- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 5, 2006

Sometimes a picture is worth more than a thousand words. For Tiawatha Wansley, a photo lab assistant with CVS Pharmacy on Naylor Road Southeast, a picture is worth her job.

Miss Wansley is one of 12 developmentally disabled people hired by CVS since 2005 with the help of the New Vision Photography Program (NVPP), a D.C. nonprofit.

After completing the New Vision program in March, she was trained by CVS and was hired in June. She said the program has taught her a lot.

“I didn’t know nothing, and now I know a lot of stuff,” she said.

She said she particularly liked applying her customer service skills.

“I don’t mind doing it because I ain’t got nothing else to do than help the person,” she said. “It’s easier for everybody else” when she can help customers while they work behind the counter.

Miss Wansley, 25, who suffers from a mild form of mental retardation, works 12 hours a week at CVS. The Silver Spring resident has three children.

Mike Wesdock, manager of the Washington-area Regional Learning Center for CVS, said Miss Wansley is an example of what people hope to achieve with the program.

“We’re giving real working opportunities to those who otherwise might not get them,” said Mr. Wesdock.

Started last year by Mr. Wesdock, the partnership between CVS and the NVPP focuses on providing job opportunities for the development- ally disabled by giving them basic training in digital photography and customer service. NVPP has won the Department of Labor’s annual New Freedom Initiative Award for its work.

The nine weeks spent in NVPP gives each student six weeks at the CVS learning center and three weeks in a store.

Program graduates are not allowed to use cash registers or operate photo processing equipment, but they are versed in many aspects of the photography department.

“The training that [students] get is surrounding customer service in the photo area,” said Mr. Wesdock, adding that students are taught how to find prints for customers, answer questions about products and helpt customers with the digital photo printing machine.

Each student is paired with a job coach, who Mr. Wesdock said serves as a lifeline.

Angelia Martin has been Miss Wansley’s job coach since she began the program in June and has been working with the disabled for six years. She said Miss Wansley’s progress is promising.

“They’re very motivated and excited to be socializing and be out in the world,” she said. “They’re very eager to do this, to try and make an attempt to work and be independent.”

— Jonathan Swigart

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