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Oct 2, 2023

In the studio today is David Leon, Director of Workforce Programs at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), and Kate Kaegi, Project Manager for the DIF.

In recognition of Disability Awareness Month, the second podcast of our DIF series includes David and Kate explaining how Virginia's DIF grant was initiated, implemented, and adjusted to best reach their initiatives of placing 750 individuals with disabilities in STEM and healthcare careers, registered apprenticeships, and State, County, and City jobs. Learn about the challenges they navigated and what they recommend when applying for a DIF grant.


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Full Transcript:



David: Don't be afraid to apply for a diff grant. It is an amazing opportunity to infuse energy and enthusiasm into your workforce. It is a chance to stretch, learn new skills, try new programs. You get to see staff flourish and more importantly, get some really cool outcomes for the clients we serve.


Kate: I was a little intimidated with the idea of RSA, but what I have found is this RSA is there to help us. They want us to succeed.


David: You can accomplish some great things.


Speaker1: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management, Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Here is your host Carol Pankow.


Carol: Well, welcome to the Manager Minute. Joining me in the studio today is David Leon, director for workforce programs at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, or DARS, and Kate Kaegi, project manager for the DEP. So David, how are things going at DARS?


David: They are great. We are plugging along, working on our grant. A colleague has a SWITZI grant, so it's been neat to really try a bunch of new things here in Virginia.


Carol: Very cool. So how are you Kate?


Kate: I am doing spectacular. Thank you for having me here today.


Carol: You bet. So, David, you and I had a chance to visit in a podcast on work incentives counseling in April of 22. And just so you know, you were one of my top five downloads. And when I think of Virginia, I always think of you and all the amazing things that have been cooking all the time. You guys always have something in the hopper and this is no different. So I started a series of podcasts focused on the diff grants and career advancement, and you are the second in my series and happened to fall in October with a nod to Disability Employment Awareness Month. So I want to just give our listeners a little snippet again about the diff grant. And so this particular round, the grant activities are geared to support innovative activities aimed at improving the outcomes of individuals with disabilities. And the Career Advancement Initiative model. Demonstrations were funded in federal fiscal year 2021. They were intended to identify and demonstrate practices supported by evidence to assist eligible individuals with disabilities, including previous served participants in employment who reenter the program to do the following. They were looking at advancing in high demand, high quality careers like science, technology, engineering and math, or those Stem careers to enter career pathways in industry driven sectors through pre apprenticeships, registered apprenticeships and industry recognized apprenticeship programs to improve and maximize competitive integrated employment outcomes, economic self-sufficiency, independence and inclusion in society, and to reduce reliance on public benefits like SSI, SSDI, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and State or local benefits.

Now, I remember reading in the announcement some of that sort of I thought it was disturbing data that provided the base for why RSA picked this particular area and chose to fund it. And they based it on the program year 2019, RSA 911 data. And some of the things that they said were participants that were exiting the program in competitive integrated employment reported a median wage of 12 bucks an hour and working like 30 hours a week. And the top ten most common occupations were reported. They were like stock clerks and they were order fillers, customer service reps, janitors, cleaners. I call it the whole Food, Filth and Flowers. So I know through this initiative they were trying to do more. So let's dig into what you guys have cooking in Virginia. David, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself. How did you get to VR?


David: Thanks, Carol. Started as a job coach years ago. We won't say when. It'll make me feel old, and I worked for a private nonprofit. I then assisted in Virginia, working with individuals, exiting a training center and moving towards community living. From there, I came back to the Richmond area to work for a community service board and again was a job coach and then worked within a sheltered work and day services program before coming to DARS, where I started with the Ticket to Work program and now have that the work incentives and a few grants and the workforce programs.


Carol: You and I have very similar backgrounds. I too was a job coach. I did work in a sheltered workshop for a while as well and all of that. It's always interesting how people find their way to VR. Kate, how about you? Why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and how you got to VR?


