The Faces of Challenge
“I can see the impact firsthand—I’ve witnessed tremendous growth.”
“It’s a cliché to say ‘I learn more from them than they do from me,’ but in this case it’s absolutely true, because I’ve never had to face the obstacles that they’ve had to overcome.”
As an Employment Specialist at Challenge Workforce Solutions, Ryan Notarpole manages a full caseload of individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment, providing them with support and encouragement throughout the entire process of finding and keeping jobs in the community. He helps participants to identify their strengths and problem areas, set goals, communicate needs to employers, track their progress, and celebrate important milestones along their career path.
Ryan is a “Cuse boy”—a native of the Syracuse metropolitan area north of Ithaca. He attended Keuka College, studying Unified Education, Special Education, and Childhood Education, and upon graduation worked as a residential rehabilitation specialist at ARC. He then moved to North Carolina to work one-on-one with a deafblind child with severe behavioral issues, using tactile sign language to communicate. Six years ago, he returned to the Finger Lakes region and landed his current position at Challenge.
Says Ryan, “This has been the most rewarding job I’ve had—this is where I see myself helping the most. I can see the impact firsthand—I’ve witnessed tremendous growth. So many people with these kinds of barriers don’t get the opportunity to find work in the community, gain independence, put a down payment on a house—these are huge achievements.”
Ryan’s deep commitment to his participants and to the mission of Challenge does not go unnoticed. He was presented with a Staff Award at last year’s Annual Recognition Luncheon.
Although his job keeps him very busy, Ryan has made time for several interesting creative pursuits. Right now, he is writing and illustrating a children’s book entitled Aunt Gone, about a woman who escapes her humdrum life to discover a secluded cabin and an ability to speak to woodland creatures. He can also be seen gigging around town as lead singer of Bob Roberts Calamity (inquiring minds want to know—yes, there is a Bob Roberts; yes, he is prone to calamity; no, he is not a part of the band.)
Thanks, Ryan, for all that you do!
Mikia is the first ‘Face of Challenge’ that you’ll see upon arriving at our office. As our Administrative Assistant, one of her favorite duties is meeting and greeting all of the employees, participants, and guests that come our way each day. She also handles several other tasks that are vital to the day-to-day operations of our organization, including financial recordkeeping, communications, and support of our Marketing & Development department.
She is a native of Upstate New York and a longtime resident of the Ithaca area, with brief stints in Georgia and Pennsylvania. She first came to know many of the staff members at Challenge when her son worked here in the dish rooms and we were delighted to reconnect with her when she came back in to inquire about the position she now holds.
Mikia’s large, close family is her clear priority outside of work hours. With her husband, four children, parents, and sister all here in town, she is kept very busy with cooking, shopping, and trips to the skating rink and the movies (of which a recent favorite is Black Panther). She also plans to join her father’s bowling team this year!
Samantha Demming has held a number of jobs at Challenge, working her way up from a dishwasher position to the title of Employment Specialist within the organization.
Samantha has held supervisory positions at Challenge-run dish rooms at Ithaca College and Cornell, and also worked in a job coaching role as a part of Challenge’s team that runs the dish room at the Ithaca Wegmans store.
Samantha is a Trumansburg High School graduate, who likes to spend time with her family. She is also a self-proclaimed Cleveland Cavaliers fan.
“I love the people, especially the people I work with, including the consumers,” she says. “They make me feel like they’re the reason I get up every day. They’re a blessing.”
Samantha’s face may also be familiar to many. In October of 2017, Samantha was featured in a bus ad campaign run by Challenge to promote the organization’s Contract Staffing team, and job openings in that department. Samantha was featured with Mike Washburn, the Executive Chef of the Ithaca Wegmans store.
Glen is a former public school teacher, who says one of his favorite jobs was managing a summer camp for teens with disabilities. With that experience in mind, he decided he wanted to work in the field of disability services, and for the past 14 years, he’s done just that at Challenge.
