Graphic Design Intern Gains Real-World Work Experience Thanks to Pre-ETS Program

Gabriel aspires to a career in film and graphic design, and with the help of VersAbility Resources, he spent the summer as an intern gaining hands-on, practical work experience.

VersAbility’s Pre-ETS program offers students with disabilities the chance to explore and prepare for adult life by participating in professional education and training programs. Pre-ETS is a steppingstone for VersAbility’s Supported Employment program that works with the adult population in the school system by helping those individuals find their interests and develop employable skills based on them.

Gabriel was a graphic design intern at Consociate Media.

“It was pretty great,” Gabriel said. “I liked how all the mentors helped me there.”

Gabriel worked alongside Consociate graphic designers Jeff Phillips and Amber Wyatt.

“I learned how to create business cards and posters,” said Gabriel, who primarily relied on Illustrator and Photoshop.

Ultimately, Gabriel wants to work as a graphic designer for animation in the movies. He’s a particular fan of the style used in “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

VersAbility is eager to develop more partnerships with local employers to create more career opportunities for people with disabilities.

“This professional experience was able to give Gabriel exposure to a marketing environment,” said Sydney Smith, Employment Specialist at VersAbility. “We are so happy to work with Consociate Media and develop relationships outside of entry-level job environments.  The students we work with possess a wide array of talents and interests. The sky is the limit for them.”

If you are an employer interested in becoming a partner in VersAbility’s Pre-ETS program, contact Vickie Greatwood, Director of Supported Employment at 757-896-8444 or email

VersAbility’s Supported Employment Program Helps This Diamond Shine

Diamond Jones almost sparkles these days talking about the woman she has become with the help of VersAbility Resources.

Jones was shy at King’s Fork High School and often unhappy. Today, showing off her brilliant red dreads and a shirt that screams, “Too Blessed to be Stressed,” the 21-year-old shares openly about struggling with a disability that nobody can see. Major depression, anxiety and bipolar tendencies can interfere with Jones’ ability to get through a day.

Yet Jones still has goals and dreams. VersAbility Resources’ Supported Employment program put her on a path to achieving those.

“What I love the most about VersAbility Resources is that they work with people who have mental illness,” she says.


The nonprofit partners with regional employers to provide long-term jobs in community settings for people with disabilities. That’s how Jones landed her first job at Autumn Care, a skilled senior nursing home in Suffolk.

Even before that, by meeting one-on-one with her VersAbility job coach, Jones gained a fresh perspective on herself.

Job coach Amy Zengel saw the light inside of Jones. She spotted a positive energy, and the two easily connected.

“Hearing her describe me to me made me open my eyes,” Jones said. “I never looked at myself the way she did. She looked at me positively. She told me that my light was bright. ‘Let it shine,’ she said.’ She empowered me.”

Jones wanted to work in a doctor’s office after graduating from high school and earned certifications in medical assistant, EKG technician and phlebotomy at Paul D. Camp Community College. But she lacked hands-on experience that she’s getting every day as a certified nurse aide at Autumn Care.

“I probably would have never thought to come to a nursing home on my own,” Jones says. “They took me in here and I was very proud. I had an elderly grandmother when I was a kid. Working with older folks doesn’t bother me.”


Jones provides care for 11 residents at Autumn Care. It’s not easy work. It requires lifting, bathing and feeding the residents. Her first day on the job she didn’t know how she was going to manage. She watched the efficiency of the other aides and couldn’t envision herself doing the same.

“This job taught me patience, actually,” Jones says. “I had to slow down and work at my pace. My coworkers here are very supportive. They don’t mind helping me with whatever I need.”

Jones finds support in the residents, too. She knows them all on a first-name basis and delights in making time to talk with them, to hear about their grandchildren and their families.

“They need me,” she says. “We’re supposed to take 15-minute breaks, but if in a moment I feel like a resident needs me, I don’t take a break.”

