VR3: Making a Difference
Vocational Rehabilitation, Lets go to work
Q1, Quality One, Quality happens one person at a time
VR3  Ready...Reliable...Results April 2016

Project SEARCH in the Midlands

Photo: Rodheem Perry (left, with VR Job Coach Eric Tolbert) was the first Project SEARCH intern hired by Palmetto Health Baptist Parkridge. He is an operating room technician in the Surgery Center.

Rodheem Perry’s first day as a Project SEARCH intern at the hospital was not what he expected.

“Come on,” his mentor, Carl Miller calls, “you’re going to help me move a patient.”

Miller has Rodheem dress in surgical scrubs and takes him into an operating room where a patient has just come out of surgery.

Calm and collected, Rodheem follows Carl’s instructions and they take the patient to recovery.

“We call him ‘Rodheem the dream,’” says his job coach. “Working here has made him realize how much he can do with his life.”


Judith Gillings never thought she wanted to work at a hospital, but she was willing to give it a try. Her first internship was in the Intensive Care Unit, where her duties included delivering meals to patient rooms. It was very difficult for her because she is shy.

“Pretend you’re an actress,” her job coach tells her, giving her tips on posture, what to say, and making eye contact.

Judith nervously walks into a room. “Hi. My name is Judith...”

Today, instead of walking through the hospital and looking at her feet, Judith smiles and waves to everybody. She’s no longer acting. And one of the things she enjoys the most is interacting with patients.


These are just two of the success stories about Project SEARCH at Parkridge.

Implemented in the Midlands though a collaboration between Arc of the Midlands, Lexington-Richland School District 5, Palmetto Parkridge, and VR, Project SEARCH is an international school-to-work program model designed to place high school students with disabilities into a work environment, with the ultimate goal of competitive employment.

Instead of attending regular classes, the five students selected for Project SEARCH have spent their last year of high school doing three 10 to 11 week unpaid internships at Parkridge. They have become immersed in the work environment and learned a variety of transferable job skills.

Photo: Tarung Parikh (left), former Project SEARCH intern, is greeted by his mentor, Cameron Evans, Sanitation Technician in Food Services.

“We all could not do it without each other,” says Sandi Batten, job coach from Arc of the Midlands. She and VR job Coach Eric Tolbert help each intern learn the tasks and duties required, provide accommodations if necessary, and train the hospital staff within each department on the most effective way to support the interns. Special education teacher Liz McGee works with the interns for up to an hour and a half each day on functional life skills. All students selected for Project SEARCH also become VR clients, eligible for vocational assessment, disability management, training and job search assistance. Further on, the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs will be providing long-term follow up support.

Photo: Judith Gillings, left, with Food Services General Manager Nikki McKinnie.

When deciding where to place the interns, the Project SEARCH team looks at each student’s current skills, plus areas where they have deficits. The internships also give the students an opportunity to explore different types of jobs and career options and discover what they like best. In the process, they learn marketable, transferable skills they can utilize throughout their lives.

The effect of Project SEARCH on the interns has been dramatic. In high school, Judith didn’t know what she wanted to do. “I didn’t know what I was capable of,” she says.

Judith, along with intern Tarung Parikh, was recently hired by Food Services. She beams with pride and self-confidence. “It’s really good,” she says.

“The wonderful thing about Tarung and Judith is their passion for what they do,” says Nikki McKinnie, General Manager of Food Services. “It’s like nothing I see in anyone else. They come in happy, dancing and singing and they get everyone into the spirit of being here at Parkridge.”

Photo: Taylor Keeshan, a Project SEARCH intern in the Supply Department, refills a Pyxis machine in the Intensive Care Unit.

From day one, the Project SEARCH team was determined to see each intern successfully employed, and so far four have been hired at Parkridge. The fifth intern is expected to be hired in May.


In the Emergency Department Daniel Austin takes care of restocking and resupplying exam rooms, giving the other staff more time to provide care to their patients.

“He makes it easier to focus on patient care knowing everything that we need will be in the rooms,” says Ashley Bennett, Patient Support Technician.

“He has taken ownership of that to the point that if we put things in a room that shouldn’t be there, he lets us know,” adds Angela Bruccoli, Nurse Manager.

Daniel’s attention to detail also helps out in another way. One of the issues staff faced in the past is that supplies were consistently overstocked. After working with the staff to determine the quantity and types of supplies that should be in each room, Job Coach Sandi Batten labeled each drawer and cabinet in the fourteen exam rooms. Daniel uses that information to ensure each room has exactly what is required.

Photo: Daniel Austin, center, with Ashley Bennett, Patient Support Technician, and Angela Bruccoli, Nurse Manager.

“We depend on him so much,” Bruccoli says. She’s watched Daniel’s personality open up and his self-confidence grow. “He is an intricate part of how we provide care for our patients.”

Daniel is very precise and focused in his actions. However, in between tasks, he displays a dry sense of humor. He’s very much part of the team and on his birthday, the staff gave him a party.

“They surprised me with barbecue pizza, with cake and everything,” he says, smiling. “It was the most wonderful day.”

