With a strong support system, a lot of hard work, and a positive attitude, Shonna Soliday has paved the way for others to find success through the Ready To Work (RTW) program.
Soliday, with assistance from Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Dena Dodd and E.H. Gentry, recently became the first student to complete the program and secured a position as a store clerk at Redstone Arsenal near her hometown of Huntsville.
Soliday’s journey began with what she believed to be a sinus infection. After her vision was impacted, she was informed by a neurologist that swelling behind her eye was creating pressure on the optic nerve. After getting a second opinion from University of Alabama at Birmingham low-vision specialist Dr. Dawn Dicarlo, Soliday was paired with VR Counselor Dena Dodd.
This move, Soliday said, was the first step of her successful journey.
Dodd said Soliday was initially very shy but receptive to the idea of entering the Ready to Work Program.
“When we were talking, I was telling her about Gentry and what they offered,” she said. “I told her if she was interested, we could take a tour and see what it was like before she went down there.”
After becoming more familiar with the program and the possibilities, Soliday was sold. She said she was nervous but ready and willing to take on the new challenge.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I got here, so I was open to anything,” she said.
Soliday pressed forward and earned her Microsoft Office certification for Excel, Word, Outlook, and Power Point. She also gained valuable experience working in the campus store, which prepared her for her new position at Redstone.
All of the programs proved helpful and interesting, but Soliday said she especially enjoyed the job preparation courses because they allowed her to create a strong resume and polish her job interview skills.
Dodd said she always felt Soliday had the tools to succeed, but she has been pleasantly surprised by the extra effort she put into the program in their year together.
“She has really excelled,” she said. “I believed she would excel, but she put forth her best effort and has done really well.”
Along with kind words and advice, Dodd made sure Soliday had the tools she needed to enter the work force. Those tools included a Ruby CCTV, a device she learned to use at Gentry. This handheld video magnifier offers her a clear, vivid image of items with no distortion.
The process that led to Soliday’s success began about two years ago when Blind Services Accessibility Specialist Jason Martin began working on the program’s structure. He was asked to evaluate the curriculum, which had been deemed inaccessible. Martin took each piece of the curriculum and worked it into an accessible format. This was accomplished by adding features from the ground up with guidance from ADRS. These additions now made it possible for a student with no vision to complete the program from start to finish.
“Basically, we made a path for someone who is totally blind to do this curriculum, and it improved the entire format because we looked at some of the effectiveness of some of the modules,” Martin said. “Since they were reworking it, they questioned whether they were effective for their working group. They even changed that up a little bit.”
Dodd said she has no doubt Soliday is ready to tackle the next phase of her life and begin a new and exciting career.
“She is looking forward to her new job, and I know she will be successful,” she said. “She is great.”
Watching Soliday “come out of her shell” and become the first to complete the program was an extremely satisfying process for Dodd.
“It makes your job worthwhile, because it does feel like you are contributing and helping someone,” she said. “She has the will and the ambition to be successful.”
Alabama’s Ready-To-Work program provides a career pathway for adults who have limited education and employment experience through 66 sites at 22 institutions.
The site at Gentry is the culmination of a two-year partnership between ADRS, Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT), and the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind.
The RTW curriculum is designed by AIDT to build skills based on demands of local businesses and industries along with a nationwide growth in technology, computer knowledge, and employment availability. In addition to soft skills, other areas of focus for RTW trainees include computer skills, workplace behavior, manufacturing, job acquisition, leadership, and problem solving.
Individuals who complete the program earn an Alabama Certified Worker certificate and a National Career Readiness Certificate.
- 95 percent attendance and punctuality rate
- WorkKeys assessments (Level 3): mathematics, reading for information, and locating information
- Satisfactory achievement of work ethic, organizational skills, attitude and motivation
- Satisfactory achievement of problem solving skills, workplace behaviors, financial education, customer service, computer skills, attitude, and motivation
- Alabama Certified Worker Examination