OUR JOURNEY to Drive up Employment for Job seekers with disabilities.
The Sierra Group Academy began its journey to provide job skills for Adults with Disabilities in the Philadelphia region in 2011.
Using our expertise with assistive technology, as well as the in-demand jobs of our business supporters/hiring partners, The Sierra Group Academy trains and placeS job seekers with physical and mental health disabilities in office jobs such as customer service, call center, IT helpdesk, and retail support positions.
Our 75% success rate for graduates is proof that with training and accommodation, disability is NOT a barrier to employment.
In March 2020 when the global pandemic hit the world, we benefited from our organization’s commitment and comfort with cutting-edge remote technology platforms, and OVERNIGHT we transformed our program from onsite to remote.
Currently, we are pleased to be serving adults from all across Pennsylvania and the state of Delaware in our REMOTE classrooms which meet every Tues. Thurs. and Fri. Because the digital divide affects so many Philadelphians with disabilities to the point that they are not able to LEARN about our program via remote-only methods, we have relocated to a new office building where we can once again invite the public to visit us in person to LIVE open houses to learn about and start the process for admission to our business and technology training classes.
Effective June of 2022 we relocated to ensure that onsite visits, tours, and fully open HYBRID options are also available in our new center city offices at 399 Market Street, Suite 385, Philadelphia, PA 19106.
At The Sierra Group Academy, we believe in the Power of Possibility. The ability of our customers and our team to flex when the world changed is proof of the following concepts that we hold close to our operational philosophy.
The following story depicts our story of surviving the shutdowns of 2020, and our current relocation of our Remote Academy with onsite events, and a Hybrid option is sure to make ongoing success part of the next phase of Sierra Academy’s history for job-seeking students and employers alike!
THE PANDEMIC, March 2020, excerpted from our Annual Appeal letter of 2020.
This is a story of surprise and gratitude that The Sierra Group Academy, the flagship program of The Sierra Group Foundation, has not just made it to the end of 2020, but had a greater impact on those we serve than ever before.
It was around 2 p.m. on Monday, March 16th when I learned, like all PA business and nonprofit executives that, per the Pennsylvania governor, all nonessential businesses had been ordered to close down due to the COVID-19 Global Pandemic.
“Hmm…” was my first audible utterance. I thought, “I’ll need to act more decisively with less known facts than I’ve ever done before.” I quickly texted the staff, all working from home that day, asking everyone to hurry to the school so we could pack up enough office equipment and supplies to work from home for at least three months.
As folks were en route to the office, I had a moment or two of sheer panic. Then, the team and I got on a conference call while they were making their way in to pack up. We knew we had to decide “what in the world will we do about classes tomorrow?“
We were, at the start of the Pandemic running classes 3 days per week, teaching business and technology skills to 25 adults with multiple severe disabilities. These students were being training in our beautiful, 5,000-square-foot, Center City Training Academy. They sat in our custom, state-of-the-art classrooms. They used Dell computers on a network with Microsoft Office and all the periphery and assistive technology they would ever need in a work setting at their disposal.
When we last saw our student body face-to-face on Friday the week before, we knew that the virus was spreading. We had a meeting to talk about the spread, we spoke about enhanced handwashing protocols, we posted CDC flyers about covering your cough with your elbow, and we promised everyone that we would remain both safe – and open – to continue to serve their vocational training needs. Ha! Like all businesses locally, regionally, and globally, that was a false belief and as we all know, nonessential business came to a screeching halt effective Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Lessons learned, resources used, and results obtained follow along with our appeal to you, our friends, our customers, and our friends we don’t yet know.
On the topic of lessons learned, and there were plenty, I have four key concepts that now drive my desire to ask for your help in eradicating the digital divide for people with disabilities whom we serve.
The Digital Divide and Digital Accessibility Can be Eradicated – It Requires:
|A Mindset for
|Access to Technology||A Solutions-Driven Approach|
|Power of Possibility||Computers and Internet at home||Digital inclusion provided to all learners|
Distance Learning Disability & The Digital Divide
How the Sierra Group Academy Flexed in 2020
People with disabilities are wired for adaptability.