Kate: I kind of fell into this. A lot of times, similar to other people. Unexpectedly, I found out about East Carolina's rehab program and that they had a scholarship for people who wanted to get their master's. And I'm like, Oh, free money. So I jumped into that. Absolutely loved it. I did my internship at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitative Center. It was called something or a different title when I started back in the day. As I tell my kids, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I was there, started off there as an evaluator and then kind of moved across the state, became a rehab counselor in the field, have done transition counseling, substance abuse counseling, went back to Boca Vale for a little bit, even dipped my toes into the world of job coaching and worked with David for a period of time at the CSV, came back to DARS, worked with the Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and also, as an aside, also had joined the military during that timeframe on the reserve side. So I'm out of that at this point. So I have quite an eclectic background. As a supervisor once said that I couldn't make up my mind what I wanted to do, but it was all overall 24 years of work working with individuals with disabilities in a variety of areas. So it really kind of dovetailed well for me to work in the first dif grant that we received prior to this grant where I was a VMA or Virginia Manufacturing Association liaison for our grant. And when we were working on this Phase two grant, it was just pulling from what we've learned previously and growing from there. And so here I am.


Carol: I love it, it positions you really well for the work under this new grant. Very cool. Thanks for sharing that. So, David, why don't you paint us a picture of Virginia DARS How many staff do you have? About how many people are you all serving?


David: Okay, DARS comprises the Division of Rehabilitative Services, the Disability Determination Services, Aging Services. We have roughly 28 to 30 offices around the state and are currently serving just around 18,000 clients. If you include Pre-ETS in those totals.


Carol: that's a bunch., holy cow. I didn't realize you guys were that big.


David: Yeah, and that doesn't include however many cases DDS is handling or our aging or the other units. But that's a little bit about DARS, and I like to say we stretch from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to almost as far west as Detroit. If you go down to Bristol, Virginia, which is technically a little further than Detroit. So lots of types of environments and communities and very unique challenges in different areas.


Carol: Yeah, so you're definitely facing different geographical issues and I'm sure probably even economic differences. You know, if you're talking the coast versus maybe more of a rural area. So I'm sure there's probably some challenges there with even getting providers or how you're providing services.


David: It's interesting. One of the things we've been able to see in, for instance, Southwest Virginia, there is an economic center that's only 16 miles away from an office. But to get there, you go over three mountains and it could take two hours. So are those jobs really accessible to someone without a vehicle? On paper from Richmond, it might look like, why aren't we placing folks in this community out of that office? Well, it's a two hour drive each way, and that's the only way to do it. You mentioned at the beginning those top ten job areas. And one of the things we're really trying to challenge ourselves with now is giving people the information to make an informed decision about a career choice. But if they choose a career that might not look as great, what is the best potential version of that job? What is the job within that sector that actually could become a career? So at the beginning when we were starting to work on this, our agency had been in order of selection for years with categories closed and with the pandemic. That all changed. But the clients we were seeing didn't change and their goals didn't change. I think that's going to be a longer term conversation. But if we can do things to promote the best version of a position. And so I'll just give you one example. And our commissioner, other folks would probably say, why do we have so many folks who want jobs in food service or in this? Because typically they're low paying. Typically there's a lot of turnover. It's hard to become stable. One of the first projects we worked on in this grant was a partnership with a school nutrition program, and we've been able to help a few individuals enter into work in a kitchen at a school where they have the same hours. Monday through Friday. They have the opportunity for benefits. In one case, we couldn't find transportation. That school system was allowing the individual to take the school bus for that person. That's a really stable job and it's somewhere they can grow and thrive for years. So I do want to just say we have to think a little bit differently about what Kate or I or others might think of as a career. How do we find that best option for someone where there is room for growth, but equally important room for that time for stability to get to mastery, to then look at other skills and hopefully down the road they'd come back, not because they lost that job and need it again, but because they've learned so much that they want to go on to the next thing of their own accord.


Carol: Yeah, I like that you said that because I remember that when we visited before talking about that best version of that job. So not to mean that no one can work in kind of food, filth and flowers. I know I say that and it sounds sort of condescending and it's not meant to be. But we typically relied on kind of those occupations, really entry level. But I like that you're taking a spin on that and really looking deeper because we need folks to work in those occupations too. And there's people that love doing that work. But how like you say, can you do the best version of that? So you have benefits and you're looking at those long term like working in a school district, you can get retirement and all these different really awesome things that go with that. So, Kate, I'm going to switch to you. So big picture, break it down for us on your grant proposal and what you're hoping to accomplish with I know you had said you have three core components. Talk a little bit about that.


