Employment opportunities change lives

Recent generous gifts from North Phoenix Kiwanis and Wells Fargo foundations provided funding to renovate space on Gompers Employment Services (ES) campus to create a career transition program.

“The sGompers staff helps Adam write a resumeoft skills necessary to complete a successful job search and achieve long term employment are complex and often more difficult to learn for individuals with cognitive disabilities,” Mark Botterbusch, Director of Employment Services explained. He continued, “Understanding social cues, writing a resume, explaining one’s experience, and clearly communicating during the interview process are very difficult for people with disabilities who have not interviewed or worked in a traditional job setting before.”

As more members in Gompers Employment Services program develop vocational skills that qualify them for competitive wage employment in the community, creating a professional space for career transition training became essential. In addition to the financial support provided for the physical renovation by the North Phoenix Kiwanis Foundation and the Wells Fargo Foundation, Associated Billing Services donated office furniture and a sister agency donated computers, monitors and keyboards. Without support from these caring supporters, the career transition center would not have been possible.

“Our members work very hard to develop their employment skills,” Botterbusch. “Thanks to philanthropic support from the community, we now will be able to offer a job search training program specific to our members learning styles, while increasing their opportunity for success in finding employment.”

Leading our AT program

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Mrs. Candice M. Steel, B.S. SLP-L, AT Specialist

Gompers Assistive Technology Specialist Candice SteelRecently, Candice Steel joined our team as Gompers AT Specialist and her experience is greatly benefiting our students, members and staff. Assistive technology includes items, piece of equipment or products that are used to increase, maintain or improve the capabilities of an individual with disabilities.

Mrs. Steel received her Bachelor of Science in Speech/Hearing Sciences from Arizona State University in 2003. She began her studies in Music and Speech/Hearing Sciences at The University of Arizona and has taken graduate level course work through Northern Arizona University’s Interdisciplinary Program for Assistive Technology.

Mrs. Steel brings 11 years of experience in Speech-Language Pathology plus four years of field work with mild to severe/profound developmental disabilities in private, charter and public schools. Her expertise has afforded Mrs. Steel opportunities to collaborate on developing and implementing inclusive service delivery models focusing on the importance of life skills curriculum for K-8 self-contained students. Mrs. Steel has received training in various aspects of assistive technology, speech/language techniques, behavior analysis/management and leadership. Assistive Technology has been an integral part of her approach to learning and using functional communication since the start of her career; “it’s the key that unlocks the smallest of possibilities for someone.”

Mrs. Steel is married, has a son, two dogs, a cat and a fish.  She enjoys getting outdoors, nutrition and spending time with family and friends.

Visit our Website to learn more about how AT is benefiting students in our school program, or members in our Day Training program.

Leading school takes experience

Becky S. Gurnick, M.Ed.

Director of Special Education Becky Gurnick

The 2015-16 school year opened with new leadership as Becky Gurnick, Director of Special Education brought her passion for students and families to Gompers.

Born and raised in the Midwest, Mrs. Gurnick attended Arizona State University, University of Phoenix and Northern Arizona University earning a bachelor of science in business management, and a Masters in Special Education, and a Masters in principal leadership.

Her professional experience has provided her with a unique set of skills to lead students and staff. As a dedicated professional, child advocate, teacher, and administrator, she has served students and their families for over 16 years; as a certified special education teacher for children with multiple disabilities, mild to severe intellectual disabilities, and children with Autism. Her training in the field of behavior analysis allows her to implement interventions and strategies to create a positive learning environment for all students. In addition, Mrs. Gurnick has a history of working with diverse populations in both the public and private sectors that have prepared her to lead and support public and private school education.

Her life has been blessed with a patient, loving husband, four sons, a daughter and three beautiful grandchildren. She resides in the foothills north of Phoenix where her family enjoys hiking the Maricopa trail with their crazy Jack Russell Terriers and riding their trusty steeds.

You can learn more about our K-12 Special Education School by visiting http://gompers.org/school/.

Exploring our world through science

Gompers Day Training for Adults (DTA) program has begun embarking on a journey of discovery with our new science initiative! Each month all of the DTA program rooms explore a new topic culminating in a month-end celebration of everything they learned.

DTA VolcanoBeginning last May, our members learned what happens when the earth trembles from inside and boils over. They discussed, researched, and even created working volcanoes! It was a lot of fun but boy did they create a mess! A friendly competition in the parking lot celebrated the completion of the experiments.

In June, members went to the moon! Rockets and Space were all the buzz on campus. The members learned about the planets and how astronauts were able to reach the stars. With an exciting, early morning countdown, our members launch the rockets they made outside of Gompers Boundless Park™ and Playground. The rocket that went the highest won the competition.

July brought out the creepy crawlers! Sometimes things can be deceiving, like when a caterpillar metamorphosis into a butterfly or when a lonely ant becomes part of an active colony. DTA members were enthralled watching the changes and creation that took place right before their eyes. Each morning was a rush of excitement to observe the changes that had occurred the night before!

Who knows where their discovery will lead them next… Stay tuned!