Glen is an Employment Specialist, who is helping to expand a program at Challenge called Ability In Bloom, which helps individuals who are not ready to make the leap into community employment to develop their skills, while providing them with stable and community-based work opportunities.
It’s understandable, then, that Glen’s favorite part of the job comes between April and November, when he is out in the gardens working alongside participants in the Ability In Bloom program to grow flowers. Glen says he’s enjoyed learning how to work as a team to make sure everyone is involved, productive, and working to the best of his or her ability.
Glen says the one message he’d pass along about Challenge is that the organization can provide businesses with a low-cost, win-win labor solution that can help them, while empowering individuals who come to Challenge to develop their skills.
Glen is married and has a 12-year-old son, who is home-schooled. Glen teaches history and foreign language, and is also a member of the Northern Light Learning Center, a home-schooling cooperative in Ithaca. His hobbies include gardening and running, and he says he’s a singer as well (Side Note: Glen says he used to be able to sing like Geddy Lee, from Rush, but has become more of a baritone over the years).
Glen shared one of his favorite quotes with us, from ultra-athlete Rich Roll: “Do what you love; love those you care about; give service to others; and know that you’re on the right path.”
Frances started working as an Employment Specialist at Challenge after starting as an AmeriCorps volunteer working in the DSS programs in the organization. So what does an Employment Specialist do? Frances says some of her responsibilities include two-day assessments of participants and their work skills, which are an evaluation of career interests, work stamina, physical endurance and other factors that can determine whether an individual is truly a fit for that position.
Joe has been with Challenge for 5 years, he and his family moved here after they figured shoveling 2 feet of snow would be easier than surviving hurricanes. They had been living in Florida but after experiencing 2 hurricanes in as many months a change of venue was due.
Joe started at Challenge as a dish room supervisor and now is one of our Employment Specialists. He describes his role here as “other duties as assigned”. “The part of “duties as assigned” I like best is seeing the people I works with gain the confidence to take that extra step toward independence. I love that I get paid to ride the bus.” Joe is the go to person at Challenge when someone needs travel training. He loves watching people go from never having navigated the bus on their own to being able to travel anywhere they want on the TCAT and most especially a job. It’s a privilege most of us take for granted.
Joe told the writer that this is the best job he has had since leaving the Navy. Joe comes from a military background. His dad was in the Army and his mom’s dad was a army engineer. His great Grandpa worked on building the Olympia, helping to create Teddy Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet”.
He wants people in our community to know that we are still here. We’re not in the pink building anymore, we are everywhere in the community.
Something people may not know about Joe: He and his wife used to belong to a gay and lesbian bowling team in Ithaca called the “Flaming Monkeys”. That and the fact that Joe is a aquarist!
“You can tell her that I was with the only brothers I had left and that there was no way I was deserting them. I think she’d understand that.” – Saving Private Ryan
He was in search of a job and his brother in law told him Challenge was hiring. Harrison had no experience working with the disabled but he took a job working in our Imaging business, scanning and organizing documents for the county as well as preserving clients personal photos. Seven years later he is still with us. Since he started, Harrison has moved up several times. He is now an Employment specialist working with our Employment Training Program. It’s a perfect fit. He is brilliant at his job! He works directly with our participants and the employers they work with, both love him.
He says his favorite part of working at Challenge is the camaraderie. He has worked other places where everyone worked on a common goal to put out a product but Challenge is different. “It’s about working together and the mission is about the people. “Everyone’s heart is in the right place here! There is no better feeling than seeing someone achieve success even seeing someone improve just a little and knowing that you helped is the greatest feeling!”
Harrison wants the community to know that the term workshop doesn’t mean we just put people in shredding or a dish room. The people working in these businesses have purpose and enjoy the work and the camaraderie they experience there. Not everyone is going to be able to work in a community job and we strive to find employment that is meaningful to everyone!
When Harrison is not at Challenge he spends time with 3 dogs, 3 cats and 3 fish as well as playing music.
