Last Tuesday, 43 CCV students were awarded a nationally-recognized certificate in the field of vocational rehabilitation. Awardees traveled to the Montpelier academic center from across the state to participate in a day of community-building, professional development, and celebration. They are graduates of a program developed by CCV, in collaboration with the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL), and TransCen, Inc., to offer training accredited by the Association of Community Rehabilitation Educators (ACRE).
But strip away the formalities, and the take-home message from these students is quite simple: Confidence. The training they received through CCV was all about building confidence.
Tuesday’s awardees are working professionals who come from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels, but they have one common goal—helping people with disabilities and disadvantages find and keep gainful employment. Confidence, they say, is key not only to the success of their clients and consumers, but also to their own success in being better able to serve others. And the more than 40 hours of work they put into the CCV/DAIL program was instrumental in fostering a belief in their ability to do just that.
“From my organization’s perspective, my staff feel more confident doing their job,” said Chris McCarthy, executive director of the Vermont Association of Business Industry and Rehabilitation (VABIR), an organization that put many employees through the training. “Because of the tools that they received through the course, they are able to help provide confidence to their clients. So people who come from generational poverty now have someone in their corner cheerleading them and helping them understand, ‘I can go out and I can get a job. I can work, I can get my driver’s license, I can get a car, I can be more successful.’ That really has played out for the people that we serve.”
The course was offered online, and Tuesday’s gathering was the first time most had met in person and interacted face-to-face. Organizers planned small group activities to facilitate introductions, story-sharing, and networking. In these discussions students, some of whom are VABIR supervisors, offered anecdotes and “notes from the field” to illustrate their experiences.
In one small group activity, Kelly Gonter shared that the job development tools she acquired were a boost to her confidence and to her skill set. Samantha Flint, who started the course just a week after beginning her job at VABIR, said that having a network of support was critical as she was starting out. For Leslie Walker Mitchell, who has worked in the industry for nearly five years, having earned the certificate is a validation. “I love learning and I love the growth opportunities,” she said. “Having that certificate to say, ‘look, I’m actually certified to do my job that I’ve been doing,’ it’s kind of cool.”
In another activity, participants were encouraged to share stories about moments in which they felt aware of the impact of their work. When the group came back together, Brian Maroney summarized what he’d heard: “It’s that ‘thank you, you saved my life.’ It’s those little things that every now and then someone gives you, or it’s that handwritten note or the card, it’s the thing that when you’re down on this job because it’s so tough, it’s that one thing that changes everything. That’s why I do it.’”
In addition to opportunities for participants to reflect, share, and connect, the event culminated in a formal award ceremony. CCV President Joyce Judy handed out plaques alongside Hugh Bradshaw, employment services manager for VR, and CCV faculty member Tia Ganguly, who instructed the course. Also in attendance were all six members of the Vermont State House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and Vermont State Colleges System Board of Trustees Chair Martha O’Connor.
As the day came to a close, Tia Ganguly addressed her students directly. “I began this work as an employment specialist long ago,” she said. “I’m just so appreciative of what you all do and appreciative of the stories that I’ve heard. What really struck me was just how much you all care. You are so committed to your consumers and to this work. I think that that is just such a gift.”