Posted on October 23, 2023
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and as part Penn-Mar’s ongoing mission to recognize the importance of ensuring that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have equal opportunity to prepare for and succeed in employment, we regularly celebrate the many individuals who have found fulfilling and meaningful work in their communities through our Customized Employment (CE) program. We also applaud the businesses we partner with who embrace an inclusive and equitable workforce.
Among the individuals we’re spotlighting this month, is a young woman who will herself have cause to celebrate next month, when she clocks in her first full year at her job at The Anstadt Company, the 145-year-old, fifth-generation family-owned printing company in York, Pa.
Repetition is key
Every Friday, Diana Wagner arrives to work at The Anstadt Company with her service dog Loki by her side. Once at her workstation, the 23-year-old sets to the task of counting and banding different numbered sets of envelopes for various e-commerce orders of cards or invitations, which the company prints, among its many products and services. The repetitiousness of the job is key to her success at it.
“Diana is a very linear person and likes repetition,” said Diana’s mother Kira, who was referred to Penn-Mar’s Customized Employment program by the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation more than a year ago. “Some people would say that her job might be mundane, but she’s learned that’s a positive attribute and a skill that also helps the company.”
For Diana, who has cognitive disabilities and epilepsy, doing repetitive tasks keeps her focused. Her service dog Loki, a black Goldendoodle who came into her life three months ago, helps to calm any anxiety she might have while at work or going about her normal day, and is trained to respond to seizures, which for Diana are well under control.
Everyone coming through Penn-Mar’s CE program enrolls in its Exploration & Discovery (E&D) process, which typically takes about six to eight weeks. The process not only gives employment coordinators and job developers an opportunity to learn about the individual – his or her strengths, talents, skills and interests – but it also reinforces the jobseeker’s desire to work and highlights their professional contributions.
“I think the process helped Diana recognize and affirm the things that she was good at, and it helped her feel more confident about looking for a job,” Kira said. “She realized she had the skill sets that an employer might need.”
Making community connections
It has been proven time and time again that networking is a powerful tool for personal and professional development that provides a platform for learning, growth, and mutual support. In the professional world, it opens doors to new opportunities, fosters collaborations, and allows for the exchange of knowledge and expertise. It can lead to career growth, job referrals, and valuable insights from peers.
Penn-Mar Career Counselor and Job Developer Tricia Zeltwanger knows firsthand the power and importance networking has in connecting people with opportunities in the community. Working with Diana through the E&D process, Tricia was able to determine the kinds of jobs that she would thrive at, which included laundry service, pet sitting, inventory stocking, and assembly. The very latter manifested when Kira connected Tricia with The Anstadt Company’s VP of Administrative Services, Jennifer Doran, whose great-great-grandfather, Reverend Peter Anstadt, founded the company in 1878. Jennifer’s husband Matthew is the company’s president and CEO.
Kira had met Jennifer at a mutual friend’s 50th birthday party some five years ago, and was reminded of her and Anstadt when it came to identifying businesses that might have job opportunities that Tricia could explore for Diana. Through networking and partnering with businesses in the region, Tricia is able to assess their employment needs, and match those needs and job opportunities with a Penn-Mar jobseeker.
“Kira was very involved in the whole process,” said Tricia, who incidentally had met her at a networking event before Diana’s referral to Penn-Mar. “She gave me some leeway to connect with employers that she was familiar with, and that’s how I ended up meeting with Jennifer at Anstadt who shared with me what their needs were within the company.”
On the job at Anstadt
After Diana officially graduated from Central York High School in 2019, she stayed on in the school system to gain some life skills and explore employment options. For two summers while in school, she landed paid internships at Raycom Electronics and Leg Up Farmer’s Market. From the fall of 2019 into 2020, Diana got a position working in the high school’s cafeteria. However, due to the impact of COVID and the daily changes that it forced, it quickly became a challenging environment for Diana.
Starting at Anstadt, Diana was nervous and concerned people weren’t going to like her or be mean to her, said Tricia, but those thoughts were dispelled immediately with the warm welcome she received by everyone she met.
It didn’t take long for Diana to settle in after a short period of job coaching and building in natural supports, like video recording directions to her workstation and creating templates for the various job orders. Diana’s cognitive disabilities affect her short-term memory, so these tools are essential to her success.
“The work is repetitious, and she seems to love it,” said Jennifer. “Everyone working in the warehouse loves her, and she’s always got a smile on her face.”
“I like my job. It’s fun,” said Diana, who admitted to spending a good portion of her earnings on her dog Loki. “I think everyone is super nice and helpful. I like the hours for now too, but I’ll probably work more in the future.”
Jennifer sees the potential in Diana and noted how self-sufficient she has become. She also noted that she feels that Diana is capable of a lot more than she believes she can do. That she’s capable of handling anything they throw at her as long as there’s some repetition and support. “She’s an asset to our company because it’s an important job.”
“I’m very proud of Diana,” said Kira. “I’m proud that she’s found something that she likes, and she finds fulfilling. You want all your kids to grow up and live the best lives they can. I’m very thankful that she found a professional community where she’s appreciated and that she has potential to flourish.”