Thirty-Four Years After Starting at VersAbility, Renee Rose Still Passionate about Its Mission

VersAbility's COO Renee Rose poses beneath a tree

Renee Rose started at VersAbility Resources as a two-week temp covering the front desk. Thirty-four years later, she’s the Chief Operating Officer and the nonprofit’s longest tenured employee.

All those years ago, Rose wasn’t looking to put down roots. After a semester of college away, she returned home to Hampton seeking temporary jobs while she mapped out her future.

“I worked many jobs during that time, but VersAbility was the one place I felt connected to,” said Rose, who grew up inspired by her great grandmother, legally blind but able to live independently for 14 years after her husband passed.

“She helped me see how capable people with disabilities are,” Rose said.

It wasn’t long before Rose was asked back to transition into another role — managing a custodial contract offsite that called for transporting the employees and establishing the routine needed for them to complete the work. Some needed a checklist as a reminder of tasks; others required almost no guidance. Several team members at VersAbility pitched in to help.

“It was such a great introduction to what we do,” Rose said. “It instilled in me that this is an organization where everybody will jump in, get their feet wet, focus on what the mission is, and work together to get it done.”

Nearly four decades later, that’s the mindset at VersAbility Resources, which services more than 1,700 people with disabilities and their families with programs in early childhood, student services, day and residential, and employment. The priority is unchanged — making sure people with disabilities lead dignified, productive lives of their choosing as fully accepted members in society.

Rose changed hats multiple times over the years, including a three-year stint serving as a Direct Support Professional where she delighted in seeing the joy that a sense of accomplishment brought to those she worked alongside. She also found rewards in managing VersAbility’s Government Contracts program, which provides employment for people with disabilities in jobs that include ship provisioning for the Navy and staffing a call center at Langley Air Force Base.

But Rose’s affinity for numbers and her knack for navigating Excel spreadsheets led her to a longtime position in accounting, where she received guidance from several mentors whom she emulates today.

“I try to make sure my team knows I’m available,” Rose said. “Frankly, I also want to hear what they have to say. I want to be their advocate. If something needs to be changed, I want to know. I want them to know how much I appreciate all that they do.”

As Chief Operating Officer, Rose oversees all VersAbility operations — a mind-boggling number of services expansive in scope.

“On any given day, you could have a Service Coordinator working with a family to establish a plan that could help their child meet developmental milestones while an Employment Specialist is helping someone fill out an application for a job,” Rose said. “If hired, that person would need training to ensure they’re successful in that job. At our corporate location, we have people working on fulfilling a variety of contracts for commercial customers, and their attention to detail and quality is unmatched.”

The “wow” moments motivate Rose as well. She could point to many, but one that remains close to her heart is watching a high school student blossom. The student was extremely introverted and lacked self-confidence. Initially, she worked with an Employment Specialist and accepted a part-time position that required nighttime hours and almost no interaction with peers. Over time, she showed interest in transitioning to a full-time job during regular business hours but was hesitant to jump into something new as she did not like change.

The solution was to offer her a tryout, so she could experience the job before making a final decision.

“She liked the new job enough to take a chance,” Rose said. “That, to me, was a real indicator of growth because she was willing to accept change.”

Within a month, the student bought a new car, and one afternoon, she listened to music and began to dance while working. Everyone around her smiled.

“She came so far outside of that introverted person she was,” Rose said. “She had become confident and comfortable enough to stand at her workstation and dance.”

Rose became Chief Operating Officer in March 2020, when the world changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been a challenging period that included shutting down the day program briefly and current staff shifting to service many of the contracts VersAbility supports.

“I realized early on that we had to make the best decisions we could to protect the individuals we serve,” she said. “We also had to sustain the work we had to have the employment opportunities available when it was time to bring people back.”

Rose is something of a historian at VersAbility — the go-to for any question and a leader able to bring perspective to most any situation. She touts the terrific team around her that has been flexible and positive throughout.

“It’s nice to work somewhere where you believe in its purpose and I absolutely do,” she said. “It’s a great mission. The services we provide touch a lot more people than the person with the disability. Everyone has different experiences in their lives that help shape them. We don’t provide cookie cutter services here. We provide services that help people enhance their capabilities in ways they’ve indicated they want support. To do that every day is truly amazing.”

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