Jones beams in describing two of the residents, a married couple, Carrie and Bruce who share the same room. They make her laugh during mealtime. Carrie likes salt and pepper, but not the kind in the packets. Bruce gets the actual shakers with his tray. She wants those. Bruce asks for Carrie’s bread; Carrie doesn’t eat bread so she doesn’t care.

“As long as she has her salt and pepper,” Jones says.

When it was Carrie’s birthday and she thought no one remembered, Jones brightened her day by bringing in balloons.

“The residents let us know they appreciate us,” Jones says. “I try to make them comfortable and at home. They really are sweet.”

Jones has also discovered healthy ways to deal with the negative thoughts that used to dominate her life. She’s a painter with her own website, Chemically Imbalanced Art. She also has a YouTube channel and she listens to music constantly when she’s not at work. The track inside her head is always playing “Jesus, Be a Fence.”

The best parts of the job have nothing to do with a paycheck.

“Just knowing I made a difference throughout the day — that’s the reward,” Jones says. “When I go into these residents’ rooms throughout the day and ask if they need anything, if they’re OK. I ask, ‘Do you need me to feed you? Do you need me to change you? Do you need anything at all?’ To hear them say, ‘No. I’m OK.’ That makes my day. Knowing they’re OK. I look at them and know I’m caring for someone’s mother, father, uncle, aunt. Somebody’s loved one.”


Jones has since graduated from VersAbility’s Supported Employment program and is happy to have independence and pride in her work. She envisions eventually transitioning into the medical assisting field and down the line wants to work in a morgue. She has every reason to believe she’ll be successful thanks to the foundation laid with the help of VersAbility.

Jones has learned to take a breath and write out a list of accomplishments every day.

The list isn’t always long, but there’s always enough on it for Jones to say to herself, “I’m a success.”

From Hired Hands to VersAbility Resources: “We really want to help people achieve their goals and show them how to do it.”

As the Director of Supported Employment at VersAbility Resources, Vickie Greatwood doesn’t look at the person in front of her and see a disability.

Greatwood and her team see an individual with distinct likes and dislikes, full of short and long-term goals. Their job is to make life better for that person, a role they all embrace and can do more successfully now thanks to the addition of more resources due to a recent acquisition.

Hired Hands, a Carrollton-based job training and support organization, became a division of VersAbility in December 2020.

Hired Hands was owned by Anna Burns and her husband Tim at the time VersAbility acquired it. Anna and Tim were looking to retire.

Greatwood transitioned from being an Employment Specialist for Hired Hands to Director of Supported Employment at VersAbility.

The nonprofit’s Supported Employment Services program matches qualified candidates with employers and aims to be even more diverse and inclusive with Hired Hands on board.

“Now that we’re under the umbrella of VersAbility, we can combine forces for the betterment of the individuals we’re serving and work together to give the best possible services we can,” Greatwood says.

Greatwood earned her bachelor’s in communications from Virginia Wesleyan University and an associate’s in English/American Sign Language from Tidewater Community College. She envisioned being an interpreter; her mother was a nurse in a special education classroom, where Greatwood used to volunteer reading to the students. While searching for interpreting jobs, Greatwood discovered Hired Hands.

“I intended to work there for a year or two but loved it so much that I realized that’s where I belonged,” she says.

One of the Supported Employment department’s greatest strengths is its focus on the match between employer and employee.  Team members encourage potential employees to examine what type of job works best for them and relates to their interests. There’s a misnomer that a person with a disability should be happy with any job.

“We make sure we’re focusing on the direction they want to go,” Greatwood says.

Hired Hands offered situational assessments for those who have never worked before. Greatwood was happy to expand that service as part of the VersAbility team.

“We put people in real-life scenarios,” she says. “For example, if someone is interested in stocking, we would go to a local grocery store, ideally something close to them so transportation is not a barrier, and they would actually get to be at the worksite and try the job as if they were hired.”

VersAbility’s relationships with local employers, now increased with the acquisition of Hired Hands, makes that exercise possible.

More established employees benefit from job development or marketing potential employees based on their interests and strengths to specific employers. VersAbility helps with the transition.