Daniel looks around the emergency department and smiles. ”But the best gift is the work I do here and working with the team members. That’s the best gift I could ever get.”


Other SC locations that have expressed interest in becoming part of Project SEARCH include Pickens, Walterboro, Berkeley-Dorchester, Anderson and Florence.

Around the state

Aiken Tech partnership for certification

Through an exclusive partnership with Aiken Technical College, the Aiken Area Office’s first group of clients have completed the Material Handler certification program. This course gives clients the skills and background to succeed in a manufacturing environment, including warehouse operation; forklift/scissor lift operation and maintenance; production and safety; and equipment maintenance awareness.

Photo: Front Row: VR clients Sharon El, Charles Williams, Tabatha Hern. Back Row: Dennis Orwat, Center Manager; Jeanette Murray, Area Supervisor; VR clients Zarcavius Coleman, Savannah Pleming; Freddie Boan, Business Development Specialist.

Berkeley-Dorchester presents at STEM Symposium

VR was well represented at the Lowcountry STEM Symposium at Trident Technical College on March 23. VR was recognized as a "showcaser" and had an exhibit table.

Michelle McDonald, Business Development Specialist, and Rob Wiggins, Center Manager, both discussed how VR is helping prepare South Carolina graduates to enter the workforce. McDonald also spoke about VR's Youth Services and Wiggins described Job Readiness Training. VR Commissioner Neal Getsinger attended along with staff from the Charleston, Walterboro and Beaufort Area Offices.

Photo (left to right): Michelle McDonald, Business Development Specialist; Kelly Sieling, Area Supervisor; Neil Getsinger, VR Commissioner; Rob Wiggins, Center Manager

Williamsburg active in outreach

David Wiggins, Business Development Specialist, discusses the services offered by VR and the value of becoming a business partner.

Representatives from local referral sources attending the Williamsburg Area Office Business Partnership Network meeting on March 17 learned how Job Retention Services and Comprehensive Services can play a vital role in maintaining great employees.

One attendee stated, “I was aware of the Youth Services and how it benefited my child, but never knew that VR provided so much more. It was great to learn the other services you provide.”

A Williamsburg Transit representative also discussed how working with VR counselors has helped them tremendously in maintaining great employees.


Lorie Matthews, Counselor; Judge Amy Land.

The Williamsburg Area office Bounce Back event on March 23 provided detailed information and valuable resources to assist individuals who have criminal backgrounds as they prepare for employment.

Former VR clients, Dwayne Harwin, Shirlena Epps and Jonathan Strickland revealed how VR helped them achieve employment through services such as the Work Training Center, Skilled Workforce Apprenticeship Training (SWAT), and WorkKeys® certification.

Participants included Judge Amy Land, Drug Court for Lee, Sumter, Williamsburg, and Clarendon Counties; Agent-in-Charge Jacob Wilson, Williamsburg County Probation, Parole and Pardon Services; Scott Strickland, Regional Manager for the Department of Motor Vehicles; Attorney Jon Ozolins, SC Legal Services; Kim Burke, Department of Employment and Workforce; Marsha Tunstall, Palmetto Center; Rochelle Benbow and Larry Campbell, Director, from Williamsburg County Adult Education; Lamar Brown, Williamsburg Technical College; Stephen Patterson, VR Correctional Program Development Specialist.

Back Row: Jimmy Wilson, Center Manager; David Wiggins, Business Development Specialist/Job Preparedness Instructor. Front Row: Lorie Matthews, Counselor; former VR clients Dwayne Harwin, Shirlena Epps, Jonathan Strickland; Preese Abraham, Counselor.

Marlboro welcomes Rep. Yow

Marlboro Area Supervisor Tillette Scott and SC Representative Richie Yow.

On Friday, March 11, South Carolina State Representative Richard L. “Richie” Yow toured the Marlboro Work Training Center located in Bennettsville. During the tour, Representative Yow observed trainees learning valuable job skills while providing area businesses and industries with high quality work. Rep. Yow shared with Marlboro Area VR staff members how he is impressed with the opportunities the Work Training Center provides and expressed his appreciation for VR’s services.

Rock Hill HR Roundtable

Tina Stuber, Business Development Specialist; Jonathan Cruce, Rehabilitation Engineer; Jon Robinson, Center Manager.

The Rock Hill Area Office hosted the York County Human Resource Roundtable on March 24.

The meeting focused on how VR can help businesses find talented employees, as well as retain employees through rehabilitation engineering.

Harriett Abner, Rock Hill Area Supervisor, provided welcoming remarks to guests. Jon Robinson, Center Manager for the Rock Hill Work Training Center, discussed job readiness training, which included a tour of the Work Training Center. Jonathan Cruce, Rehabilitation Engineer from the Bryant Center, discussed rehabilitation technology.

Charleston Job Fair brings offers to clients

As a result of the job fair at the Charleston office on March 3, seven clients have received employment offers, while several additional clients have been scheduled for interviews.