People that know Harrison through his job at Challenge may be surprised to know he is a very talented musician in a Heavy Metal band “Ire Clad”. People who know Harrison as a musician may be surprised to know he works at Challenge during the day. He is also an amazing photographer!
“There are no compasses for journeying in time.” ~Graham Swift, Waterland
Everyone’s heart is in the right place here! There is no better feeling than seeing someone achieve success even seeing someone improve just a little and knowing that you helped is the greatest feeling!
Marty is our Employment and Vocational Services Director, she describes her role as “I do what nobody else wants to do, can’t do, can’t figure out how to do or they don’t have the time to do.”
Marty first became involved with Challenge in ‘83’. Challenge was facing a financial crisis and Marty and other members of the H.O.M.E.S. staff organized a fundraiser to help keep our doors open. This event started Challenges endowment fund. After working in Boston at a job that required constant travel to teach agencies technical supports, she wanted a change, a chance to stay in one place and work closer with participants and be invested in their lives. She wanted the opportunity to see her technical expertise in action and witness the way it changed participant lives. She has been helping Challenge help people change their lives for 17 years.
Her favorite thing about Challenge is the people we support. Marty wants people to know that the easiest way for anyone to connect to the community is through work. So, we help people with barriers experience the dignity of work. “When people are connected to each other our community is stronger.”
Outside of work for Marty is a small amount of time. Marty can be seen at her desk working on a grant at 8PM, she believes in a “personal/work blend.” It’s not just a job, it’s who Marty is. What time she does have she spends swimming in her pond with her dogs, hiking with her dogs, skiing with her dogs or training with her dogs. She often includes her husband in these activities…..
Some people may be surprised to know that Marty hitch hiked back from Mardi Gras when she was 18, by herself using only 3 rides, with truckers. Each trucker would arrange her next ride before the next stop to ensure she would be safe. Some of us, who know Marty, are NOT surprised!
“Somebody’s got to do it, it’s a damn shame it’s gotta be one of us” Jerry Garcia
THANK YOU Marty for ALL you do for Challenge
Trisha’s voyage to Ithaca, like most, was not a typical story. In 2009, she and her partner flipped a coin when deciding where to live. The choices were Ithaca or Chicago. Clearly, the coin flip went the right way and she decided to move to the Finger Lakes, which was a bit of an adjustment for someone from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. For nearly three years, Trisha has worked with Challenge, currently serving as the manager of Employment and Youth Services. She has a long background in residential work, and says she enjoys working from the other side of things these days.
On a regular basis, Trisha tells us that she and others at Challenge are confronted with their own prejudices, their own biases and how they view qualified candidates and integrated work settings. But she calls that, “the truth in it all,” and says that’s her favorite part of the job.
“I appreciate that I have to have the same conversations with various people in the community,” she says, “because it means they’re learning, and that means we’re opening up doors.”
Trisha says her vision for the future for Challenge is more integration into the community, and continuing the path of not just being a place where people come to receive services. She says continuing to be a part of the community and serving, and not just being a place that people come to, is a key to the long-term success of Challenge.
Away from her great work every day, Trisha loves to go camping, as she says she enjoys the outdoors, and says Ithaca is a perfect place for that.
My own biases get checked on a regular basis.
Dave has worked for Challenge almost 27 years. He began as a dishwasher at 19 years old. Dave says his aunt worked for Challenge at the time and he was always interested in working with people with disabilities so he took the job and has been with Challenge ever since. Now Dave’s title is, Social Enterprise Support manager.
He helps support individuals working in our social enterprises such as the Food Hub, Cornell, IC and the Wegman’s dish room. He says “the best part of being at Challenge is seeing individuals gain independence and security.” His favorite part of his job is that every day is different.
Dave wants people to know that Challenge is no longer just a sheltered workshop. “We haven’t been that for a long time we do so much more.” The thing most people may not know about Dave is that he got his work ethic growing up on a dairy farm.
