North Central News

Vocational center gets refreshed at ValleyLife

By Teri Carnicelli
Cletus Thiebeau will never forget the day in November 2012 when he got a phone call from Derrick Hall, president and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise. Hall called Thiebeau, who is president and CEO of ValleyLife, to inform him that the nonprofit organization had been selected to receive the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation $100,000 Grand Slam Grant.

Celebrating the Sept. 16 ribbon cutting of the new D-backs Give Back Vocational Training Center on the campus of ValleyLife are, from left: Cletus Thiebeau, president and CEO of ValleyLife; Ernest J. Martinez, grants compliance supervisor for the city of Phoenix Neighborhood Services Department; Jennifer Baier, senior program manager of Vocational Services at ValleyLife; Baxter, the Arizona Diamondbacks mascot; Andrew L. and Danielle M., program members at ValleyLife; Cheryl Ruggiero of Thunderbirds Charities; and Debbie Castaldo, executive director of the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation (photo by Teri Carnicelli).

Celebrating the Sept. 16 ribbon cutting of the new D-backs Give Back Vocational Training Center on the campus of ValleyLife are, from left: Cletus Thiebeau, president and CEO of ValleyLife; Ernest J. Martinez, grants compliance supervisor for the city of Phoenix Neighborhood Services Department; Jennifer Baier, senior program manager of Vocational Services at ValleyLife; Baxter, the Arizona Diamondbacks mascot; Andrew L. and Danielle M., program members at ValleyLife; Cheryl Ruggiero of Thunderbirds Charities; and Debbie Castaldo, executive director of the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation
(photo by Teri Carnicelli).

That grant funded the final phase of ValleyLife’s three-year renovation of its vocational center, now named the D-backs Give Back Vocational Training Center.

“Cultural philanthropy means more than just charity,” said Debbie Castaldo, executive director of the Diamondbacks Foundation. “It means identifying a quest for excellence and a commitment to achieve those goals.”

ValleyLife, she pointed out, has more than 50 years of commitment to achieving goals for the individuals it serves.

Founded in 1947, ValleyLife provides services to individuals with developmental and/or physical disabilities. The goal for these individuals, referred to as “members,” is to provide opportunities for increased independence, community involvement, and to subsidize—or eliminate—dependence on government funded support programs.

The vocational training center, located on the ValleyLife campus at 1142 W. Hatcher Road, now models a professional work environment, accommodates more trainees, and includes new offices and conference rooms that can accommodate new training classes and programs.

“This was your vision, and we could not be a prouder investor,” Castaldo said.

The first phase of the much-needed renovation began with a donation from the Thunderbirds Charities, which was used to demolish and rebuild the restrooms to make them lighter, brighter and more accessible for wheelchairs.
Phase two, which included a new break room with updated appliances, additional storage areas, and a new roof, was paid for with a city of Phoenix Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and a private donor.

The last and biggest renovation came after the Diamondbacks’ Grand Slam Grant, which “allowed us to make final, significant changes to the facility,” Thiebeau explained. New offices with large windows looking into the main floor area were constructed around the perimeter, and new lighting was installed to improve safety.

“We were able to add a conference room, make much-needed repairs to the floors, and paint the entire interior,” Thiebeau added. “We also were able to install high-quality ceiling insulation, which is reducing our heating and cooling costs.”
Thiebeau said the space now looks and feels like a professional training center. “Last year alone, ValleyLife placed 57 people in meaningful employment, and over the last two years ValleyLife has placed more than 100 individuals with disabilities in community jobs—and we are just beginning.”

The Vocational Services Department at ValleyLife provides employment training and placement services for more than 200 individuals annually, serving individuals with a wide variety of disabilities—including developmental, physical and behavioral health.

The program is staffed by highly skilled job coaches and developers. These professionals go out in the community and build partnerships with local companies, which in turn provide on-site job training services, and occasionally permanent employment opportunities. The coaches and developers also support the ValleyLife member by providing job search services, interview skills training, resume building, and dress for success programs, as well as providing job skill training and ongoing employment support.

“We provide support at all levels,” said Jennifer Baier, senior program manager of Vocational Services at ValleyLife. “For some this may be just help in finding a job, but for others, we provide ongoing, on-site support for members while they are in the workplace. I am not sure there is anything more rewarding than going to visit a member at their jobsite and having them tell you how happy they are to be working.”

To learn more about ValleyLife, visit www.valleylifeaz.org.

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