Working for a living

Dale Holley works at Grocery Outlet in Gilroy as a bagger. Here

Dale Holley is passionate about his job. The 21-year-old Gilroy
resident is responsible for various chores at the Gilroy Grocery
Outlets on First Street where he participates in the


program designed to provide job training to young people with
developmental needs.
Dale Holley is passionate about his job. The 21-year-old Gilroy resident is responsible for various chores at the Gilroy Grocery Outlets on First Street where he participates in the state-funded “WorkAbility” program designed to provide job training to young people with developmental needs.

Holley’s voice confirms his gusto for his tasks of stocking shelves and bagging customers’ food from 9am-1pm, Mondays through Thursdays.

“I love it,” he said of his work activities. “I help the guys put the frozen food in the freezer, and I stack the ice cream. I go round up carts, and I put things on the shelf. I do basically what they want me to get done.”

Besides a paycheck, he also receives much more intrinsic benefits from working at the store. These include increasing his self-confidence and developing friendships with customers and other workers.

“The people are nice and friendly, and the employees are very nice,” he said. “They like me coming there. They like to see me every day when I show up.”

When he’s not on the job, Holley spends many of his hours honing job skills with other students enrolled in the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s WorkAbility classroom.

“We go to the bank, and we cash our checks,” he said, describing just one of the skills he has learned through the program.

WorkAbility is funded by the state Department of Education. It was started in 1981 after a two-year study showed many students with physical and learning disabilities were not being adequately prepared for the job market. Since then, it has evolved to provide high school students in special education with comprehensive pre-employment training and job placement.

“My focus is to get (the students) ready for life,” said Steve Fortino who runs a WorkAbility program in Gilroy for Santa Clara County. “We’re heavy in job skills, in employment skills, in interviewing skills and living skills such as managing a budget, managing money and riding a bus.”

The program’s overall goal is to help its young students become as independent as possible as they shift into adulthood.

Part-time jobs are found for the students that suit their personality and physical requirements, he said. Fortino remembers one overly talkative young woman he placed assisting residents at a South Valley convalescent home.

“The elderly people absolutely adored her because she told them everything about her family,” he said with a laugh. “That’s the key, you have to match the job to the students.”

Fortino called WorkAbility a “win-win” program for businesses. Employers gain valuable workers and also help out the South Valley’s youth at no monetary cost, he said. Students receive their paychecks through state grants, and liability is also covered by the program.

South Valley businesses and organizations who have brought WorkAbility students on staff include the City of Gilroy, Wal-Mart, Gavilan Community College, Coast Range Brewery, and Wendy’s and Applebee’s restaurants in Gilroy; Guglielmo Winery, Long’s Drugs, and Target and Mervyn’s retail stores in Morgan Hill; and SpeeDee Lube, and Burger King, McDonald’s and Quizno’s restaurants in Hollister.

Saint Louis Regional Hospital in Gilroy regularly participates in the WorkAbility program, said Steven Sharrer, hospital vice president of human resources.

“Any time we can help folks that are disabled for any reason gain a skill or something that will enhance their ability to take care of themselves, that’s an important thing for us to do,” he said. “Great benefits open up to them as they become productive members of the community.”

WorkAbility students at the hospital have helped out with various chores including assisting cafeteria customers in the tray line and also helping to stock food and supplies.

“They’re very, very wonderful young men and young women who come here,” Sharrer said. “They’re well behaved, work hard and are excited about being here.”

About 200 students in San Benito County participate each year in the WorkAbility classes, said Nora Jimenez who runs the program at San Benito High School. The students receive help in assessing their career paths, learning about hygiene and proper attire for work, resume writing and job applications, and time management.

“We are a job readiness-focused program which promotes transition activities conducive to preparing students for an entry-level position and the responsibilities involved,” Jimenez said. “Additionally, we assist an average of 80 students per year to successfully find employment. A number of high school students continue with their employment after graduation.”

If they continue working after graduation, the company will pay for their work.

In Morgan Hill, Marge Regan serves as the coordinator/director of WorkAbility classes at Live Oak and Sobrato high schools.

“WorkAbility is a program that involves many different people throughout the community. It’s a collaborative effort,” she said. “We work with businesses, service agencies, the teachers on our campuses, the parents who work with us, and the students, of course.”

The program often brings local guest speakers to campus to discuss with students various issues in finding a job and developing work skills, she said.

The Morgan Hill WorkAbility program also has an internship program called “El Cajon” where students train as culinary chefs at some of the city’s finer dining places such as the Golden Oak and Mama Mia’s restaurants.

“The big thing about our program is developing good work habits and a good work record so that they can use that for their future,” Regan said. “You need that first step to get your foot in the door and to learn how to do your job. It gives them the edge so they can get their next job.”

High school seniors involved in WorkAbility go through mock interviews to help them learn how to remain calm as potential employers ask job-related questions, she said. And some businesses enable the students to “shadow” a worker for a day to see for themselves exactly what a job entails.

One aspect of WorkAbility Regan enjoys is that it enables the student to remove the “fear factor” everyone undergoes in getting a job.

She often sees students’ self-esteem rise as they take their first steps along their individual career paths.

“We demystify the whole process for them by teaching them what they need to do and how to go about doing it,” Regan said. “It’s really rewarding to see them grow as people.”

Cindy Aleman, the vocational service staff assistant for the Santa Clara County Office of Education, also believes the growth of self-confidence and self-esteem is one of the best benefits from WorkAbility.

“To say, ‘This is my job,’ that’s a big booster for them,” she said. “They’re gaining great experience working out in the community and people accepting them for who they are.”

One of Aleman’s duties is to find businesses that might be willing to help WorkAbility students gain those important working skills from their first job. Most employers find they greatly benefit from the program because the students are very enthusiastic about their job chores, she said.

“(Businesses) have nothing to lose and everything to gain, because we pay the workers,” she said.

Fortino also sees the program as valuable in getting young people ready for a productive life in the work world.

“It really is valuable,” he insisted. “My concern is that they don’t leave my program and go and sit on a couch all day long and have no purpose.”

And Gilroy Grocery Outlet employee Holley agreed. “I like this program,” the young man said. “I think that everyone should have a job no matter if they’re disabled or not. Everyone should have a nice, steady job.”

Workability facts

• Employers participating in the WorkAbility I program receive “screened job-ready workers” with skills and interests assessed and matched to employer needs.

• The program provides training wages and on-going support services to both student and employer.

• Employers must provide a job description, identify the essential functions the student worker must perform and designate an employee in the work area as a contact person.

• Many students participating in WorkAbility have “learning disabilities.” This means they are of average or above average intelligence, but have difficulty in a specific area such as reading or math.

• Students available for job placement range in age from 16 to 22 years.

• WorkAbility provides Worker’s Compensation for students during the time period in which the program pays for their training.

• WorkAbility is funded and administered by the Special Education Division of the California Department of Education.

Source: California Department of Education

If you are an employer interested in learning more about hiring a WorkAbility student, please contact:

Morgan Hill

Marge Regan (408) 201-6100 ext. 2188

Cindy Aleman (408) 453-6556

San benito County

Nora Jimenez (831) 637-5831 ext. 486


Steve Fortino (408) 842-3247

Ed Kaufman (408) 847-2424 ext. 2347

Juana Kaanapu (408) 847-2424 ext. 2318

Lisa Franklin (408) 848-4851

Angie Bodie (408) 847-2424 ext. 2313

Web site:

Previous articleMichael Anthony Tovar
Next articleBulletin 3.16.05

Leave your comments