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2014-2015 AHEDD Success Stories



Donald was referred to AHEDD in 2011.  At time of referral, he was working part-time and receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments.  Out of a business need, a local CVS Distribution Center developed a job for Donald a few years earlier which had him focusing on washing out empty totes, cleaning work areas, and assisting with the loading/unloading of trucks.  Since a good bit of his past experience had been in a sheltered facility, Donald was initially struggling with learning appropriate workplace behaviors.  As an example, co-workers were often distracting him from his duties by talking to him during work time.


The county office of Bedford/Somerset Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities referred Donald to AHEDD for on-site support (job coaching) and Work Incentive Counseling to increase his chances of remaining successfully employed and working to his fullest potential. Donald was asking for this support because he wanted to work more and he knew he would have to prove himself. 


Job coaching permitted an Employment Specialist to observe Donald while working and provide him with guidance on tasks and limiting distractions.  Such on-site support ensured that Donald understood his duties and performed to his employer’s expectations.  Within a month of receiving job coaching, Donald was regularly asking that co-workers wait until a break to talk to him. 

Alt=AHEDD Participant Donald


The Work Incentive Counseling provided by one of AHEDD’s Community Work Incentive Coordinators helped Donald and his family to overcome the fears they had about his healthcare and income.  


Donald has since increased his earnings from work and has stopped receiving his SSDI cash payment, but Donald remains eligible for continuation of his Medicare coverage. He also has the option to purchase a low premium medical insurance known as Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD) and/or combine such coverage with a plan offered by his employer. 


As of September 2015, Donald reached full-time status with earnings greater than the amount he had received through SSDI.  He also has the option to enroll in the company’s 401k program. 


As an approved Employment Network (EN) in the Ticket to Work (TTW), AHEDD was able to assist Donald and his family in properly reporting his earnings to SSA and in continuing to help him navigate other workplace concerns that could impact his ability to retain employment. The ability to provide this type of ongoing support was key in his long term success.


Donald, CVS and his Bedford/Somerset support team are all in agreement that he is doing well and has the ability to manage tasks independently.  Since AHEDD’s role is to only provide someone with supports that are needed, the organization will soon stop serving Donald as an active participant.  In the event that his circumstances change, Donald and/or his supports are aware that they can contact AHEDD to determine how this organization could continue to help.

Alt=AHEDD Participant Danny with General Manager (Brad) and Supervisor (John)- Gordon Food Service

Danny, Brad and John- Gordon Food Service



Gordon Food Service (GFS) is the largest privately held food service distributor in North America for over 115 years.  They are head quartered in Grand Rapids Michigan with over 11,000 employees nationwide.  Specifically, they operate 160 Gordon Food Service stores for the public and have distribution centers in: Michigan; Wisconsin; Ohio; Kentucky; Texas; Florida; Massachusetts; Pennsylvania; Georgia; North Carolina; and Maryland. 


GFS worked with AHEDD when they first opened in Pottsville back in 2009, but didn’t identify any candidates that were a good match for their needs. More recently, John Garrison, the Receiving/Inventory Supervisor connected with a representative from Service Access Management (SAM) and was encouraged to proactively reach out to hire individuals with disabilities. A renewed effort was now in motion for Gordon Food Service.

In the Spring of 2015, the Pottsville Distribution Center in PA hired two of AHEDD’s program participants.  One is a custodian who started working at $11.50 an hour for 5.5 hours a week.  Three months later, this custodian is now working 11 hours a week.  The other employee hired in the Spring is a maintenance worker who started out at $11.50 for 5.5 hours a week.  Four months later, this maintenance worker is employed for 28 hours a week.  In early July, Gordon hired a third participant from AHEDD as a custodian who started at $11.50 an hour for 30 hours a week.

Mr. Garrison adds that clear communication and a thorough understanding of expectations have been key to their success with AHEDD and these new employees.  

