Employment Works Program Highlight: Didlake
Didlake is a nonprofit rehabilitation services provider that serves people with disabilities in the Baltimore-Washington and Greater Hampton Roads areas. Initially established as a school in 1965, Didlake now serves more than 2,000 people with disabilities annually. Headquartered in Manassas, Didlake operates regional offices in Maryland and Norfolk.
Didlake is a leading employer of people with disabilities, offering diverse jobs in areas such as administrative and IT, facilities management and logistics support for federal, state and local government agencies, as well as commercial businesses. Didlake employs nearly 1200 people while providing quality services to its customers at nearly 40 contract sites. Didlake has been a provider network member of Maryland Works since 2013 and has served the nation through the federal AbilityOne Program since 1990.
Additionally, Didlake connects people with disabilities to employment and community integration opportunities through its Employment Services and Day Support Programs. Didlake’s Employment Specialists work closely with individuals to assess their skills and explore careers of interest. Didlake’s five Day Support Programs provide opportunities to improve independent living skills and engage with the community through various activities and volunteering.
Travelers flying in and out of Maryland's Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) fly over grounds maintained and landscaped by Didlake through a Maryland Works contract for the Maryland Aviation Administration. Didlake has a 16-member landscaping crew that plants over 10,000 flowers every spring and 5,000 in the fall; pulls weeds in flower beds; and shovels mulch. A separate crew of 11 performs grounds maintenance services such as mowing, pruning and edging.
Mike “Mikey” Gholston, a landscaping crew member, has taken tremendous care of the plants and flower beds at BWI for a quarter of a century. Didlake began work on the contract in 2013 and hired Mikey from the incumbent contractor.
“My job has allowed me to learn a trade that I love, while also allowing me to make friends and be a part of a team,” said Mikey. “Plants are like people. They need water and air to survive just like us. When you take care of the plants like you take care of yourself, the plants will thrive.”
Mikey starts each day by packing coolers for his crew and others, and loading vehicles with all the tools that are needed for the day. He spends the day pulling weeds in the flower and mulch beds; mulching beds throughout the airport; and dead heading plants such as knockout roses, geraniums, day lilies and oak leaf hydrangeas. He also removes old plant material, preps beds for new plants, and plants perennial and annual flowers. Mikey is always looking out for his team, making sure everyone is hydrated and prepared for the tasks ahead of them, including some jobs that are physically demanding.
Mikey knows about a lot of different plant species and knows what time of year to cut each plant. He knows which weeds should be pulled and which ones should be left alone as native species.
“Everything is second nature to him since he’s done this for so many years. Mikey is eager to work and always has a smile on his face. It doesn’t matter how hard the task is, he never complains, and he rarely misses a day of work. He helps motivate the team at BWI, where there is a lot of work to be done. He’s a hard worker – he is the rock and soul of the team,” said Mikey’s supervisor, Adam Chorney, Didlake Project Manager.
In 2016, Didlake launched its second Maryland Works contract, providing scanning services for the Office of Minority Business Enterprises (OMBE) at the Maryland Department of Transportation. The Didlake team prepares, scans and verifies the digital conversion of small business certification applications, processing thousands of files per day at the customer's facility. Didlake has completed the scanning of many years of backlogged files and is now working on day-forward scanning and legacy files. Didlake was recently allocated three more Maryland Works contracts, with work expected to begin late this year or early in 2024.
Through its programs and services, Didlake is working to improve employment outcomes and create inclusive, vibrant communities. Didlake works relentlessly toward its vision: inclusive communities in which people with disabilities are valued and respected, where everyone has the opportunity to make choices and participate in all aspects of society.