Via Employment Services - Community Employment
Mike – Polka Time with Polka Mike
When Mike was a child he attended some regular education, some special education, and mental health programs. When Mike finished his formal education in the 197O’s he reported to a psychologist that his vocational aspirations were to become a polka D.J., a TV camera-man, dark room photography, or electronic repair work. These aspirations were deemed to be unrealistic and caused Mike to be referred to a sheltered workshop. More than thirty years later, Mike was identified as a candidate for Via Customized Employment services. Although Mike had the skills for entry level service jobs his interests remained in Polka, dark room photography, television, and electronic repair work.
Mike, along with his Via employment specialist, began the Discovery process and spent a lot of time researching dark room photography. Mike also learned a lot about television and electronic repair. It became clear that Mike’s greatest passion was Polka music and its history. Mike was also friendly with a local Polka legend, Jolly Joe Timmer. Joe owns a local radio station that specializes in Polka. Joe agreed to give Mike a shot at his own one hour weekly radio show which became a hit. However, to maintain the show, Mike needed to bring in advertising and was unsuccessful at finding interested parties. The show was shut down. Mike and his Via employment specialist learned a lot about the Polka business and now Mike was no longer interested in pursuing other job interests other than polka.
A new idea was considered: Polka was a big hit with senior citizens. Mike’s Via employment specialist began to contact nursing homes and senior centers about their interest in having Mike play his music. Within a few weeks, Mike started his own Polka DJ business called “Polka Time with Polka Mike.” Mike started with a lot of Polka and per his customers requests added big band and dance music. Mike now plays Polka, Big band, dance, party and a variety of other types of music. Mike received a small business loan from the City of Bethlehem, and support from the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and several other funding sources, to purchase DJ equipment and signs to get his business started. Mike now books several shows a month at places like the Bethlehem Senior Center and Praxis Alzheimer's Facility in Easton.
Mike continues to receive support provided by Via staff. His business is really taking off and he is ahead of schedule on paying back his loan to the City of Bethlehem.
Robert - Josh Early Candies
It is evident from the moment you meet Robert that he loves his job at Josh Early Candies. When you are finally able to pull him away from his work to learn why he enjoys it, the answer is clear: “They’re like my family.”
As Robert takes you on tour of Josh Early, he’ll show you the wonderful candy treats he helps make every day but what you’ll remember is the glowing introduction he gives each of his co-workers as he makes his rounds. And what you can’t miss is the natural camaraderie and respect Robert’s co-workers have for him. He’s one of the team, one of the family.
Robert, a 22 year old from Allentown, started at Josh Early Candies more than a year ago as a shy young man who never had a job before. Having recently graduated from high school, this was the first time Robert was taking steps towards personal independence, away from school and family. And there were a lot of new challenges Robert was eager to face.
From navigating public transportation to learning time management to ensure he was at work on time, Robert met every challenge head on. Robert and his Via job coach started by learning the ropes at Josh Early. Robert’s every day responsibilities include cleaning the front show room where all of Josh Early’s candies are sold and general upkeep of the factory. Through a few weeks of job training, Via helped Robert master his job responsibilities; conquering public transportation was next on the list.
Robert’s Via job coach helped him identify the bus route which would take him from his Allentown home to Josh Early, Monday through Friday, and then back home again. After riding the route for a few weeks with his Via job coach, Robert was confident he could manage the 40 minute long ride and two transfers on his own. And so it was time for the Robert’s Via job coach to begin “fading” by spending less and less time with him at his job, challenging Robert to rely on himself and look to his co-workers for guidance and support.
Fast forward to a year later: Robert’s Via job coach checks in with him once every two weeks at Josh Early. The once daunting bus route has become second nature to him. Robert’s job responsibilities continue to grow but he will tell you he really likes to help make candy. From sifting the topping for nonpareils to pouring chocolate on pecan nut clusters, Robert takes pride in making the highest quality chocolates to satisfy the sweetest sweet tooth in the Lehigh Valley.
Robert’s family is proud of the independence he has gained and how he wasn’t deterred by any challenges he had to overcome. And Robert’s new income is helping take care of his mother and grandmother. Because of dedication and hard work, Robert has his own income, is enjoying his independence, and has a whole new set of co-workers and friends.
Robert made a commitment to Josh Early Candies on the day he was hired and he continues to fulfill that commitment. And Josh Early made a commitment to him, to provide a good job with steady pay and co-workers that embrace him as part of the team. Via is proud to help create success every day in Robert’s life and for hundreds of others across the Lehigh Valley.
Travis, a student at Bangor High School, wanted to be sure he was
prepared for adult life after school. Bangor High School brought
Via Community Employment in to begin working with Travis
through a process called discovery, providing him opportunities to
volunteer and job shadow in the community before graduation.
Discovery allowed Travis to explore his interests, skills and likes in
the community. Through this process, Travis narrowed down his
interests and likes to continuous interaction with people and
organization. He narrowed down his job shadow sites to two, and
CVS was one of his choices. Travis learned much more than
organization and communication skills at
CVS; so much so, that while he was job
shadowing, a manager approached Travis
about his interest in a job.
Travis hard work and dedication earned him a part-time job at CVS.
He stocks store inventory, provides customer service and helps keep the store organized. He also uses public transportation independently to get to and from work three days a week.
Travis stays busy outside of work and school, volunteering two days a
week at Slatebelt Rehab, assisting the secretary at his church, and
volunteering at the Bangor High School athletic office two days a week.
Travis community has grown because he stays involved and busy and his opportunities for success continue to grow with his dedication to volunteering and love for his job.
Bruce Cigars International
Bruce started working with Via while he was still in high
school and preparing for graduation. After doing packaging
and production work as part of his school work experience
program, Bruce wanted to pursue the same type of job after
graduation and set his sights on working for Cigars
International. Cigars International gave Bruce the
opportunity to participate in a work assessment to explore
his likes, strengths and abilities. After two days, Bruce
performed so well, he was offered a part-time job filling
orders on the fast-paced packaging line.
Cigars International has a close-knit culture and, from the day he started, Bruce was embraced as part of the family. His coworkers and supervisors have been
very supportive and were quick to recognize his talents and capabilities. In particular, his
manager, Bob, saw Bruces abilities and went out of his way to provide opportunities for him to learn additional responsibilities. Not long after starting his job, Bruce learned how to make
shipping boxes by hand and operate an automatic box-making machine to produce boxes of
various sizes at a high rate of speed. Bruce excelled in this area and was offered this as his permanent position with an increase in hours.
After five months on the job, Cigars International offered Bruce a full-time position, mostly due
to his hard work and managers support. Bruce has found Cigars International to be a great
place to work and his coworkers have made him a part of the team. They also consider him a
friend and look out for him; one coworker recently noticed his form of transportation to work, his bike, was old and not working well. This friend gave Bruce a new bike so he could continue to ride to work safely.
For more information, contact:
Vicki Henshaw , Director of Employment Services
V.Henshaw@ViaNet.org | 610-317-8000 x472