Why do I say this feels personal to me when the entire world is in a pandemic? People with disabilities have been finding alternative ways of doing things all their lives.
Socioeconomic factors are such that most of our student body live at or below the poverty level. Access to information and technology is harder or sometimes impossible for people with less financial resources. In addition to learning business skills to start a career, technology makes the difference between isolation and connectivity.
It is a means to combat fear, a way to stay focused on goals, and hopefully, ward off depression or aggravation of other pre-existing mental health issues. Lack of online participation can be life-endangering for someone with an already compromised immune system who needs to be seen in person, due to a lack of means to have a Telehealth visit with their primary doc.
Online content delivery is as good as its creator/deliverer, combined with the diligence and dedication of the learner.
Back to my story. At this point, I need to boast about the intelligence, tenacity, technology savvy, heart, and soul of the instructors and job coaches at The Sierra Group Academy. They amazed me in mid-March when literally, overnight, we took our content delivery system from in-person to online using our existing GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar remote learning platforms. Previously these tools were reserved for out-of-town clients, our corporate customers with various offices, etc.
The team hustled into the office, we met, and we contrived a PLAN. We packed up all of the equipment and supplies we could imagine we’d need. We printed out copies of the phone and email list for our student body. The team started making calls and began the task of creating the next morning’s lesson plan for online delivery. And, deliver we did. Each and every student was reached. They were scared, like we were, yet grateful that they had somewhere to be at 9 am. At their computer, smartphone, or landline. We told them we would serve them ALL, and serve we did.
Failure is not an option.
The next weeks and months were a blur of activity – 12 and 15-hour days, weekends of work, calls and texts, and sending print-out lessons ala “correspondence school” models from my memory banks of days gone by – no plan of action was too much work, or too difficult to try. You see – FAILURE was not an option.
Why did we choose to continue when the cost was so great? Well, that answer is simple. The user experience was too positive.
Of the 25 students enrolled on the day our world changed, many have graduated and either gained employment or are active in job placement services. 18 of our prior students have been hired in well-paying remote call center jobs. Others have gone on to accept positions as essential workers, and, providing concept one – People with disabilities are wired for adaptability to be true – our hiring partners are clamoring for more of our Academy graduates to apply to fill their job openings.
That leads us to today and our TWO methods of attending classes:
REMOTE or HYBRID
Yadira started training in person at The Sierra Group Academy to become a customer service representative. She demonstrated her ability to FLEX by immediately transitioning to remote learning! Yadira, a woman who receives dialysis three days every week went on to graduate from training and accept a job she loves doing – customer service REMOTELY!
I’m so blessed to have the position as a customer service representative at InpiriTec, I’ve really attained an enjoyable work life balance. For fun during this trying year of shutdowns I took up horseback riding! – Yadira
Students who were trained and placed since the decision to become a REMOTE, and now a REMOTE with HYBRID option training school have expressed their gratitude and hope that others can receive the same job skills training to compete for and land a job in today’s REMOTE/Hybrid workplace!
The Sierra Group Foundation team stands ready to train and place more people with our remote education capabilities.
Would you like to enroll?
If yes, then together, we can continue to eradicate the digital divide for all who live with poverty and disability. These strong and talented people who represent my 4 concepts above are each of them:
- Wired for Adaptability
- Socioeconomic factors are such that most of our student body live at or below the poverty level.
- Online content delivery is as good as its creator/deliverer, combined with the diligence and dedication of the learner.
At the Sierra Group, we believe that awareness and change are enticed by stories of struggle and success. Thanks for listening to our story today. We’d love to host you at an open house/event ONLINE or ONSITE.
To learn more about The Sierra Group’s full array of services take a look at our video:
Janet D. Fiore, President/Trustee
Workplace Technology Foundation, d/b/aThe Sierra Group Foundation