Quality work expands members opportunities

Increasing job opportunities in the community has been an important goal for Gompers Employment Services program, Director Mark Botterbusch explained. “One year ago, we were able to offer our members two Group Supported Employment (GSE) job sites – today we have six – a three-fold increase in opportunity.”

GSE sites are important because the work occurs at the employer’s place of business, not in Gompers’ center-based training program on our Glendale campus. It is important for our members to gain real world job experience, as well as the social skills practiced with community integration. All of our current GSE sites have originated from center-based contracts.

“We celebrate small business owners who are inclusive in their diversity outreach to include individual with disabilities,” Botterbusch said. “We encourage Gompers’ supporters to not only support these fine companies, but to also reach out through their networks to help us grow our GSE sites even more.”

Highlights from our four new community partners

Laura’s Gourmet Granola

A leader from Laura’s Gourmet Granola reached out to Gompers Business Solutions program through our Website to learn more about our efforts to train individuals with disabilities in competitive wage opportunities. Mark Botterbusch and his team quickly scheduled a time study to determine what was needed to meet the specifications for a contract packaging granola and granola bars. “We began with a center-based contract a few months ago and are now ready to start the GSE job site,” Botterbusch explained. “It has been our pleasure to be invited to work in the niche market of gourmet foods.”


It’s been almost a year since Gompers members began assembling HBI packages of rolling papers. The contract with HBI came through a referral from one of our sister agencies when production levels increased beyond their ability to meet demand. Work is now available at both our ES center-based campus and at the HBI job site. “We have so many members skilled in the assembly required for this contract that we now are able to rotate those who work at the job site,” said Employment Support Supervisor Karen De Santiago. “It’s a real benefit to our members to have transition opportunities between center-based and real-world employment.”

Rigid Industries Lighting & Panoramic Press

Rigid Industries approached Gompers a little over 18 month ago when they were seeking fiscally focused business solutions for their company. “They needed a fixed cost for the assembly of their after-market LED light accessory kits,” Xavier Conde, Gompers Business Solutions supervisor said. “We were able to nail down their costs, which was critical for them in order to be able to set their retail pricing.” Rigid was so pleased that when the time came to outsource their decal kits to Panoramic Press, they recommended Gompers Business Solutions for the assembly of the decal kits. “Our growth is directly related to word-of-mouth recommendations,” Botterbusch explained. “By producing high-quality, dependable results, we can help entrepreneurial companies successfully meet their bottom-line objectives.”

Learning through evidenced-based practices

Thunderbirds Charities generous support for Gompers programs has been extraordinary. Now topping nearly $212K since 2004, Thunderbirds Charities have helped fund our multisensory room, contributed to our capital campaigns, resurfaced our indoor basketball court and helped build the physical infrastructure for our assistive technology (AT) program. When Gompers Private School recently identified the need to update our K-12 classrooms and increase staff training in technology, the Thunderbirds once again offered their support.

Special Education Director Becky Gurnick, M.Ed. recently shared the foundation for her educational philosophy and the basis for the grant request, “Educating special needs students to reach their highest potential requires not only an individualized, multi-faceted educational approach, it also requires a well-trained staff, teaching in a highly structured classroom environment and utilizing evidence-based curriculum.” She went on to say, “The 2015 funding from Thunderbirds Charities provides the essential partnership that makes this possible.”

Four essential pillars define Gompers Private School, an Arizona Department of Education certified K-12 special education school:

  1. Curriculum – Each student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) is generated specifically to support the learner with goals to increase academics and life skills. Our school utilizes Unique Learning System and News 2 You, curriculums which are both aligned with common core standards using evidenced-based practices. These curriculums provide opportunities for all ages and levels of functioning to experience learning by using a differentiated learning strategy. In addition, our classrooms are structured to support a variety of behaviors by using a teaching model that supports Positive Behavior Interventions (PBI), and allow the students to develop independent functioning.
  2. Assistive Technology (AT) – The need and use of AT are assessed through a collaborative process of integrating and implementing various assistive technologies using evidence-based strategies to support a student’s access to individualized curriculum across all contexts.
  3. Community-based instruction – Through exposure to a wide variety of activities out in the community, students are able to practice and apply learned educational strategies in real-life situations. In these often unfamiliar environments, multisensory activities provide opportunity to increase receptive and expressive communication skills as well. Each activity provides an opportunity to gain knowledge through self-discovery and building new social skill sets. Gompers large fleet of available, accessible transportation supports this important education experience. As our programs grow, we intend to add a variety of therapies including aquatics, equine therapy, community kitchens and the science museum.
  4. Transition – A transition-based secondary curriculum, combined with Gompers adult programs, ensures students are prepared for life beyond school. Special areas of instruction include career readiness, social relationships, environmental control and daily living skills. Instruction encourages greater independence and empowers the student to become more vested in their own transition into adulthood. Many of our high school students are participating in tasks that will provide them a foundation to take on multiple job duties.