Kate: Sure. I do want to make a caveat that I love about this grant is it is a demonstration grant, meaning we have the opportunity to try out innovative products and projects across the state. I just want to put a caveat on that to keep that in your mind as I'm going forward here. So our main goal is to place 750 individuals with disabilities in federal, state, county, city jobs and or registered apprenticeships or also Stem and health careers. So we have those three main components on that. And when we looked at this grant and David worked on the development and the proposal for this, we really wanted to touch individuals that had been kind of missed in the first grant. And this I think, is something as we're doing a grant, you're learning all the time. And we wanted to make sure that we were hitting those unserved and underserved across the state. So individuals that aren't as plentiful in different areas. So say like Winchester has a large Hispanic population, does that reflect the number served in the actual DARS office? How do we get Spanish speaking individuals more involved in DARS? How do we get women who may only recognize those areas that you talked about that flower filth? And because that's what they're aware of, that's the work they've done in the past.

So I just need another job in that area. How can we open up some possibilities? Have you thought about the IT field? Have you thought about advanced manufacturing and can you see yourself doing that? So providing those opportunities, it's a way for us to look at those unserved and underserved across the state. And we're defining that as we're going and we're looking at the census data, we're looking at who we're serving within each state. And then we're also looking at our plans, the plans that the rehab counselors are creating. What are those plans? What is the main goal? Overall we see a lot of customer service because it's kind of a catch all. What does that mean? Is that customer service as a helpdesk technician as opposed to just somebody as a receptionist? So we're really helping both the VRC, the counselor, and the candidate explore possibilities like that.


Carol: I like that. I just love what you guys are doing and really fundamentally getting down, digging in and really focusing on those folks that have been underserved or unserved and just taking that twist on the occupation because there's a wide range like within customer service, you have the job from here to here.


Kate: Exactly.


Carol: Yeah, that is very cool. Now, I know you all had some really weird hiccups in the beginning when you were starting out with this particular grant. So what were some of those kind of hiccups and how did you overcome that? And Kate, I'll probably shoot to you first on this.


Kate: So part of the thing that I didn't mention was is that the roles that our team players have. So we have a liaison with Department of Labor and Industry, specifically the registered apprenticeship side. So they have their foot in the DOLI world and the foot in the DARS world. We also have a team member who has their foot in the Department of Human Resource Management Liaison, and then also her toes are also dipping in the DARS. So we've had some different team members on that. We also have a quick response, counselor, somebody who can go in and respond to immediate needs of employers, of an individual that might be working with them, that has a disability, that might need some help, whether that's in a registered apprenticeship or on that particular job. During the first year we hired and we had everybody up and running and we had two team members, one had a medical emergency and had to move away from the position because there was some driving involved. And then unfortunately, we had Lisa Hanky, who passed away unexpectedly on us. So, you know, you get all getting that hiring going and then all of a sudden we lost two individuals, so we had to restart that process.


David: But Kate, if I can add to that, and I believe this is true for everyone in our round of this DIF funding, I believe we were told two days before the beginning of the project, it was about a day after that that, you know, many agencies coming out of the pandemic have had challenges with staffing and we had those challenges in our procurement division. So getting contracts signed, getting those staff replaced. But the other thing that has been a challenge and we're finally coming out of. We created three positions that this agency has never had, and it had meant that we had to learn how to provide quality support to two other state agencies in the context of working with DARS and similarly with our quick response counselors. So we created these positions that we had an idea of how they could work. But once someone got into those roles and was learning the other agency, we've had to be flexible in understanding how they can actually benefit our clients and our agency. And that has been a learning process.


