David Justice is a jack-of-all-trades here at Vermont Adult Learning. His primary role at VAL is serving as the Director of Reach Up, a Vermont Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. For this program, David oversees ten employment specialists who work with hundreds of individuals each year to help them with anything related to their employability, including providing opportunities for work placements and credential building, identifying funding sources to support families, networking with businesses and community partners, and supporting job searches. David’s work for VAL does not stop with Reach Up. As he puts it, “I wear a lot of hats.” He also coordinated VAL’s role with the Strengthening Working Families Initiative (SWFI) hosted by Vermont Technical College which supported eligible parents with tuition-free training and support to find solid jobs in Vermont’s manufacturing sector. VAL helped with the initiative by offering basic education, English Language Learner support, and strengthening outreach and recruitment. Additionally, David is heading VAL’s strategic planning process. He oversees all five working groups, including co-chairing VAL’s Workforce Development committee and leading VAL’s Evaluation committee. He is working to develop clear objectives, an action plan, and an achievable timeline for each strategic planning project, all with the goal of bettering the work VAL does.
David attended Ithaca College in upstate New York, where he took his time deciding what he wanted to study. Ultimately, he majored in sociology with a focus on clinical sociology and the criminal and juvenile justice systems. Looking back on his time at Ithaca, he says that one professor was, “really impactful in my life during the formative years of college.” This professor, Robert Heasley, helped David understand and become comfortable with who he was as a person. He credits Professor Heasley with leading him to find a career path that he feels good about, and where he can support and learn from the communities he calls home. During college, David also learned the value of a positive work-life balance. When not working, David enjoys chasing around his two-and-half-year-old daughter and spending time with his wife. The family loves to travel as much as possible, and David runs marathons and ultramarathons from time to time. “It’s an important part of my balance,” he says. He also loves to ski and be outside as much as possible, at least for a few hours a day, no matter the weather.
Before coming to VAL, David was involved with a variety of social positions, including working for a juvenile prison, a center for adults with developmental disabilities, and a rape crisis center. Eventually, David went back to school to learn American Sign Language (ASL) and became a sign language interpreter. He went on to live in Colorado where he interpreted for schools, camps, medical appointments, and community events. Through this role, he got involved with language development and educational access issues for Deaf and hard-of-hearing populations. From these experiences, David co-founded and co-directed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a Deaf colleague called Discovering Deaf Worlds in 2006. The nonprofit assists Deaf organizations in developing countries in becoming more sustainable. Discovering Deaf Worlds has collaborated with the Deaf communities in over twenty countries, including the Philippines, India, Dominican Republic, and Cambodia. After several years of traveling and working, David retired from the organization so he could spend more time with his family. When looking for a new job, he knew he wanted to stay in nonprofit work where he could still focus on education, access, and social services — and VAL fit the bill!
When asked what gets him excited about his work at VAL, David says it’s his colleagues. “I feel among like-minded people that are in it for the heart and soul of the work,” he says. He explains that self-determination motivates all the staff. They all feel good about the work they do, and this bond is shared amongst David and his coworkers. Every day he looks forward to continuing the relationships with the people he works with, both at VAL and in the larger community. David says the work at VAL matters because VAL helps people reach their goals. He also feels good about the approach to the work that is done, largely because it is student-driven, individualized, and personal. “I like to think that we exist to create opportunities for people to grow, whether it’s through education or training, or just feeling supported,” David says.
This article was written by Sarah Plaut, VAL Development & Communications Intern