Bonnie’s Employment Success: How the Seaford Residential Residence Rallied Around Her
Bonnie Lerhinan knew what she wanted – a job that would bring her joy and a paycheck.
Bonnie is 36 years old and resides in Citizens Options Unlimited’s Seaford home.
Bonnie is also employed as a Panera Bread store associate in its Massapequa store. She handles dining room maintenance, dishwashing, minor food prep, and customer service. Her favorite task at work is organizing and stocking the beverage station.
It all started in the fall of 2019 when Bonnie decided she wanted a job. With the help of her Seaford team and family, Bonnie advocated for her future and set out to achieve it.
Only 34% of adults with I/DD aged 21–64 are employed, according to research commissioned by Special Olympics, conducted by the Center for Social Development and Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston and administered by Gallup.
When asked what her favorite part about working is, Bonnie beamed.
“Money,” she said, matter-of-factly. Having money is an expression of Bonnie’s independence. Her favorite things to spend money on are potato chips and soda, and the occasional stuffed animal. She also recently bought a birthday gift for her cousin’s 1-year-old daughter.
“It’s a belated birthday gift but I picked out a baby blanket at Kohl’s the other day,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie’s pathway to increased financial independence began when the Citizens team, including a care manager, first sat with Bonnie and her uncle, Keith Brigandi, who’s her legal guardian. Together, they created a Personal Outcome Measure (POM) that would let her residential team know that she wanted to read and work.
POM is a person-centered discovery tool to explore the presence, importance, and achievement of personally defined outcomes, along with the supports that help people reach their individual goals, according to The Council on Quality and Leadership.
“She really wanted to read, not just for her job, but so she can do more things like when I come take her out to dinner she can read the menu,” Keith said.
In addition to Bonnie’s determination, there needed to be coordination and support from the residential staff. Her Seaford team went above and beyond to make sure Bonnie got there.
“She’s outgoing, strong-minded, and always advocates for herself and others,” Zah’Niyah Jerrick, House Manager at Seaford IRA, said. “She lets you know what she wants and what’s going on.”
Zah’Niyah has been the House Manager for a little over two years but has worked in disability services since 2017. She said that Bonnie has always been capable; she just needed the support to succeed.
“The Seaford managers and staff really ensured Bonnie’s hard work paid off,” Victoria Hawley, Bonnie’s former Care Manager and current Self-Direction Fiscal Intermediary Coordinator at Citizens Options Unlimited, said. “Bonnie is a success because her team ensured that every Thursday night, she was at her reading club.”
“First, they got her a library card,” Victoria continued.
“They took her to get her hair colored and cut and built up her self-esteem. They always made sure her uniform was ready and prepped. They made sure she got herself to and from work,” said Victoria. “They really rallied around her, always making sure that the supports the care manager put in place were carried out.”
While Bonnie is focused on achieving her goal of working, she occasionally needs verbal prompts from staff to prepare for work – which includes reminders to get her uniform ready or call an Able-Ride bus to take her to and from work with the My Transit Manager (MyTM) App on her phone.
“Bonnie pretty much gets herself ready for work,” Zah’Niyah said. “She’s very independent.”
In 2020, Bonnie received Prevocational Services through AHRC Nassau. These services are time-limited and specified in an individual’s Individualized Service Plan (ISP)/Life Plan and Prevocational Habilitation Plan/Staff Action Plan.
Prevocational Services and/or job readiness activities are habilitative and “prepare individuals for paid employment or meaningful community activities, including volunteering,” according to the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD).
“Pre-Voc taught me how to do things like stock shelves and fill salad-dressing containers, and how to use the dishwasher,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie’s Prevocational Services program was short term and prepped her for Supported Employment (SEMP) where she went through the Employment Training Program (ETP), services provided by The Center for Developmental Disabilities (CDD).
The CDD’s ETP started with a Discovery Process which included community-based work-related situational assessments, like stocking and organizing at Party City. After job development and job skills training were completed, she had several job interviews.
In February 2021, Bonnie was placed as an intern at Panera Bread as part of the ETP. She started interning Tuesdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
“Bonnie, through the EPT, learned the skills on the job, with the understanding that once she became well versed in all job responsibilities — and was performing as well as, if not better than her coworkers at Panera — they guaranteed her employment,” said Jane M. Reich, Director of Day and Employment Services at The Center for Developmental Disabilities Inc. “It really is a great program.”
For Bonnie’s Uncle Keith, being out in the community elevated her self-esteem.
“There’s no question about it, she loves her job and it’s a big help to her confidence and overall happiness,” Keith said.
Staff worked with Bonnie to create an opportunity based on her wants, skills, and goals, as well as earlier work experiences and a range of tasks.
“Panera Bread was the culmination of Bonnie’s journey,” Terri Forte, a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Assistant at The Center for Developmental Disabilities Inc., said.
In February 2022, she was hired as a Panera Bread store associate. She was scheduled to work two shifts a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her employer thought she was doing so well that she was asked to work a third shift on Saturdays.
“It shows Bonnie’s initiative and love of her new job,” Terri said.
After a few months of working, Bonnie found the schedule challenging to maintain on top of her other obligations. Bonnie advocated for less hours and is currently working on Fridays from 3:30–7:30 p.m.
“Bonnie is a special person, and she deserves all the support she gets,” Victoria said. “She is a true success story, and I am so proud of her. She has overcome so much in life and worked so hard to get here.”
Next time you’re at Panera Bread in Massapequa, try ordering Bonnie’s favorite post-shift meal: broccoli cheddar soup with a side of bread and a large iced tea (extra sugar).