GFS realized that having AHEDD staff present during the interview process was a necessary accommodation that would allow these candidates to properly participate and to ensure that each fully understood the questions.  Kathy Couch and Jennifer Betz, AHEDD staff, were also permitted to complete the GFS Safety Training program prior to these new employees.  Kathy shared, “How can AHEDD know how to properly support employees and meet employer expectations if we don’t take the time to view the job site and experience the training that will be required of each Team Member?”

As for accommodations, GFS made some changes to the daily paper work required at the end of their shift and the safety training had to be altered so that everyone could better understand the procedures.


The success experienced by Gordon Food Service and these employees has yielded rewards that go well beyond GFS securing great employees and these qualified candidates earning wages for real work.  John reports these employees have been pleasant, eager to learn, willing to help out, and concerned with accuracy.  John added, “They really take pride in their work.  In fact, they have helped us with the overall cleanliness of our warehouse which resulted in our highest ever food safety rating (AIB) of  960 out of a possible 1000. These Team Members arrive ready to work everyday with a smile and a ‘whatever needs to be done’ attitude!! Their positive approach and work ethic have really contributed to the teamwork throughout our workplace.”


When the new employees were asked about their employment at Gordon Food Service and their future goals, we were all reminded that work provides us all with added purpose, friendships and a foundation to realize our dreams.  Danny, a maintenance worker, said “I like mopping the best, but I really like all the money I am making.  Actually, I really like everything about my job.  I want to get my license and buy a car.  I want to keep working here because I would never be able to afford a car if I don’t.  I would like to move out on my own someday too.  I hope I can drive the forklift at Gordon one day and the scrubber.”



Referred by the PA Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (PA OVR) in January of 2010, Shawn has been receiving services from AHEDD, a provider of Community Employment Services, ever since.  At the time Shawn started employment services, AHEDD had already developed a partnership with the Kmart Distribution Center, owned by Sears Holding Company, and he was interested in pursuing a position with this company. 


Previously, Shawn had worked at D L Martin, a Machine and Fabrication Company, but was laid off after four years.   Working with an Employment Specialist from AHEDD, Shawn was able to secure a full time position with benefits in the Case-Pack department of the Kmart Distribution Center in June of 2010.  His responsibilities included affixing labels on boxes and putting them on a conveyor belt to be shipped to other distribution centers.  It is a very fast paced position with strict production standards.  AHEDD provided intensive job coaching/on site assistance to Shawn, which helped him to learn his job duties, but his performance was inconsistent and he often struggled in being able to reach the production standards.  Despite this intensive job coaching, Shawn was unable to keep up with the demands for production.  After two years, everyone on Shawn’s team recognized that the position was not the best fit for him, and he had to be terminated from the position.  

Alt=AHEDD Participant Shawn in Mechanical Environment


Given Shawn’s positive attitude and motivation to succeed, AHEDD agreed to assist him with finding another job that was better suited to his skills and abilities. AHEDD was able to find Shawn a new and higher paying full time position, with benefits, at Olympic Steel in January of 2013. Initially, just like other new hires at Olympic Steel, Shawn was recruited through a staffing agency.  He accepted and began working, with support from his AHEDD Job Coach, as a machine operator.  Shawn’s performance during the initial trial period was excellent and he was eventually hired on as a permanent full-time employee by Olympic Steel in February 2014.


Shawn now works independently and has only required minimal support from his Job Coach, who checks in with him on a monthly basis to ensure that he has continued success at Olympic Steel.  Shawn’s positive attitude and personality has been instrumental in helping him to develop many new friends at Olympic Steel, many of whom now serve as natural supports.  Clearly, he is well liked by his co-workers.  He has said more than once that he loves his new job and the people with whom he works. Shawn says, “I plan to stay at Olympic Steel as long as they will have me.” 


Shawn’s next goal in life is to get his own place.  With such a positive spirit and network of support, AHEDD is confident that Shawn will succeed at whatever goals he sets for himself.

