VersAbility Interns Learn by Doing at Habitat Williamsburg ReStore
“Hey, do you all need any help?”
Dayon Cary is standing beside the Buzz Lightyear action figures that are a bargain at $10, on sale at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Williamsburg. The customers signal they are fine but recognize Cary and respond with a thumbs up.
Meanwhile, Nate Garrison continues to unpack boxes of drapery panels to set up a display, making sure each of the packages faces the right direction and is organized correctly.
Cary and Garrison are interns from VersAbility Resources, which works to find employment for people with disabilities. The men are finishing up eight-week internships at the Habitat ReStore in Williamsburg, the bargain hunter’s paradise with inventory ranging from fine china to jetted tubs to furnishings of every shape and size.
VersAbility Employment Specialist Sydney Smith works onsite when Cary and Garrison are scheduled for their shifts.
She offers encouragement and directions when necessary.
“Do you need help,” she asks Garrison as he tackles another box.
“I got it,” he assures.
The interns are part of the nonprofit’s Pre-Employment Transition Services program, which teaches soft and technical skills by partnering with community employers to offer professional work experience.
VersAbility works in tandem with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, which refers students to the program.
“The goal is to give students stackable skills that they can carry with them so when they graduate from high school, they have some tools under their belt for the workforce, and they also have an idea what they want to do,” said Vickie Greatwood, Director of Supported Employment at VersAbility. “We try to help students determine their interests, explore careers and then have an opportunity to try an internship and earn a paycheck.”
The employer also benefits from the internship.
“Nate and Dayon have definitely been a light here,” said Kelcey Moeller, Volunteer Coordinator for the Habitat Restore in Williamsburg. “They truly work hard stocking, cleaning and helping the customers, who, by the way, adore them! All of the ReStore employees have bragged on them to me on a regular basis, as well as customers on a daily basis. I have personally loved watching them grow in their independence.”
Moeller is excited for the new growing partnership between the two nonprofits that will lead to more VersAbility interns gaining experience there.
Garrison had never held a job before, so it’s been an eye-opening experience for him. He’s become more detailed-oriented, focusing on the task in front of him with a refreshing eagerness.
“I like all the stuff,” he says when asked about his favorite part of the job. Like Cary, he’s brought his family into the store frequently, telling them, “This is my job.”
Cary largely works independently and is rarely idle, flowing from one task to the next. He sweeps. He cleans. He stocks. He’s happy to help customers or a manager in need of an extra hand.
“Whatever they tell me to do here, I do it,” Cary says. “I know how to work on my own. I know how to handle customers. I know how to get them where they need to go for what they need, and then I step away and get back to doing what I need to do.”
The eight-week internship concluded at the end of August. Garrison will return to the post-graduate program at his alma mater, Jamestown High School, and Cary was thrilled to accept a job there.
“It was really a great experience. I want to keep going,” Cary says.
“We find that our hearts are a little fuller having had the opportunity to know them and work side by side with them,” said Moeller, excited to have Cary join the team. “I hope more than anything that they are taking away with them as much as we have received from them.”