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Local residents with disabilities able to transition back to work with support from Skills

On June 8, alongside other community members, workers with disabilities began transitioning back to in-person work as area counties entered new phases of reopening during the COVID-19 crisis.

In December 2019, Michael Houck started his first job as part of the maintenance crew at Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School in Altoona.

When schools switched to remote learning in March, Houck, like many staff, was furloughed until May 27. He was called back to his regular duties, in addition to some new cleaning and disinfecting projects to help keep the students safe.

Assisting in this transition were Skills’ Employment Services staff, who provide support while Houck is on the job.

“I like Skills, because staff are there if I need help. And to be quite honest, I enjoy the company and seeing a familiar face. Makes me feel good when I see staff come in,” said Houck.

Skills has continued to provide employment-supporting services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health challenges and substance use disorders throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Just like any other workers, some of the people supported by Skills continued working in their essential positions throughout all phases of the pandemic.

“Ordinarily, we help people understand their strengths and skills, then we assist with applying for jobs, practicing interviews and making a resume. When the person finds a job, we help them on the job. Sometimes, our staff is with them during full shifts for their whole career. For other folks, they might need only some assistance throughout the year, or if their responsibilities change,” said Charles Lansberry, employment services manager at Skills of Central PA.

“When the pandemic hit, we had to develop new approaches. We supported folks on the job via phone or video chat when possible or allowable by the employer. And, if that wasn’t possible, we continued providing services in person. We even assisted people in applying for unemployment.”

Cassandra Stewart started working for USI Janitorial, now Blue Chip, in July 2019. As part of her work, she cleans at Boscov’s in Altoona. Boscov’s closed their doors during the red and yellow phases, but, like many others, Stewart returned to work to help Boscov’s prepare for a successful reopening in the green phase.

“Skills and Sherry [Stewart’s support staff person] were very helpful transitioning back to work by helping me getting back into the swing of doing tasks on my job,” said Stewart. “I forgot how-to do-little steps, and with the support of Sherry I was able to get back into my old routine.”

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