“Once a job is obtained, we provide coaching or support onsite,” Greatwood says. “We are often with the individual pretty heavily in the beginning, but then we slowly fade out. The ultimate goal is for them to be independent in the position.”

Sometimes it calls to be innovative. At Hired Hands, Greatwood recalls one employee who couldn’t read the checklist of required tasks. A staffer created a picture book of those tasks.

“Using the picture book, he was able to complete all of his job duties every day,” Greatwood says.

After an employee achieves independence, Greatwood and staff provide follow-along services or check-ins with the employee to ensure continued success.

“That way they know they still have our support,” she says. “We’re still in the background. If something comes up between visits, they can call us, and we can jump in and assist.”

Another service from Hired Hands now offered by VersAbility — independent living skills.

“Sometimes people need assistance outside of work for things that help set them up for success,” Greatwood says, “For example, someone might need help learning how to wash a uniform. Others may need to know how to take a bus to get to work. We help them read the bus schedule. Or maybe they just need help budgeting or opening a bank account. We help with all of that.”

Pre-employment transitional services (pre-ETS), working with high school students and recent graduates to help them earn skills to prepare for the workforce, is another available service.

“We find out what their interests are and try to introduce them to different employers and jobs that are related to them,” Greatwood says. “We also do mock interviews and resume building.”

With interaction limited during the pandemic, staff has been creative, setting up a virtual curriculum. Not everyone is comfortable using Zoom, so one accommodation made was to connect over a video game. Amanda Kuzma, an Employment Specialist who transitioned to VersAbility from Hired Hands, came up with this idea.

“That way our trainer was able to meet someone using a headset,” Greatwood says. “We were able to make whatever digital platform that worked for them work for us.”

The intensions of every Supported Employment staff member that transitioned from Hired Hands to VersAbility remain the same as when they were strictly Hired Hands — to personalize services to each individual and provide the tools needed to thrive professionally.

Greatwood could choose from multiple feel-good stories but shares this one.

A few years ago, she worked with a deaf refugee from The Congo who had no language training. Though he was able to communicate with family members, he struggled to do the same outside of the home. Teaching him a job that not only involved stocking shelves but scanning items into a computer as well was a challenge.

Greatwood worked closely with Melinda Gallagher, today VersAbility’s Deaf Team Leader who is deaf herself and understands those daily life struggles. Greatwood relayed the job instructions to Gallagher, who used her native signing skills to communicate them to the individual visually. He was then able to successfully perform all job duties.

“It was a collaborative effort with all three of us working together to communicate and it could not have been done without Gallagher’s way of taking the words and making them visual,” Greatwood says. “It was a great testament to how we can all work together along with the individuals we’re serving to create opportunities. Even with a barrier, such as someone not having any formal language training, there is a way to make it work if we put our heads together and think outside the box. Once he got the dots connected, it was a beautiful moment.”

Greatwood, Gallagher, and the entire Supported Employment team look forward to more breakthrough moments as part of VersAbility. They have seen the ripple effect employment can bring. They have watched many improve their health and fitness so they can perform their duties at work better.

They have watched confidence grow. They have been part of lives changing, just by simply helping individuals see what has been inside of them all along.

“It’s been a real privilege to be part of Hired Hands, and now being a new division of VersAbility, I’m excited to see what the future holds,” Greatwood says. “We really want to help people achieve their goals and show them how to do it.”

Meet Anna!

Anna Piatak, a cashier at a local Food Lion, is making her mark in the workforce.

A Virginia native, Anna grew up in Smithfield and was referred to VersAbility/Hired Hands from DARS (Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services) in November of 2019.

From there, Anna was placed with a job coach who spoke to her about her interests, what type of job she might like, and then researched opportunities for Anna where she knew she could thrive.

Then came 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. It took some time, but Anna finally found a job she was truly excited about.

In January 2021, Anna applied for a cashier position Food Lion. She was ecstatic to learn she had landed a position, although it was not what she thought. Due to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was asked to do sanitation work throughout the store as they had just lost the person who was completing that work. Anna agreed, but asked that she be trained on the register when it was possible.