Carol: You guys bring up a really good point because I think sometimes when folks are applying for the DIF grant, you're not recognizing off the get-go That first year can be a struggle because like you said, you found out two days before and then you get the money. And then as we know with any state government, it takes time to hire and like to get through all those processes. And so RSA may be on one hand going like spend the money and you're like, we're trying, but we've got to get through all our HR processes and all this crazy stuff. So it takes a little bit to get rolling in that first year. And I know we often on the TA world are talking with people as they're applying for grants going just know as you're going into it that first year, you're probably not going to spend the amount of funds you projected originally because there's just is a time factor and getting through all of that.


Kate: Absolutely. That was the one thought that David and I, if you know, we apply for another one down the road, maybe making that first year a little bit less intensive and spreading it out from year 2 to 5 because that's where the major work will be done.


Carol: Yeah, that's smart. Very smart. So I know you guys were talking about some challenges. What are some other particular challenges that you're experiencing right now?


Kate: Well, I'll get started on that piece. One of the things we have found similar to the staffing, the challenge that we had when we first started of hiring individuals, we're finding a turnover in staff in DARS. And so we are having a lot of younger counselors that have, in some cases don't have a rehab background. They might have a social work background. So we have a lot of training that we're doing and then redoing on that. We're having a training coming up in October for the VOC rehab counselors and we're getting kind of back to basics. What makes a good referral for our Pathways Grant, looking at those possibilities of not just that receptionist job, let's look at helpdesk. What are the opportunities that are out there? And so that has been kind of a challenge, is just retraining. And I think this is kind of normal across the board. But these rehab counselors are busy. They have a lot more documentation they have to put in Aware. There's a lot more individuals coming through their door because we have the rapid engagements, so they are overwhelmed. And how can we dovetail our services to best support them, how to make the referral process as easy as possible for them, what supports make the most sense for them? So that's been one of the interesting challenges.


Carol: So, Kate, have you guys done anything around just the way in which your staff or the support of those counselors, do you have like other staff that are kind of wrapped around them, whether you call them maybe a rehab tech or some sort of a case aide or whatever it might be that can help the counselors with sort of all the documentation requirements and that kind of thing. Have you done some work in that?


Kate: Actually, here in Virginia, we do have support. We have vocational evaluators, placement counselors and what they call employment service specialists that run the job club and things like that. And they can help support with some of the paperwork. But similar to other states that actually have like a rehab tech that would do some of the counseling or the that kind of thing, not as much. And each office is run a little bit different. That's part of the appeal. And what I mean by that is, is some of the offices might not have a vocational evaluator, some might have a placement counselor that might be covering more than one office so that there is enough differences on that piece. But yeah, that has been a struggle for keeping all of that work and getting it done for them.


Carol: Yeah, You're definitely joined by your colleagues across the country on that. I keep hearing that over and over. David did you have anything else you wanted to add to that about any of the particular challenges?


David: Yeah, I think we wrote this knowing we needed to do some things better and serve certain populations differently to get to where people had the same outcome regardless of gender, race, ethnicity. And that is still a challenge. We are learning that we have a long way to go to effectively serve those folks who have English as a second language. And when we started the project, we started with like a counselor advisory board to help not only create buy in, but inform us what the counselors needed. We have now shifted to an advisory board geared towards helping us do better with the Hispanic Latino population, and that English is a second language. So we're hoping over this next year, working with members of our state who are representative of those groups will actually help us figure out what services are going to be most likely to bring people in for help. What supports we will need to think about providing for those individuals to be successful. And again, it goes back to how do we help people see for themselves greater opportunities and careers than they might have.


Carol: So are you linked in then with your like your WIOA partners on your adult basic ed side? Like under that, you know, the English as a second language, Like they're more expert than us in working with that group?


Kate: Absolutely. One of our key partners is the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center, who teach the adult ed, they help support them across the state when we get further along I'll talk about some of the projects that we're working with with them.


Carol: Yeah, that's excellent. I love that. So I know you guys are seeing some exciting results. What kind of exciting results are percolating up?


