Amanda Davis, Veterinarian
Centennial Hills Animal Hospital, Las Vegas
2010 has been a big year for Wichita native Amanda Davis. She graduated from the Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine, got married and moved to Las Vegas to begin working in a private practice animal hospital. She handles everything from routine vaccines to surgery.
Amanda says she knew she wanted to be a vet from the time she was a child. Accomplishing that goal took a total of nine years in college, and the determination not to let her progressive health condition become a barrier.
"During that time, my counselor was very helpful and kept me on track for the long process," she said. "The VR process was very goal oriented and very positive. I don't think I could have done it without my counselor."
Now that she's working, Amanda especially appreciates access to health insurance, which she identifies as her No. 1 priority. She also appreciates the mentoring she is receiving through other staff at the hospital, and the opportunity to become friends with many of her co-workers.
"Most of all I appreciate the freedom to be able to do what I want," she said. "I have the self-satisfaction of knowing I can do it. I had a huge goal and I've lived up to it."
She believes work contributes to having a positive attitude, opportunities to meet people, and a healthy lifestyle. "I'm in a place now where people look up to me," she said. "I want to help others know they can reach their goals. If I can do it, they can too."
Tim Hodges, Custodian
Ballard Community Center, Lawrence
While in high school, Tim tried out a variety of jobs. He worked at a hospital, a pet store, a grocery store and a college dorm. Having opportunities to try out a variety of work settings is an important part of the transition from high school for youth with disabilities. Through such work experiences, young individuals have the opportunity to learn basic work skills, such as customer service. They also learn about the type of work and work settings they prefer.
That was certainly the case for Tim. Thinking back on his various jobs, he said: "I discovered that I don't like parrots so working at the pet store is not for me." He also recognized that although he did not like the atmosphere at one of his jobs, he did learn some specific skills that have helped him be successfully employed as a custodian.
Tim has Asperser’s Syndrome. As a VR consumer, he received job placement and job coaching services. His VR counselor also attended his Individual Education Plan meetings while he was still in high school to help assure a smooth transition from school to work.
Tim says he really enjoys working. "Besides the paycheck, I like the people and giving a smile to those who need it. If I didn’t have this job, I would be so bored."
Does he have any advice for other young people with disabilities who are considering employment? "Keep trying and always look for the silver lining," he says.
Jim Kleinsorge, Independent Living Specialist
Southeast Kansas Independent Living Center, Parsons
Jim Kleinsorge has an impressive work history, and with a little help from VR he is able to retain his job as an independent living specialist.
"I began working at age 16," Jim said. "Everyone in my family works, that's just what we do. It was always what I was supposed to do also."
His first job was bookkeeping at his father's three service stations. Later he began doing mechanical work on customers' cars. After completing college, he worked as a case manager and then discovered his passion for working as an independent living specialist. By providing training, counseling and advocacy, Jim helps people with disabilities to live independently in their own homes and communities. He has been doing this work for 25 years, first in northwest Kansas and currently in the southeast region.
Jim has Cerebral Palsy and arthritis. Recently he noticed that his ability to walk, bend and grasp objects was diminishing. VR assisted Jim in getting a power wheelchair, helping him keep up with an extensive schedule of work, community meetings and appointments. He also now has a service dog for assistance with picking things up and opening doors.
Jim says that VR has helped him keep a job he loves doing. "I would recommend VR," he said. "They know what they are doing."
Donna Loving, Assistant Manager
Casey's General Store, Chanute
As a person with a significant hearing loss, Donna Loving was having difficulty hearing instructions from her supervisor and questions from customers at the Casey's General Store in Chanute. Since she received assistance from VR to get hearing aids, things have been looking up for her.
She has been promoted to assistant manager. "Now I make enough money that I no longer need Food Stamps to support my family,"- she said. “It's not a bad thing to get Food Stamps if you need them, but if you can get off assistance it is better.”
Donna sees a bright future ahead. “I plan on being a manager and having my own store one day,“ she said. "I take a lot of pride in my work and I like what I do. I like knowing I can be recognized for hard work.”
Jim Taylor, Owner
JT Chopper Detailing, Emporia
Being meticulous is in Jim Taylor's nature, and it's a characteristic that has served him well through his working life. Jim worked for many years as an electrical engineer, and had a specific expertise in converting operations at major industrial manufacturing plants to new technology.