Alt=AHEDD Participant Joshua Receiving Award at National Competition



Joshua is a young man that lived at the Milton Hershey School from the time he was about 16 years old (2001) until the time he graduated in 2005.  At 20 years old, Joshua came to AHEDD under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Ticket to Work initiative and sought support with finding/keeping employment, understanding the impact of work on his benefits, and learning how to report his earnings to SSA as he works toward independence.


When he first came to AHEDD he was only working about 15 hours a week as a Lifeguard and attendant at the Milton Hershey School.  He desired not only more hours,  but he wanted a job that would be more challenging and keep him busy.

Due to his Cerebral Palsy, Joshua has a pronounced effect on his gait and posture. He also is impacted by moderate hearing loss and a vision limitation in his right eye.  


While he utilized AHEDD for encouragement and guidance to overcome the misperceptions of others about his abilities, he has really proven himself to be a highly motivated individual that learned early to understand his needs and to seek assistance when necessary. 


AHEDD initially helped Joshua to acquire a simple accommodation while he worked at the pool for the Milton Hershey School.  After that, AHEDD provided most guidance and support to Joshua outside of the actual workplace.  Joshua preferred to consult with AHEDD staff outside of his job sites and chose to handle the direct interactions with businesses/supervisors on his own.  He mainly used AHEDD for times when he needed encouragement after being rejected for employment, for ideas on how he should handle workplace challenges like scheduling conflicts, and for assistance with managing his disability benefits.

While partnering with AHEDD, his employment experience expanded far beyond his part time job as a lifeguard at the Milton Hershey School.  He eventually added more hours and experience that include: becoming a Food Service Worker in the kitchen at The Hershey Company’s Chocolate World ; acquiring a position working as a Recreation Coordinator at the Hersheypark Camping Resort;  and securing  a shift manager position at a Starbuck’s location.  At one point, Joshua was working more than 60 hours per week while going to school at night for a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management from The Pennsylvania School of Technology.  He has even served as a Big Brother in a local affiliate of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America organization.


Joshua earned his Bachelor’s Degree in December 2014 and is currently still working in the Hershey Area at the Hersheypark Camping Resort, Hershey’s Chocolate World and Milton Hershey School.      


This individual’s achievements are not just recognized by AHEDD.  In fact, SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. They provide educational programs, events and competitions that support career and technical education (CTE) in the nation’s classrooms.  In 2014 Joshua met the requirements for SkillsUSA’s highest individual honor. He is the latest to be awarded the International Degree, the pinnacle of their Professional Development Program. He started the award process 2 years prior with compiling the necessary documentation and ended the process with an interview at the national conference in June.  In his conference presentation, Brunk drew on his experience as a food service coordinator at Hershey’s Chocolate World and made Hershey’s Chocolate Barbecue Chicken Pizza in front of the judges. Later at the conference, Brunk received his degree before an audience of thousands and was also honored as outstanding SkillsUSA alumni member for 2014, due to his significant strides in his profession and community.


AHEDD is very proud to be a part of Joshua’s efforts toward greater independence and career success.  He is a great example of why employers and others should not instantly dismiss the talents of someone with a disability.  Joshua is full of dreams and he has the ability and motivation to achieve them.



Earl is a 53 year old veteran who served 12 years in the U.S. Army with nine of those years being overseas as an E-6 Staff Sergeant Infantryman. He found it necessary to file for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) in 2011 after experiencing a spinal cord injury which also affected both hips causing a bone structure collapse.


Earl came to AHEDD as an eligible candidate under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Ticket to Work Initiative.  Prior to seeking out AHEDD for assistance with obtaining employment as a teacher or writer, he had already earned a B.S. Degree (Secondary Education) from Slippery Rock University and both a Masters Degree and Behavioral Specialist Certification from Edinboro University in Special Education.  His goal was to earn enough in wages to exceed Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), an SSA income standard, so that he could replace his SSDI benefits with earnings.


