Johanna B.

“Challenge has helped me overcome many barriers and has given me a sense of belonging in the community. They have always believed in me. I am more confident in what I do as a result.”

Johanna first came to Challenge Workforce Solutions nearly 30 years ago to complete a three-week work assessment program. She tried out a wide variety of jobs like sorting mail, cooking, and even plumbing—“But I couldn’t get my hands up there and beat the timer without seeing what I was doing!” Challenge staff soon recognized Johanna’s tremendous capacity for caring, and they recommended that she pursue an animal care position in the Biology Department at Ithaca College.

That meant that Johanna had to obtain certification as an Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician. A professional licensing examination on such technical subjects as serology, dystocia, and zoonosis, would be a daunting prospect for most people—and especially for anyone with a learning disability. Challenge worked with Johanna to develop effective studying and test-taking strategies, and she passed with flying colors.

Johanna had initially expected the job at Ithaca College to be temporary, but she ended up staying for 23 years. “Challenge was with me the whole way through, up until that position was terminated,” Johanna says. “And then, they were there to help me find something new.” Job Developer Shannon Engle accompanied Johanna to the World of Skills Job Fair held at the Hotel Ithaca. “When something doesn’t work out, I can sometimes get discouraged and want to give up,” she admits, “But Shannon just kept telling me to work the room. She was right behind me for a while but then she just let me go around and ask questions on my own.”

Among the several employers that Johanna spoke with that day was Home Instead Senior Care, a network of in-home caregivers. Their recruiters were duly impressed with her sociable nature and her two decades of devoted service in a caring profession, and she has now been a trusted part of their team for three years.

“I have a lot of regular clients,” Johanna says of her new position. “I make sure they all have clean clothes and clean dishes every day, but otherwise everybody has their own needs. And that’s what I like about the job—it’s something different every day, and I have to think on my toes. If I have a problem, I can always talk it over with my job coach afterwards, but in the situation I have to solve it myself.”

Says Bryson Craig, who has been her job coach for most of her tenure at Home Instead, “I am very proud of Johanna. She is a dedicated worker and she continues to excel with employment support. I look forward to seeing her continuing to be a valuable part of the community.”

Johanna’s value to her community extends far beyond her work with Home Instead. Jobs like hers require a tremendous store of empathic energy, but by the end of the day hers is not yet depleted. She provides night care for her 98-year-old mother with dementia and also manages to run a side business walking dogs. In addition, she recently obtained Safe Sanctuaries® training through her church, equipping her to identify and respond to signs of abuse of children and vulnerable adults within her congregation.

“And what do you do to care for yourself?” we asked her. “Skiing!” she replied. “I’m an alpine skier at the Special Olympics. I won a gold medal in the giant slalom event in the New York Winter Games.”

We at Challenge congratulate Johanna for all her accomplishments in the workforce, in the community, and on the slopes. We consider her a role model for diligence, energy, and compassion, and we can’t wait to see what she does next!