Up at 4 AM for chores before school, then school, then chores after school, then homework; go to bed and get up and do it all over again. Maybe that’s why Dave likes Challenge so much. The only thing that stays the same here is change.
Dave spends his off time with family and his “K-9 kids” Nelly, Tina and Taffy.
Challenge staff will appreciate Dave’s favorite quote “your mother doesn’t’ work here, put you own dishes in the dish washer”. Thanks Dave for all your years of service!….and loading the dish washer!
I took the one less traveled by…
Dominique has worked at Challenge for about a year. He had heard that Challenge had programs to help people find jobs. So he came in looking for a job and our Contract Production Manager hired him on the spot as a custodial worker.
During his shift it was necessary for him to interact with our participants. Our Pre-vocational Manager Briggs was very impressed with Dominique and the relationships he developed with the folks working in the Contract Production area; so impressed in fact that within months when a position opened up Dominique was promoted to Training Specialist. Now he excels at helping participants develop skills needed to find jobs.
It’s not surprising that Dominique’s favorite part of working at Challenge is the people. He wants people to know that Challenge offers a lot of opportunities that can not only lead to a job but also a career.
Outside of work Dominique likes to play b-ball. He also spends a lot of time helping take care of his nephews. His favorite quote is: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by…”
Prior to joining Challenge in November of 2015, Joe served as the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes, creating and completing a capital campaign of over $8 million while building new health centers in Hornell, Corning and Ithaca.
Joe has also served as Executive Director of the Geiger-Gibson Community Health Center in Boston, and as Assistant VP of Operations for Community Healthcare Network in New York City. In these positions he lived and learned the difficult but rewarding work of running community-based non-profit health organizations. Before that, Joe served on the legislative and district staff of New York State Senator Catherine Abate; he began his career as a grassroots activist with the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Skilled and experienced in non-profit management, community health operations, legislative advocacy and leadership development, Joe’s focus at Challenge Workforce Solutions is to steer the agency through a difficult financial recovery while deepening the integration between Challenge’s mission and its businesses, and increasing visibility and impact for the community.
Joe lives in Cayuga Heights with his wife, Mary Schiavone and their son, Julian Sammons.
Tammy works in our finance department here at Challenge. Her job entails one of the most important things to our staff, Tammy is in charge of Payroll! She also takes care of our accounts receivables as well as “other duties as assigned”.
She came to Challenge in 1990 from Cornell. She was looking for a job with more consistency and knew about the work Challenge did, Tammy had an uncle with down syndrome so she was familiar with some of the folks we serve.
Her favorite thing about being a part of the Challenge family is the people, staff and clients alike. “Our participants are so honest and the things they say can touch your heart.” Bus duty is one of her favorite times of the week. It is one of the most rewarding tasks we can volunteer to participate in here. Getting to know the people we serve is so much more than part of the job.
Tammy would like people to know that Challenge serves so many more people than just those with developmental disabilities. We offer so much to the community that people don’t know about.
When Tammy is not playing with figures, she spends her time bowling with her husband on the “Rock stream Logging” team in Watkins Glen. That and her grandson keep her busy.
People may be surprised to know that Tammy plays drums! She was in a drum and bugle corp “Pages and Squires” in her youth. Maybe some day we will see her in our Challenge band the “Danby Road Shredders”?
I personally love her favorite quote:
“It’s not how big the house is, it’s how happy the home!”
Visitors to Challenge may have seen Pat over the span of her 24 years here. She’s a part of the finance office, where she handles everything from filing to payroll data entry to Medicaid claims.
Pat moved to Ithaca in 1967, and has lived here ever since. She started as a participant in Challenge’s programs, and has continued to be a valuable worker.
“I like the people I work with, both the staff and the consumers,” Pat says.
Right now, she works about 14 hours a week at Challenge, and she says everyone in the finance office is very good to work with.