AHEDD worked with Earl and located him a position as a long-term Substitute Teacher in March of 2014, working with Special Education students. Unfortunately, after the school year ended his position was eliminated. In June of 2014, Earl then accepted a position with the Meadville Tribune as a Staff Writer covering the city of Meadville and all of the local school districts events. Earl also is involved in special events in Crawford Co. and one of his big front page articles was about Meadville’s St. Patrick’s Day Celebration.

Earl uses crutches due to his severe hip condition and nerve damage, but still manages to navigate steps at his office and is able to drive to and attend several events and meetings throughout Crawford Co. He works all different hours and on most weeks puts in overtime. As for accommodations made by the Meadville Tribune, Earl has been given a printer in the news room close to his desk, a rail was placed on the bathroom wall, and he does not have to punch in/out on the time clock for lunch. He is able to reduce some of the physical demand of this job by handling about 50 percent of his interviews either over the telephone or with the targeted customer coming to the newspaper office for an interview.

Alt=AHEDD Participant Earl in Graduation Gown


Other than providing Earl with job leads, AHEDD was able to deliver Work Incentive Counseling to him under SSA’s WIPA program. This Work Incentive Counseling assisted him in understanding his reporting responsibilities and how his earnings would impact his SSDI benefits. When Earl received a letter from SSA that inaccurately reported when his cash benefits would cease, AHEDD was able to help Earl in resolving this issue. 

Earl has a very outgoing personality and this draws key players to him for his news articles, which are front page quality. He has the respect of the entire Meadville Community and is the main writer for events, school district meetings, and city board meetings throughout the Meadville area. 

Participant Matt Cutting Hair In Barber Shop




Matt has never let his intellectual disability prevent him from striving to achieve his lifelong dream of becoming a barber and one day opening his own shop!  An Eagle Scout in his early years, Matt exemplifies what a person can accomplish when they have a dream and are given the opportunity and support to pursue it.


With his mother’s assistance and his father’s encouragement, Matt secured his PA Barber’s License in 2008.   With collaboration from Dauphin County’s Human Services program, AHEDD was able to help Matt find and maintain his first barber position at the Paxton Home in Harrisburg.  


“It is very exciting and rewarding to work as part a team of people who place the success of those we serve at the forefront of all we do,” said Steven Deitzler, Matt’s Case Management Unit ID Supports Coordinator. And he added, “We are equally excited as those we serve when that success is attained.”

Initially, Employment Specialist Duane Ryan assisted Matt with his social interaction skills that led to a growth in Matt’s comfort level in speaking with residents and promoting his services.  Since these early days of employment experience as a barber, this Elvis Presley aficionado has been known to croon Elvis hits to his customers and at outside social events. 


Eager to learn everything about cutting hair, Matt moved on to an apprentice-like position at U-Turn Salon in 2010.  U-Turn is an upscale salon where he gradually learned the fundamentals of styling women’s hair.


In 2014, Matt finally succeeded in procuring a barber’s position at The Timeless Barbershop in Harrisburg.  Working under the tutelage of owners/operators, Julie and Richard Hammer, Matt has advanced to where he cuts most of the hair styles and handles the cash and credit payments.  Both Julie and Richard have stressed that Matt is a valued employee and an asset to their business.


AHEDD’s role at Paxton Street Home, U-Turn, and The Timeless Barbershop has been to provide both Matt and his employers with any job site support they would need to allow Matt to successfully learn the job duties and increase his proficiency.   Overtime, AHEDD gradually reduced the amount of support provided within the workplace, because Matt had become self sufficient and comfortable in his positions. 


Matt currently works a total of two jobs, including a job as a dining room assistant, and averages about 20 or more hours of employment each week.  His kind heart is just as impressive as his stellar work ethic.  In his spare time, Matt collects soda can tabs and, with the help of many donors and his parents, has been able to donate three million tabs to the Ronald McDonald House of Hershey.  He’s now working on four million!


There were also wedding bells sounding for Matt. In July, Matt married his best friend and companion of two years. 

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