She has taken her sanitation job very seriously over the past few months and has shown her dedication to the company and the safety of their customers. Her manager couldn’t help but notice her strong work ethic and thought it was time to train her as a cashier.

Anna is happier than ever as she is now able to be a cashier and maintain helping sanitize the store.

Her manager recently said, “Anna is doing phenomenally!”

Anna feels empowered doing a job she loves and knows that she continues contributing to the health and safety of each customer who walks through their doors.

Lisa, Anna’s job coach, recently said, “What a pleasure it has been working with Anna! Throughout all of our Zoom meetings when COVID-19 was in full swing, to starting her training at Food Lion, Anna always had a great attitude and was willing to do whatever it took to be successful at her job. I have really seen Anna thrive working at Food Lion, not only in her tasks, but also in the way that she interacts with the customers and her co-workers. She has become quite popular! I think that Anna will only continue to grow while at Food Lion, and who knows where it will take her!”

When Anna isn’t working, she likes to shop and go out with her friends. She also enjoys watching Netflix.

Thank you for your hard work and dedication, Anna! We are all so proud of you!

Meet Angel!

Angel Vega is finding his way in the workforce thanks to VersAbility/Hired Hands’ Supported Employment program. Angel was referred to the Hired Hands division of VersAbility by the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI) where he was paired with a job coach to help him discover his true passions and overall goals for employment.

Recently, Angel participated in a week-long work trial at VersAbility’s Norfolk office. During this work trial, participants are able to determine their interests while their job coach gets a better understanding of the persons skill sets so they can be sure to match them with the perfect employment fit where the employee will thrive.

Angel shared that he really enjoyed using the copier and stuffing envelopes, but he was grateful to have the chance to try new things.

“I feel so good about all the work we did, I feel like wow, that was great. I feel like I accomplished something,” says Angel.

At the completion of his work trial, Angel, his DBVI counselor, and his job coach discuss what he has in store next on his journey to employment.

We can’t wait to see what’s next for Angel. We know he will do wonderful things in the workforce!

Bank of America Grant Will Benefit VersAbility Resources Supported Employment Program

VersAbility Resources is the recipient of a Bank of America grant that will improve communication for people with disabilities who participate in the nonprofit’s employment program with regional employers.

The $20,000 grant for VersAbility’s Supported Employment Program will fund the purchase of MARTTI (My Accessible Real-Time Trusted Interpreter). The two-way video and audio wireless connection relies on a certified medical interpreter to facilitate conversation between employees who are deaf or hearing impaired, on-site managers and a VersAbility Employment Specialist.

The Supported Employment Program pairs those with mild to severe disabilities with jobs in community settings. VersAbility Employment Specialists provide on-site support and individual assessments to ensure the employee remains successful. The addition of MARTTI will eliminate less effective means of communication, such as texts messaging, notepads and gestures.

“Employees throughout VersAbility will now have a tool that will allow them to communicate in a manner that is focused on what is being said instead of how it is being communicated,” said Renee’ Rose, Chief Operating Officer of VersAbility Resources. “The elimination of the frustration associated with the other methods of communication will encourage more communication between our employees.”

Melinda Gallagher, VersAbility’s Supported Employment Specialist for the Deaf/Team Leader, said breaking down the barriers that interfere with communication will be an asset to both employees and their managers onsite.

“I will benefit from having MARTTI on site because I can have conversations with the manager and include the individual I am working with in that conversation,” Gallagher said. “That will really empower the individual receiving services to share any feedback. It will become more of a team collaboration with all of us being able to communicate together.”

VersAbility Resources supports more than 1,300 people with disabilities and their families from Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, York County and the 10 counties on the Middle Peninsula and the Northern Neck.

For information about VersAbility’s Supported Employment Program, contact Vickie Greatwood at 757-896-8446.

To learn more about VersAbility, visit

Supported Employment Program Success Story: Sumitomo Drive Technologies

Richard Dean adores the truck he bought with the money he saved working a full-time job at Sumitomo Drive Technologies.

