By PAULETTE NIEMI, GOISD Transition Services Coordinator, Daily Globe
Transition Services Coordinator IRONWOOD — Working in a job in her community has been a goal of 22-year-old Ann Dahlin’s since she was in high school. Overcoming many barriers that would have stopped others, Dahlin achieved her goal when she was hired as a people greeter at Walmart in Ironwood in October. Dahlin was diagnosed with a cognitive impairment at a young age, and her parents, Jim and Rainy Dahlin, were told by doctors that this disability often carries many road blocks to independent living and employability. The parents, both teachers, set high expectations early on to help Ann become the best person she could be and reach her highest potential for learning and life. Her enthusiasm and positive energy provided a good backdrop for her future success. Along the way in her elementary and middle school years, Dahlin participated in regular education classes with supports in special education to help her gain as many academic skills as she could. When high school approached, Dahlin was enrolled in the Michigan Merit Diploma course of study. By her sophomore year, Dahlin, her parents and teachers realized that this track of study was not serving her in her best interests. With the help of the Gogebic-Ontonagon Intermediate School District Transition Program, the decision was made by Dahlin and her parents to enroll in the GOISD Moderate Cognitive Impairment program where she would focus instead on learning essential life skills for independent living and employment skills with the hope that she would some day have a job in the local community. “High school is a time when doors to independence, college, and careers are opening as students enter adulthood. But for CI students, these same doors are often closing due to the limitations of their disability,” said Rainy Dahlin. “Ann voiced very early in high school that she wanted a job so that became our goal.” With the help of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services-Michigan Rehabilitation Services, a state agency which mission is to help people with disabilities find employment, Dahlin began a series of work opportunities while in the GOISD MOCI program. She began at Gogebic Community College working in the snack bar under the direction of a GOISD job coach and Amy Tarro, the snack bar manager. “I loved going to work at the GCC Snack Bar because I got to interact with the college students and prepare the daily lunch menu. It was a fun place to work,” said Dahlin. She received a recommendation from Tarro after the first year and the following year, moved on to working in the kitchen at Manny’s restaurant, prepping foods for the daily lunch buffet. Again, Dahlin was successful in learning her job tasks, needing a job coach only for a few weeks before going it alone. “It has been exciting to watch the building block process of area programs working together in the best interest of our daughter,” said Rainy Dahlin. “From early job shadow experiences to explore career interest areas, to her work-based learning opportunities, Ann has had the full support of MDHHS-MRS Counselor Tasha Weber and the Gogebic-Ontonagon ISD Transition Coordinator Paulette Niemi, who with Ann’s MOCI classroom teacher, Jay Pawlak, worked to ensure her success each step of the way.” When Dahlin graduated from the GOISD MOCI program in June 2016, she was ready for the next step in her adult life and reaching her goal of getting a job in her community. She had already learned valuable job skills in her work-based learning program through the GOISD and MRS. Now, another agency would come on board to help her with reaching her goal of employment: Community Mental Health. According to Janet DiGiorgio, Dahlin’s CMH caseworker, “Ann was referred to CMH shortly after exiting the GOISD program. The family asked for Supported Employment services and Ann qualified due to her disability.” Jeff Richards, SE supervisor, said, “The program is designed to assist people with developmental/intellectual and severely mental disabilities to obtain and keep a competitive job in the community based on their interest and abilities.” Kim Kolesar, an employment training specialist, assisted Dahlin with career exploration, job development and the application and interview process that eventually landed her the job at Walmart for the people greeter position. Services for Dahlin continue through long term support. “With the people greeter position, we are looking for someone who is good with the public and can represent our store in a positive way. It is hard to tell this about someone from a job application. We like to have the candidates come in for a personal interview to screen applications,” Walmart store manager John Paakala said. “Ann was called in for an interview for the people greeter position and did very well, so much that we offered her the position. She had the qualities of being outgoing and being able to interact positively with the public.” Dahlin loves working at Walmart and is very proud of her new job as a people greeter. “I get to interact with customers and greet them on their way into the store, put carts away and help customers with getting their questions answered by using the walkie talkie to talk to other departments,” said Dahlin. During the holiday shopping season, Dahlin earned two customer service pins and received a “Happy to Help” customer service award from her manager. “Strengths we see in Ann are her eagerness to learn and help customers. There is a lot to learn for the people greeter position as customers have a lot of questions. Ann has taken it upon herself to learn on her own time more about the store layout and where to locate merchandise so she can be more helpful,” said Paakola. Ann’s positive attitude and smile are a great fit the for the people greeter position. “This person needs to be always positive and greeting customers with a smile. It is an important position as the people greeter is the first interaction that the customer has when they walk into the store and we want that to be a positive one,” said Paakola. Dahlin started at Walmart in October, and has been successfully employed for three months working four hours a day, five days a week. She is looking forward to learning new job duties. “I would like to work in some of the other departments or the bakery,” said Dahlin. She recently learned how to stock shelves and organize merchandise, called zoning, in the toy department. “I am happy that I can earn my own paycheck and have money to buy things for myself, and buy my own lunches when I go out with friends,” said Dahlin. “I feel my disability is not an issue at work because I have so much job experience and I picked a job that is something that is easier for me,” said Dahlin. “I am good at interacting with people and customer service and this is one of my strengths.” Her fellow associates have been very helpful and positive, said Dahlin. “I love going to work every day. My job is fun and rewarding.” Editor’s note: MDHHS-MRS assists eligible Michigan citizens with disabilities with finding employment and maintaining employment. To contact the local MDHHS-MRS counselor, Tasha Weber, call 906-663-6219. CMH serves people with disabilities and provides supported employment services for customers who meet the criteria. For CMH services, call the Northcare Access number at 888-906-9060.