Kate: So one of the things that we found as we're moving forward is we actually had working with adult Ed, we had a program that we were doing Intro to IT, where we're starting a basic starting platform for accounting fundamentals, and we were ready to go. We had seven individuals in this first cohort, and one of the things we found was the individuals that we met, even though we just came through Covid with all of the tech training, we had individuals they knew enough to get on to Zoom and to do some items, but we really needed to step back and do some basic tech training. So, they had enough gaps in their knowledge that they couldn't move forward without some major help. So what happened on this is, is we stepped back and started to do some digital literacy training and they moved forward with that. And each of those individuals are now moving forward with the accounting fundamentals this summer. So stepping back, we're actually looking at what we're calling digital work skills training, which is really exciting opportunity for individuals to get started with North Star digital literacy. We're working on goal setting some soft skill development just to get them started on that end. So we have individuals that would typically not be able to go to a virtual training actually get started there. And what we're finding with that end is, is that we have some individuals, you know, those customer service people who just want to do clerical, they're getting introduced to IT. And so we've had a few individuals that have moved on to our next training, which we call the Max Career Lab. And Max Potential is an employer here in Virginia. And I think they go into other states as well, several other states. And what they are, they're a temp agency for IT employment.

So they hire individuals to work with Dominion, to work with, you know, with all these employers doing various IT. But they have a unique hiring model. They actually have an opportunity where individuals come in and they go through a career lab five day, three hours a day, 15 hours of a career lab. Then they do an interview. During those five days, they do an overview of data analytics, networking, all these different career areas. So they'll do an hour and a half of overview of the career, and then they do an actual interactive activity that they break out in groups for. So it's a great way to explore the IT field. So we've hired them to actually run career labs for us. They do the 15 hours, then they get homework and then they have an interview assessment. So the interview is just like a typical interview that they run, but they follow up with what activities that they're interested in. So this has been a wonderful way for us to explore different IT areas and to help individuals determine what area of IT they want to do. Here in Virginia, we're blessed. We've got Nova, we've got a lot of IT careers, but counselors and vocal evaluators don't always know how to direct somebody into the right avenue because technology is always changing. You know, cybersecurity, cybersecurity, that's always a great one, right? Because we're right here in Nova. However, not everybody wants to do cyber. Have you thought of data analytics? Have you thought of the different networking positions? Have you thought of machine learning? You know what, all is out there? And so it's an opportunity for us to do a hands on career exploration and next steps with an actual employer running the sessions for us.


Carol: That's cool. Yeah, I hadn't heard about a career lab before like that. That is very intriguing because so many people learn much better, you know, by actually experiencing seeing what that's about because it can sound cool. You read about something like the cybersecurity was the big deal, but then you get into it and you're like, Oh, I don't really want to do that, you know? So giving them that opportunity, I think that's fabulous.


Kate: Yes, and we have had our first cohort. We had 25 people sign up. We had 22 complete the whole piece. That includes the interview.  Of that group we had six individuals. So they compare the group together, but they also compare them to the other public groups that they have across the board. So of those individuals, six are encouraged to look at direct work experience. The rest have been encouraged to do a few other activities, like maybe develop more professional skills or develop more tech training, possibly, you know, accounting fundamentals. We had one that decided they did not want to do IT training. And I'm thinking, what a great opportunity you now know what you don't want to do. And for us, that can be great, right? So we're looking at some other options for that young man. It has been a wonderful opportunity. We're now in our second cohort and our hope is, is to keep continuing this as we're going through this grant and to see how we can set this up once the grant is over.


Carol: Very cool. Have you had any surprises kind of as you've started this. I know you're in year two. Are there any surprises?


David: I think there are always surprises. This is right. Staff and surprises some of the opportunities that have come up. I don't think we anticipated. So we've shifted to take advantage. One of the big pieces of this grant is our focus on state hiring and the individual we hired for that aspect worked diligently during the first six months with them on an alternative hiring process through the legislation, had a go live date, whether we were ready or not. And what we didn't understand is during the first year, this process, it wasn't available to current state employees who may be disabled. That created a lot of issues for folks who were upset that they couldn't access this to move up within state government. We weren't able to change that ourselves, but it was changed in legislation. And starting in July of this year, we were allowed to offer a certificate of disability to someone who was currently employed and that has seen an increase. We've had roughly 1500 people request certificates of disabilities. I think part of what was surprising is what a great opportunity that has become as a referral source for DAR's. Roughly 300 individuals have chosen to get more information and receive VR services, and we are seeing that as a really nice piece of the process. Additionally, I think we finally had our first individual who went from what we call part time wage employment to full time classified, which was one of the intents of the process we developed.