Outside of the office, Pat has been a long-time member of the choir at the Immaculate Conception Church in Ithaca. She’s also part of the Ithaca Singles Group, made up of mostly retirees, who meet for dinner and activities as a way to stay social.
She also gets a chance to see family often. Her nephew lives in Ithaca with his wife and kids, and she often gets a chance to see her brother, who lives on the other side of the state, as well.
Even at age 69, Pat has no plans to slow down. She tells us she feels “just the same as I did 20 years ago.”
Congratulations, Pat, on all your success at Challenge!
Sue has been with Challenge for 3 ½ years. She came to Challenge looking for a job and found so much more. Her job entails billing the programs that fund the services we provide. Sue works with numbers and spread sheets.
Briggs is our Manager of Pre-vocational Services. He became part of the Challenge family 9 years ago when he decided to change careers. Tired of breeding cows in Cortland, he wanted a more meaningful job so he decided to go back into Human Services. Before moving to the Ithaca area in 2005 from Maine he taught creative writing and Human services.
His favorite part of his job is working with the participants. “They are harder workers than most people without barriers and most of them complain less.” I’ve have seen Briggs interact with our participants…he is brilliant!
Briggs wants people to know that we help people become more productive and contribute to the community in a positive way.
When Briggs is not at work he spends time working out both for himself and coaching special Olympians. As a boxing enthusiast Briggs also spends time writing for a boxing magazine.
Something surprising that people may not know about Briggs – He is probably the only person in the US that has an MFA in creative writing and can breed a cow! He also served in Desert Storm as an infantry soldier.
His favorite quote (which he may have written and I love) “If God wanted you to be happy, she would have made you a dog!”
Michael came to Challenge 21 years ago with his wife Lisa and two children, as a temporary computer teacher for our VESID sponsored program. The contract was purposed to end after 3 months but when Michael restructured the course VESID extended the contract for another 6 years. He has been here ever since.
He is our IT director or as he likes to put it: “I manage it!”
Michael’s position now entails being responsible for anything that has a wire attached or an electron involved. The entire computer and communication network for Challenge revolves around Michael.
There are several things Michael enjoys about working at Challenge is that no two days are ever the same. At the start of each day, he says, he never knows what issue he will find, a paper jam in the printer or an operator error, which makes the day go by fast. He also enjoys both the staff he works with and the participants. “We have a professional, caring and dedicated staff whose mission is the best interest of our consumers.”
When Michael was asked, “What would you like the public to know about Challenge that they don’t know?” His answer was concise but brilliant: “Come visit us!” “Some people still believe we count coupons.” If you come take a tour you will definitely be surprised to see the scope of what we do and who we serve.
In his spare time Michael keeps busy with lots of projects, making furniture, photography, writing articles for a UK woodworking magazine and of course “Biggles!”
But perhaps the most interesting thing about Michael is that he has been woodworking since he was 6 years old. Take a look at Michael’s work at www.sawdustandwoodchips.com
Thank you Michael, there is not one employee at Challenge that has not come to you in a panic about a blank screen or a frozen computer!
Sophaul came to Challenge in 2009 as a participant. She began working with shredding down in the pink building at Challenge’s old location. She then worked in one of our Work Experience Programs at one of the hotels in Ithaca, but it wasn’t a good fit for Sophaul, so she began working in our Contract Production social enterprise business.
To say that was a good fit is an understatement. Sophaul excelled so much that the Contract Production manager promoted her to assistant supervisor of the shredding part of the business. Her manager felt Sopual had a work ethic that was “too valuable to lose.” She is always positive and has a smile each day at work, joking with participants and co-workers makes her day go by faster.
Sophaul is one of 3 sisters born to a Cambodian immigrant, she also has 2 older step-brothers. She speaks fluent Cambodian taught to her by her grandfather. When she is not at work, Sophaul helps her mom out with household chores and enjoys working in their vegetable garden. Mostly a homebody, Sophaul enjoys working to help her parents out with bills.
Everyone loves Sophaul!