When COVID-19 upended all our lives and forced us to stay at home, Penn-Mar Human Services took it all in stride. Our Customized Employment team immediately implemented remote employment supports – and it’s yielded incredible results.
“Of course, it was challenging at first,” said Tori Davidson, Employment Coordinator. “There is always anxiety when learning new technology. Even if people are comfortable with it, it can be intimidating.” Seemingly overnight, the Customized Employment team and those they support had to convert to virtual supports. While that alone is complicated, there were accessibility struggles, too. “A lot of the people we support are really comfortable with FaceTime, but very few of our team members have an iPhone. So that’s not compatible,” Tori noted.
“Internet connections are a challenge,” added Jenn Tilman, Employment Coordinator. “And it’s been hard to find a program that would work for everyone for face-to-face meetings, but one of the people I support just met with me via a virtual platform and it was really fun once we got it going,” Tori elaborated.
Tonya Stonesifer, Employment Coordinator, has been thrilled with the positive results she’s seen so far. “Lots of the people we support may struggle being social in-person, so virtual meetings are sometimes easier for them. It’s helped some of the people I support become more confident.” Tonya’s also seen a big improvement in building relationships with families, “Somehow, seeing people face-to-face is so much better than email! While the virtual meetings were really out of my comfort zone at first, it’s been a game-changer.”
The Employment Team is grateful for all the support they’ve received, too. Holly Augustine, Employment Manager, noted that DORS has been incredibly flexible, allowing her team to deliver services in this non-traditional way. The team has created a best-practices document, meticulously chronicling what’s working and what’s not, because they believe that employment services will never be the same.
“We’re definitely hopeful that our learnings will result in some system change,” Holly said. “We’d like to continue applying some of these strategies even after we get back to normal. Of course, that comes with other barriers, like funding. There’s a lot of great technology out there, but we need devices, Internet, data plans, and other equipment. All of that takes money.”
Thankfully, that’s a challenge for another day. For now, this incredible team has its hands full developing even more new and exciting virtual employment supports.