The Chesapeake manufacturing plant benefits from a model employee who’s earned a promotion.

The partnership is a win-win-win for Dean, Sumitumo and VersAbility Resources, which offers a successful Supported Employment Program to help regional businesses thrive while providing long-term jobs in community settings for people with disabilities.

Thanks to this program, Dean was hired more than five years ago to break down materials and sort them for recycling. Much of the work requires a series of repetitive tasks.

“He’s been great,” said Mike Lulofs, Human Resources Director at Sumitomo. “He stays focused. He’s always here. He blossomed when he got here.”

In fact, Dean has been such an exemplary employee that Sumitomo recently hired two additional part-timers with disabilities referred by VersAbility Resources.

Employment Specialists from VersAbility  provide ongoing support  services, including periodic counseling, phone calls to the employer and the employee, and continued on-site training as needed to ensure both a smooth beginning  and a successful lasting relationship.

“The support mechanisms they have in place are a really key component to making this work,” Lulofs said. “You’ve got ongoing support from the folks at VersAbility Resources so you know if there is an issue or concern, you have a contact or connection who can help.”

Dean’s job responsibilities as a material handler expanded when a promotion earned him a position as part of Sumitomo’s maintenance group. He now operates a forklift and drives the ride-on floor scrubber. He’s also a contributor in other meaningful ways, specifically as part of the internal employee activity committee. A few years ago, his efforts led to a holiday fundraiser that raised more than $4,500 for a Portsmouth-based veterans organization. It’s a cause close to Dean’s heart as he is a disabled veteran himself.

“Richard was instrumental in hooking us up with that particular group,” Lulofs said. “It’s great to have him around. He takes a lot of pride in what he does for us every day.”

The team at VersÅbility Resources is constantly exploring options for new Supported Employment business partners. Contact us for more information.

Tasty Work for People With Disabilities

VersAbility Resources offers a Supported Employment Program by partnering with regional businesses who thrive to provide long-term jobs in community settings for people with disabilities. In a new series, employers share the impact VersAbility employees make as part of their staffs.

It takes a team effort at TASTE headquarters to produce the ingredients for café favorites that range from sandwiches named Boardwalk, Hilltop and Freemason to a house dressing with a kick.

Chef Thomas Yager heads that village in Virginia Beach, and for the last three years, he’s relied on support from VersAbility Resources employees, some whom work up to 30 hours weekly performing multiple duties.

Many chop and dice — everything from the shapely slivers of carrots that color the coleslaw to the chunky chicken for the gourmet salad. Others package the goodies into containers, affixing stickers for retail sale.


It’s a win-win partnership. Employers benefit from eager, enthusiastic, and dedicated workers. Employees gain an income, a purpose and for many, newfound self-confidence.

“We have not had one person from VersAbility come in and not be able to do what we’ve asked,” Yager says. “The program has been great fitting people into jobs they can do successfully.”

VersAbility’s Mike Palmer is the matchmaker behind the scenes. He and his staff work closely with counselors at the state’s Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services to vet all employees prior to placement with community business partners.

“The general assessment tells you a lot,” he says. “We talk about their likes and dislikes. Most just want to be out in the community engaging with others. Having a job adds to their self-worth, and they like showing what they can do. They might have certain disabilities, but once they become acclimated, they’re perfectly comfortable.”

Yager can’t overestimate the impact VersAbility employees make on staff. They perform what’s often repetitious tasks with an exemplary work ethic. Many are shy initially, however it doesn’t take long for them to feel connected to the TASTE family.

“They shine,” Yager says.

For many from VersAbility, working at TASTE represents their very first job.

“It’s wonderful to give them a chance they might not otherwise be given,” Yager says. “Sometimes people think a person labeled with a disability is bedridden or stuck in a chair or can’t perform. That’s not the case at all. You can’t discredit people because they are labeled with a disability.”


The VersAbility team is constantly exploring options for new Supported Employment business partners and would love your recommendations of any businesses that may be a good fit. For more information about this program, contact Mike Palmer at (757) 896-8446 or

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