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Supported Employment on the Farm

The first time Isaac Alewine set foot on Cresthaven Farms, he was a volunteer from a local group home. Isaac quickly fell in love with being outside and around the animals.

As Isaac volunteered, he got to know Sarah Torres, a fourth generation dairy farmer and owner of Cresthaven Farms, a 160-cow Dairy Farm in Grayson County. “Isaac started by helping in the milking parlor, and I really enjoyed having him here,” she says.

Sarah says Cresthaven has the same struggle many family farms do, the to-do list is longer than the day. Sarah reached out to the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) looking for part-time help. DARS sent the referral to Mount Rogers’ Supported Employment program, and there was a match. As Sarah was searching for an employee, Isaac was searching for a job. Sarah says, “I felt like it would be mutually beneficial. Help a person who needs it, and help us at the same time. Several months later I get a call from Mount Rogers that they have someone and I found out it was Isaac.”

Supported Employment, offered through Mount Rogers’ Employment Support Services program, connects individuals with disabilities with community employers. Mount Rogers Job Coaches support the individual as they learn the job and follow along as needed. The level of support can vary depending on the individual’s needs and can reduce as they become more proficient.

Isaac’s favorite coworkers are the hundreds of black-and-white Holstein cattle. The animals are well cared for, and are very tame as a result of being handled every day in the milking operation. “They’re funny. They’re just big grass puppies,” Isaac says with a grin.

Each work day, Isaac beds the baby calves then launches into any task Sarah gives him. Some days that means mucking the barn. Other days he winterizes the milking parlor to get ready for colder weather. No matter the task, Isaac is happy to be at Cresthaven. He says, “It’s peaceful. Everyone is nice. You can get your work done and not feel stressed out.”

For Isaac, much of the credit for that positive work environment goes to Sarah. He says, “She’s great. She’s always so understanding and happy. She’s always checking up on me. She’s just great.”

Sarah says it’s easy to root for someone with so much potential, “Isaac is capable of more than he even realizes. I hope working here helps him realize that.”

Isaac would encourage anyone interested in entering the workforce to take a look at Supported Employment. He says, “You’ve got to want to work, and they’ll help you.”

It’s a win for Isaac. It’s a win for Sarah. It’s a win for the grass puppies.