"You have to be meticulous in that kind of work, for example with electrical panels," he said. "I look at it as a work of art, bringing a piece of machinery to its highest level."
In 2004, he sustained significant injuries in an accident resulting in orthopedic disabilities. As time went on and he began to recover, he realized he wanted to get back into the workforce. "I enjoy working and I love a challenge," he says.
So he began analyzing his skills and interests, and that lead to his decision to begin his own business in motorcycle or "chopper" detailing, a business well-suited to his meticulous nature. He received training from the operator of nine motorcycle detailing shops along the East Coast.
"He said he liked me because I was a perfectionist and picky about doing detailing," Jim said. "It has to be first class for me. When I finish detailing a motorcycle, I sit back with a cup of coffee and look at that bike as a work of art. I can make a dirty, nasty-looking bike look absolutely better than when it was brand new."
In pursuing his goal to establish his own business, Jim received physical restoration services, uniforms, and assistive technology through VR. A low interest loan from the Kansas Assistive Technology Cooperative (KATCO) assisted in the purchase of equipment.
Elizabeth Swartz, Courtesy Clerk
Dillon's Grocery Store, Hutchinson
“It’s great to have a job,” Elizabeth said. "I like to have money to be able to go places, buy stuff and go to the movies ... and I get to do that now.
Elizabeth has Asperger's Syndrome and needed some assistance from VR to transition from attending high school to having a job. Through VR, she had the opportunity for a community-based work assessment and received placement assistance and job coaching.
She especially appreciates the help she received to prepare for her interview at Dillon's. "I didn't know what to expect and they helped me go over questions they might ask,” she said. “lt helped my confidence.”
As you might guess, the interview went very well. Elizabeth was offered the job, and Dillon's now considers her to be a “stellar employee.”
Brent Doyle, Cashier
Fort Riley Post Exchange
Brent was injured in a motorcycle accident as a young man and sustained a significant head injury. "I remember leaving the driveway without a helmet and waking up six months later in the hospital, and thus began my new life," he says.
After receiving job placement support and job coaching through VR, Brent is now successfully employed as a cashier at the Fort Riley PX. One of the perks of his schedule at the PX is that he can drop his daughter off at school in the morning on his way to work.
"I like working for the PX," he said. "It's a great store. I enjoy assisting the warriors who assist us every day. I get to shake their hands and thank them for what they do. I praise God pretty much every day that I have this job. It's a fun job, a cool job."
Brent also says he definitely prefers to work rather than to rely on the benefits system. He said, "I want to work. I might be old school, but it would seem backwards if my wife was the only breadwinner in the family. And it's such a headache to be part of the benefits system -more headaches that the inconveniences it alleviates. I don't want to get caught up in that rigmarole again."
Telemate Sakari, M.D., Physician
The Cleveland Clinic
Telemate has a significant hearing impairment. To realize his dream of becoming a medical doctor, he received a variety of VR services, including tuition, amplified stethoscopes, hearing aids and other assistive technology. Telemate shared his perspective on the value of the VR program and the importance of employment:
"My counselor did an excellent job encouraging me, telling me not to limit myself due to my hearing loss. It made me feel really a lot stronger that someone was encouraging me to be the best that I can be.
"I can't imagine not working. It's what we do every day. We work, provide for our family, and provide for our society. Waking up every morning and doing something you love is a blessing, and I think I picked the career that fits right into that.
"I would encourage people who are coming out of high school to be the best that they can be and not let their disability impede them from being successful in life."
Alysha Jeans, Electronics Engineer
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Quantico, Virginia
Forensic science. Audio recording enhancements. Voice recognition analysis. Although most of us only hear about these things on the news or in the movies, they are part of day today work life for Alysha, a young woman from Wichita who is blind.
Alysha analyzes evidence for the FBI. It's not unusual for her to enhance audio recordings to eliminate background noise, to authenticate recordings to assure that no tampering has occurred, to use voice recognition techniques to identify speakers, or to use signal analysis to analyze a sequence of gunshots caught on tape.
"lt's important to me to be part of the FBI organization and the good things we do," she said. "I may be only a small part, but I'm part of an organization that is fighting terrorism and crime. The work I do is meaningful and it has a direct impact on investigations.
Alysha was supported to achieve her employment goal through VR, especially with assistance to attend college and to acquire assistive technology.