Executive Director Mark Jacoby recently applauded the Thunderbirds for their significant support which has directly resulted in better programs and services for the individuals we serve. He also noted their momentous impact in bettering lives throughout our larger Valley-wide community. “Thunderbirds Charities’ dedication to improving the lives of individuals and families is clearly evident through the good work they do,” Jacoby said. “Our organization is a strong supporter of the Thunderbirds Birdies for Charity® program because their efforts benefit so many,” he continued. “To all the amazing men and women who volunteer their time to make this possible, Gompers shouts out a big Gator salute!”

June 2015 Newsletter

Student at Smart board

Jessica’s story – a journey toward increased independence

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By Yvonne “Kelly” Lyles, Gompers Employment Services Supervisor

Jessica’s life was significantly altered in her early teens when a car accident resulted in a traumatic brain injury. Now a young adult, Jessica felt socially isolated when her living situation changed and her days were primarily spent at her group transition home. A friend working at the nonprofit Arizona Bridge to Independent Living (ABIL) referred Jessica to Gompers Employment Services (ES) program.

Jessica began her journey toward increased independence at our Glendale ES campus on April 10, 2015.

When she arrived, she seemed emotionally broken and devastated regarding the rapid change of events taking place in her life. One of those changes was working for the first time. Her first day was one of many tears but underneath, I could clearly see her spirit of determination and perseverance.

I reassured Jessica that Gompers is a good place where she would find the staff very caring, understanding and supportive. I recognized her leadership qualities and explained to her that at Gompers, she would have the opportunity to prove them to herself.

We discussed how she felt a loss of control over the things in her life. I shared that at Gompers she would have control. It would be up to her to succeed. I went on to explain the importance just staying in the moment and focusing on the task at hand. I went on to encourage her to try everything given to her because I knew it was critical for her to not quit on herself.

Jessica will tell you her objective is to be independent and to hold a job in the community. She now views her experience at Gompers as a stepping stone to help her get what she wants out of life. Jessica works hard, stays focused, respects her staff and works well with others. She has made a few friends and now even smiles frequently.

When asked what matters most to her about being in the ES Transition to Employment (TTE) program, Jessica readily shares, “I have the opportunity to learn job skills like working with others, being on time and how to give my best efforts.” She went on to share, “I like the staff here. They are nice and understand me.”

Believing in the abilities of others is an important part of what we do at Gompers. My role as an ES supervisor is to provide the tools, skills and encouragement necessary to allow each of my participants to be successful. In the past two months, Jessica has proven she has the drive and desire to succeed. Her efforts resulted in her earnings growing significantly from her first month of employment to her second. In addition, Jessica now has a meaningful place to come, work and enjoy the friendship and support of others.

Genentech engages Gompers’ in a day of fun

Gompers member Terri bowling

By Jeremiah Rojo, DTA Supervisor

Thursday, April 23rd turned out to be a day of laughter, bowling challenges and fun for Gompers Day Training for Adults (DTA) members, made possible by generous hosting from Genentech Inc.

Our members’ morning began by meeting with fellow peers and staff to go over the day’s event. Everyone was excited to get to Main Event to eat pizza and go bowling! Our hostess, Holly, greeted us with welcoming arms and escorted us to our reserved area. All of our clients were smiling as they began to see where they were going to bowl and they waited patiently for the delicious food to be served. After everyone ate, the staff from Genentech greeted us with enthusiasm and smiles.

Genentech staff with Gompers members

Bowling started and all of our members were extremely happy and pumped to play!! The Genentech staff was devoted to assisting our clients during their game of bowling. Joyous cheering was at its highest as the pins came knocking down, which resulted in high fives all around as our clients continued rolling bowling balls down the lanes. It was non-stop excitement and fun for all the entire Gompers team.

Genentech staff helps

Our day ended with pictures and hugs with Genentech attendees. It was a bitter sweet ending to our joyous special event and everyone left with a belly full of food and a smile.

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Executive Director Mark Jacoby expressed his personal gratitude for the effort Genentech extended to make the day special for everyone involved. “Community integration and a sense of being welcomed and belonging is so important for the individuals we serve – just as it is for everyone. We greatly appreciate corporate partners who are willing to reach out to engage individuals with disabilities by including us in their activities.”

This is the second year that Genentech Inc., a biotechnology corporation and a subsidiary of Roche headquartered in San Francisco, has given back to the community by engaging Gompers DTA members in a day of interaction and fun. For more than 30 years, Genentech has followed the science and sought solutions to unmet medical needs. As a proud member of the Roche Group, Genentech continues in their efforts to make medicines to treat patients with serious medical conditions.

Gompers DTA member finds volunteer work fulfilling

By Josie C.

josie c bags chipsI have been going to St. Vincent de Paul’s food bank for about six months. One of the things  I enjoy most is I know I am helping others in need.

When we go to the food bank, we work on different jobs packing food like cookies, chips and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich for the snack packs. After all the work is done, we get to enjoy eating lunch and talking to other people. The thing I love most is I’m doing my best to help.

I really love going every week. I feel very happy to be helping the homeless.

I really like working with my peers at the food bank. Every time it’s time to leave, I go knowing I did my best and knowing I helped others.

Josie C. is a member in Gompers Day Training Program Room 30-6.