thrives on Serving Food With a Mission”

AbilityFirst Stroll & Roll To Be Held on April 8

Created as a day to bring awareness and funding for AbilityFirst programs for children and adults with disabilities, this year’s Stroll & Roll will highlight the various programs that help individuals achieve his or her personal best.
The organization’s signature fundraiser will be held on Sunday, April 8, at the Los Angeles State Historic Park. The park is at 1245 N. Spring St. between Broadway and Spring Street. Check-in begins at 8 a.m., breakfast and group photos 8:30 a.m., welcome ceremony at 9 a.m. and step-off at 9:30 a.m.
Presented by Comerica Bank, Nextera Energy and Subaru of Glendale, Stroll & Roll will feature a new venue with new interactive experiences along the 5K route, including a Los Angeles Chargers sponsored football throwing contest, a fully accessible photo booth and several food trucks.
To find event information and to register, visit strollandroll.org.

AbilityFirst Gains New Chairman

Harlan Thompson
Harlan Thompson

Harlan Thompson, a retired finance executive, has been elected chairman of the board of AbilityFirst. Thompson follows long-time supporter of the organization, John Kelly.
The new executive committee for 2018 consists of Thompson, Ray Cherry (vice chair), Wendy Lees (treasurer) and Mike Dokmanovich (secretary). Also on the board: Steve Brockmeyer, Will Craig, Dr. Diane Danis, Mark Fedde, Tom Fenchel, Richard Frank, Maria French, Stuart Hemphill, Jay Henneberry, John Kelly, Joanne Kim, Carol Llewellyn, Mordena Moore, Kathryn Sanders Platnick, Randall Repp, Arthur Rothberg and Patricia Vick.
Continue reading “AbilityFirst Gains New Chairman”