So it's nice to begin to see that work. But for Kate and I, we have to remind ourselves some of this might take two, three, four years before we really actually see these things that could be possible in action. And I think the other big surprise there is just how great of a partner our Department of Human Resource Management has been. They recently allowed us to present to 120 hiring managers and we will be a regular part of their monthly recruitment network action meetings. They've bought into our use of windmills training. They advertise it every month and we are co-sponsoring a job accommodation network training in October for them that they will heavily market to state hiring managers. So I think that's been really great. And then the other surprise, it turns out that our division of registered apprenticeship within the Department of Labor and Industry is moving to a new state agency. So we will see what that does. You know, you think things are pretty stable and static in certain ways, but they can change. That's been a surprise. But it's not a good or bad. It just, you know, might be a chance to actually work with more of our partners more directly.


Kate: And David, another surprise that we had was the use of data. We have been doing some trainings with the field and they you know, when you bring numbers involved, people get a little, oh, I don't know if I want to touch this, but what we found was the counselors, the evaluators, the placement, they enjoyed looking at this data. They ate it up. So the use of data as a tool to look at who we're serving, how are we serving them, has been an eye opener. At least it was a surprise for me. Now I'm a vocational evaluator, so I love data and I thought I was, you know, unique. But I'm not you know, everybody is, you know, surprisingly likes that data.


Carol: Yeah.. Well, and definitely how you present it to the field, you know, if you're just like blah, blah, blah, whatever, they really are interested because it's the culmination of their work, you know, so they see what's happening. It really helps to paint that picture and then they can react and respond and do things in a different way in response to that data. So I think that's smart that you guys are doing that. Now. I know you both had talked about shifting the conversation around employment and shifting that whole narrative on barriers to advancement and employment. Talk a little bit about that.


Kate: So one of the things that the counselors are really good at is, is when somebody comes in the door and they say, hey, you know, I need help finding work. But when we look at the definition of what we do, it's getting and but it's also keeping or advancing in your career. So what is that advancement look like? So if you have somebody coming in who I need a job right away, maybe this is where somebody is going to go for a stock clerk. But what about the idea of doing a quick training so that they can get a credential in the Certified logistics associate and then moving from there, maybe when they do that interview, now that they have that credential, maybe they can ask for a little bit of a raise. And what is the next step on that piece? So we've definitely looked at that. How do we make, as David said, the most of the career that you're looking at or the other areas that we've already talked about? Let's look at other areas.


David: One of the things that actually came from one of our offices that they wanted was we've heard more and more about attrition and attrition from application to plan, but also attrition from plan before employment or before successful closure. And we have created a group called Work Wise, which is designed for individuals who have just become employed to meet once a week in the evening, talk about their jobs, have an opportunity with a staff person to talk through issues, challenges. It's been really a powerful group, and I've been pleasantly surprised at how the individuals who choose to participate in a couple of cases did not want to stop going when their case was closed because of how valuable it was to in close to real time talk through things that were happening at work with someone with a VR counseling background. And that has been a really powerful group because it's also given folks to learn from each other and get to that stability and confidence to maybe also look for future opportunities. I know we're getting ready to also hold a salary negotiation training for folks. So again, let's help people think through and have those skills now that they may use now or they may use later when an opportunity to move up comes around. And similarly, we've started a group that we're calling money wise where we've partnered with a local credit union with that hope of how can we help make sure folks maximize their the benefits they choose to take advantage of from an employer. How do we help someone make sure that if there's a 401 match and it's X amount, that they do that much at the very least, Right. Those things that everyone is told, Well, if there's free money from an employer, you take it or if there's tuition assistance or some other thing, maybe there are things to plant some seeds. So someone would continue to move forward.


Carol: I can see how so much of this work that you are doing is so foundational and will be of benefit to, you know, your other colleagues across the country with the things you've uncovered and the things that you are working on, these different classes and groups and all of that. I'm sure other people are going, Gosh, I want to do that too. I think this will be amazing to help plant the seeds across the country. Now, David, I know you were concerned about implementing something that could withstand the test of time. And I know DIF grants are meant it's a demonstration grant. You're trying something out, but you want to also be able to carry forward these ideas into the future. So how are you guys structuring this to make that happen?