"Now I'm able to support myself financially," she said. "I have a challenging new career, opportunities for advancement, and great benefits. I can save money to travel and go on trips, and to do the things I want to do outside of work. I can't quite imagine a life where I would sit at home every day and not work."
Roy Lange, Self-employed Equine Dentist
Roy always loved working with horses, and had a 40-year career as a self-employed trainer. However, after experiencing a heart attack, bypass surgery and some resulting physical disabilities, he decided he'd better find a new way support himself.
He briefly explored the possibility of receiving disability benefits, but quickly decided he would prefer working.
"I knew I wanted to continue working with horses," he said. "That's the only work I had done my entire life, and I thought I would do it until I died."
He learned about an opportunity to train to become a certified equine dentist, and asked for assistance from VR to pursue the necessary education to work in this field.
"From the first time I went into VR, it was only about seven days and they had me on my way to Idaho to go to school," Roy said. "They helped me every step of the way. They paid for my schooling and helped with my business plan. My counselor kept telling me to go for it. VR gave me back my life, and I just can't say enough good things about it."
Now Roy provides dental services for about 15 to 20 horses a month. He works in Kansas, and about five other states.
"I get a real sense of satisfaction from the work I do," he said. "You can see instant results after treating horses. You see relief on their faces when their pain is taken away. I can do what I love to do and make a very decent living. I'm happy!"
Gary Robertson, General Laborer
Tolar & Associates Cabinetry, Lawrence
In 2005, Gary Robertson had a massive stroke. During his recovery, he thought about the impact of his disability --difficulty walking, inability to use his left arm, and speech impairments. And he wondered: "Would anyone ever give me a job again?"
With the assistance of VR, Gary has been able to secure a job that is a good match for his interests and abilities. He is now working doing general labor and clean-up work at a cabinet shop. VR provided a variety of services, including a high capacity cleaning cart and a self-dumping hopper so Gary can work independently. VR also paid for his enrollment in a fitness class to improve his strength and use of his left side.
For Gary, employment has great value for the paycheck as well as many other reasons. Since becoming employed, he has purchased a car and no longer needs to rely on others for transportation. He appreciates interacting with his co-workers. He is no longer using a cane. He has greatly improved the use of his left arm, and people have told him that his speech has significantly improved. His employers give him positive feedback about his work.
"This job is what keeps me going," Gary said.
Excerpts from consumer letters and comment cards
“I wanted to say thank you for the help and support you provided to me this least year. I have been working full-time as a file clerk. I think this is one of the overall best positions I could ever hope to find with some of the challenges that I face. It also provides me with an area of interest that I enjoy. Once again thank you for the opportunity, help and job training that you and your department gave to me.”
My counselor “gave me hope for a brighter life and successful career. Thanks!”
My counselor “is fantastic. He follows through in a timely manner.”
“I always receive prompt and exceptional service. I am never looked down upon and the staff is always helpful.” My counselor “shows in his attitude that he enjoys helping others.”
“I think my counselor is a great guy. He is really on top of his job. He makes me smile and laugh. He is helping me re-build my self-esteem.”
“I just wanted to send you a short message of thanks. My daughter has very low self esteem, I think because of the rough time she had in school and a dysfunctional family life when she was growing up. I don’t think I can thank you enough in helping her be the person I know she is and others will soon see. I just talked to her on the phone after the meeting you all had this morning and she sounded so very positive and excited. I haven’t heard that in her voice for a long time. Many, many thanks!”
The staff “has been absolutely awesome in every way. They always make you feel important no matter how busy they are.”
My counselor “was very helpful and understanding.”
“Being in the program has helped me in many, many ways. Not only have I regained employment, but also my self-worth and self-esteem have been regained. When I thought I was unable to work, the program helped me push forward. I would like to thank my counselor from the bottom of my heart for always being there to assist and guide when needed.”
“I love COLLEGE!!!! It’s going great. I could never repay you, Voc Rehab or the State of Kansas for the opportunities you have given me. The possibilities this education will bring me are limitless. You’re giving my son and me a life we could only dream of. Thank you so much.”
My counselor “always goes above and beyond to help me succeed.”
“You guys have helped me tremendously. I wouldn’t be where I am today if had not been for you. Thanks for being there for me. You have never given up on me.”