Forty-seven clients participated in the job fair, where they interacted with employers including Anchor Sign, Embassy Suites, Expert Global Solutions (EGS), IH Services, iQor, ITT Technical Institute, Kelly Educational Staffing, Life Care Center of Charleston, Metal Trades, Sanders Brothers Construction, Sodexo at MUSC, Staffmark and Verizon.

Anderson expands referals through county event

Rev. James Clark (left) of Wilson Calvary Baptist Church in Anderson, receives information from Renee Murdock, Business Development Specialist, during an event organized by Anderson County officials to help pastors aid those in their congregations who are unemployed.

The Anderson Area Office, along with a number of other agencies, is working with local pastors to help equip them with information for job seekers.

Read the full story and watch a video in the Anderson Independent Mail.

Gaffney client featured

Gaffney High School student Matthew Gardner (right) is participating in a job try out with the Cherokee County Recreational Department, helping make improvements to the Blacksburg High School baseball field. Photo from the Gaffney Ledger.


Rockin' the runway

The Gaffney office held a Client Runway show on February 18 to help VR clients prepare for a Job fair that took place on February 25. Fourteen clients walked the runway with their interview clothing to upbeat music and staff celebrated their success with pizza and dessert. Each client was recognized during the show for their accomplishments, job interests and volunteer work.

Conway Talent Pool Fair

Human Resource Managers from Springmaid Resort, one of VR’s newest business partners, conducted interviews at the Conway Area Office Talent Pool Fair on March 17. Nine VR clients were identified for follow-up interviews.

Q Stories

Fifty-four VR clients and ten employers attended the Berkeley-Dorchester Area Office Job Fair on February 24. Within three days, several clients were called back for second interviews and several others hired.

One employer shared the following:

“This was one of the best organized job fairs that I have attended, ever! I really liked the way that you had [clients sign up to meet with the employers] and then brought them to us one at a time, to [be able to] sit with them one-on-one and have a conversation to find out if we were a good match for them. Very well done.

“Please keep us in mind for any other opportunities we can work together with you.”

Travis Pruden
Director of Home Care
Lowcountry Active Day

Did you know...

…that VR received national recognition in 1988 from the JM Foundation, which presented the agency with Search for Excellence awards in Washington, DC?

These awards recognized the finest service programs for people with disabilities across the nation. The foundation honored two of the department’s programs—the Computer Training Center’s (now ITTC) computer programming course and the department’s job readiness training partnership with Citizens and Southern (C&S) National Bank. Former Commissioner Joe S. Dusenbury accepted on behalf of the agency at the ceremony, and among those representing VR was Philip J. McNeil, currently a job coach in the Lexington area office, who worked with the C&S on-site program.


Lyman (Bryant Center)
April 4 - High School/High Tech Industry & College Tour Day. Students visiting the Clemson ICAR facility will explore careers in automotive engineering, research, and design fields. They will also tour Greenville Technical College to learn about other post-secondary options.

June 6 - The Bryant Center is accepting referrals for its two-week Summer Transition Program. Students attending each session will participate in physical therapy or exercise; take part in simulated work experiences and learn independent living skills through occupational therapy; enhance leadership, teamwork and communication skills; explore careers and post-secondary interests; and engage in mock interviews and other job preparedness activities.

Sessions will meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday 9am-1pm.

Students and recent graduates who are interested in attending should contact their VR counselor.

For more details, download the flyer.

June 6-17 - Session 1.
July 11-22 - Session 2.
August 1-12 - Session 3.
  For more information, call 864-249-8030 or 888-322-9391
April 5 - High school students will tour Ripley’s Aquarium facility and learn about available career opportunities.
  For more information, call 843-248-2235
Rock Hill
April 7, 9am-12pm - Get Connected Talent Fair in the Rock Hill Work Training Center. Employers will include Shutterfly, Austin International, Texas Roadhouse, and York Technical College. The event will link job ready individuals to new and existing jobs.
May 6 - Referral Development Breakfast.
  For more information, call 803-327-7106
Columbia Area
April 12, 10am-2pm - The Spring Midlands Job Fair at Dutch Square Mall, 421 Bush River Road Columbia, SC. SC Works Midlands is partnering with the Columbia Mayor's Committee on Employment for People with Disabilities, Operation Palmetto Employment, and the SC National Guard.
  For more information, contact Cindy Popenhagen, Chair of the Columbia Mayor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, at 803-734-3550
April 12 - A Lunch & Learn opportunity for guidance counselors, teachers, and principals to learn more about the services offered by VR.
  For more information, call 864-249-8030 or 888-322-9391
April 16 - Business Partnership Network Lunch and Learn.
  For more information, call 803-432-1068 or 866-206-5280
April 26 - The Greenville Area Office will participate in Ten at the Top, a workforce development forum featuring former Walgreens Senior Executive Randy Lewis. Employers will learn about the many benefits of employing people with disabilities.
  For more information, call 864-297-3066
April 27 - The Greenwood Area Office will participate in the Annual Upper Savannah Job Fair at the Greenwood Mall.
  For more information, call 864-229-5827 or 866-443-0162

Preparing and assisting eligible South Carolinians with disabilities to achieve and maintain competitive employment

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