David: We really are thinking about sustainability and to Commissioner Hayfield's credit, that's been one of the things that she and Dale Batten have really stressed to us. It's great to do great work in a period of time, but how can we make sure that the things that have the potential to be value add or transformative continue and don't just end the day the funding stops? And we've really thought through many of the activities that we are creating, we are working on from at the beginning. What would this look like when there's no funding? How will we continue these? It's part of our partnership with Valray. We're working to get some of these pieces put into Canvas and set up through that learning management system. But within some of the positions, you know, one of our hopes is that the DHRM VR liaison could become its own full time non restricted position at the end. Similarly, we would hope that for the others, or at least those activities become a part of multiple staff strategically throughout the state. And that's one way we're looking at it.


Kate: And yeah, we're looking at the train, the trainers, also the tools that we're using. One of the pieces for vocational evaluators would be English language acquisition and knowledge. So there are assessments that are out there that can test somebody's English language, which is important for us to know if we're working with individuals and we're trying to place them on the job. So how do we get the tools necessary into the hands of the individuals and trained up for that so that that can be moving forward? So we're being proactive for these individuals that we hope to come into our doors a little bit more often.


Carol: That's excellent. So what do you guys see as your next steps? Where are you going from here? The point you're at right now, what are the next steps?


Kate: So a lot of our programming that we're doing right now is in partnership with adult ed. We see a great marriage between DARS and Adult Ed because Adult Ed works with a lot of individuals with disabilities already. They're adult educators. They can provide a little bit more support for our learners for credential training. They've got different things that are across the state. I'm working with our rehab center, Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation to really figure out how can we marry these? Right now I'm coordinating all these trainings. Is there a way that the center can provide this? And this gives the center an opportunity to look at a virtual environment? What does this look like? We're not sure what it looks like, but we're giving a try to see for that next piece so that max potential with the employer, can that be run through Wilson so that it is open and able to run after the grant is over.


Carol: So for our listeners that would want to apply for a grant, but they've been afraid to do so. What advice would you give to other people?


David: Don't be afraid to apply for a grant. It is an amazing opportunity to infuse energy and enthusiasm into your workforce. It is a chance to stretch, learn new skills, try new programs and get some great outcomes. If there are things you've wanted to try and you don't necessarily have the budget to do or don't seem to fit a demonstration grant is a phenomenal opportunity, and when I came into this agency under grants and special programs, usually we had to worry about things like a match component. And if you have the chance to apply for a grant where there isn't a match and you are willing to be patient with that work, you can accomplish some great things. You get to know your partners better. You get to see staff flourish and stretch and more importantly, get some really cool outcomes for the clients we serve.


Carol: Love that infuse that energy and enthusiasm. I wrote that down. That was a great. You're like giving a commercial for the RSA DIF Grants, that's awesome.


Kate: One thing I would add on this too is when I first came in eight years ago on the other grant, I was pretty much kind of a newbie in the grant world, and I was a little intimidated with the idea of RSA. But what I have found is, is RSA is there to help us. They want us to succeed. And if you have a solid grant application and know what you want to do, they will help you give you some ideas. They invited other states to meet with you to kind of talk about different things. So they have been very good about sharing knowledge and they want to see us succeed.


Carol: That sounds so great. Well, I am going to definitely tell our listeners like they should reach out to you too, if they've got some questions to reach out to David and Kate, because you all have a lot of very cool stuff cooking, and I'm sure you're willing to talk to others about what you've been doing as they're thinking about maybe applying some of this, even though they may not have a DIF grant, but applying some of the things that you're learning into their own work in their states?


Kate: Absolutely. We're here.


Carol: Excellent. Well, I appreciate you both. Thanks for spending time with us. And I look forward to circling back with you a little bit in a couple more years as time flies on this grant and see where you're coming in at and those good results. So have a great day.


David: Thank you very much.


Kate: Thank you.



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