Anthony Calandra considers himself a “people person.”
His is often the first smile that visitors see when they step through the doors of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute. His job is to greet visitors and help them navigate the corridors to their desired destinations.
“I like my job as a greeter because I enjoy helping people,” said Calandra. “I am a cancer survivor myself, so it is easier for me to understand what our patients are going through.”
Calandra first came to the Graham Cancer Center last year as an intern with Project SEARCH, a nine-month job-development internship for people ages 18 to 21 with intellectual disabilities. In 2019 he began collecting his first paychecks for doing a job he loves.
In partnership with Project SEARCH and other agencies, the Graham Cancer Center has welcomed interns and volunteers to work in a variety of office settings. Systemwide, 82 interns have participated in the program, and 18 have been hired as employees in several departments at ChristianaCare.
Now, for the first time, the Graham Cancer Center has hired from this pool, providing Calandra and two other volunteers the opportunity for their first paying jobs.
“Our ability to attract individuals with diverse talents and abilities enriches our workforce and strengthens our standing as a national model for cancer care,” said Nicholas J. Petrelli, M.D., Bank of America endowed medical director of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute.
“Our community partnerships have helped us find volunteers with the dedication and skill sets to become meaningful contributors to our patient care family.”
Rebecca Butler was a Project SEARCH intern and joined the Graham Cancer Center in 2018 as a volunteer referred by the Delaware Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Thanks to a one-year grant from Project SEARCH, Butler now has a paying job in Radiation Oncology and Translational Cancer Research that includes scanning and up-loading hundreds of patient consent forms every day.
“I like working with computers, shredding and scanning papers, but I like scanning the best,” Butler said. “I tell my friends this a good place. I always want my job to be here at the Graham Cancer Center.”
Health Records Clerk Christina Lake had been volunteering at the Graham Cancer Center for more than seven years. In 2019, she too became a paid employee. “I would tell others who would like to work here to be responsible, be a good worker and be honest with people,” Lake said. “I like office work, but the best part of my job is talking with the patients.”
Pat Swanson, BSN, RN, program manager for Translational Cancer Research, is Butler’s immediate supervisor. Her son Andrew also started out as a diverse-abilities volunteer and became an employee in the Christiana Hospital Pharmacy nearly nine years ago.
“Our new hires with diverse abilities bring real joy to the workplace, and their dedication is unmatched,” she said. “Giving people with nontraditional resumes the opportunity for paid work is a win-win that brings real value.”
Last year, Swanson, who chairs the ChristianaCare Diverse Abilities Employee Resource Group, found an advocate in Toni Nash, chair of the Friends of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute. They worked with Dr. Petrelli to get the volunteers on the payroll.
“The timing was right for this,” Nash recalled. “Pat and I brought our plan to Dr. Petrelli, and it didn’t take him five minutes to give us an absolute ‘yes!’”
Nash, a breast cancer survivor and activist for cancer research, first became an advocate for individuals with intellectual disabilities through her work at MBNA America Bank, N.A. That is where she first met Helen F. Graham, for whom the Cancer Center is named.
A former teacher of students with special needs, Graham was tapped by MBNA to establish programs for those with diverse abilities. Nash worked closely with Graham on this project at multiple MBNA locations, and the two became dear friends.
“I was there when each of the volunteers were told they were officially hired as ChristianaCare employees at the Graham Cancer Center,” said Nash. “I know that Helen would be so proud.”