Ability Works 2015
Seven hard-working West Virginians were honored Oct. 20 for exemplary vocational rehabilitation through the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services. The annual Ability Works Awards honor one outstanding candidate from each of the agency’s six districts, coinciding with National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Their stories below are linked to their names here:
- Betty Berry, Beckley District
- Andy Shamblin, Charleston District
- Michele Howard, Clarksburg District
- Ashley Freeland, Wheeling District
- Justin Gerber, Beckley District
- Stacey Leep, Huntington District
- Matthew Burch, Martinsburg District
People who work closely with Betty Berry immediately use words like strong work ethic, persistent and hard worker to describe her.
Betty works as a quality assurance associate at the Food Lion in Beckley. Finding a job wasn’t easy for her, but now that she has a job that she loves, Betty hopes to keep it for a long time.
Betty has been deaf her entire life and has low vision that has progressively gotten worse over time, which puts her in the category as someone who has deaf-blindness.
Betty uses American Sign Language to communicate. She attended the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, graduating in 1996.
Finding work was always something Betty wanted. But, it became obvious that it wasn’t going to be an easy goal to accomplish.
Betty approached the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services to help her. Her first attempt was unsuccessful. But, she was persistent. According to Alyce Almond, Betty’s vocational rehabilitation counselor, after reapplying for services with DRS, her job search took about two years, but Betty didn’t give up.
"Globally, people probably think her deafness is her biggest barrier because she requires an interpreter for some things like meetings," explained Almond. "But Betty, I believe, did not see her deafness as her biggest barrier, it was her vision loss."
According to Betty, she uses sign language or writes notes to communicate with people. But when it comes to her vision, "I have to have about four feet to talk to people … I can’t see past that."
Working with DRS, Betty received a multitude of services, including vocational counseling and guidance throughout the process, as well as assessments to help identify her interests and abilities.
During this time, Almond teamed up with Ken Harer, an employment specialist with Mountain State Centers for Independent Living, which provides community rehabilitation program services to some DRS clients.
Harer worked directly with Betty, helping her with her job search and identifying potential employment opportunities for her. According to Harer, "The first thing we do is meet with the consumer and find out what their needs are … to build a relationship with them and understand them, so that when we place them, they are doing the kind of work they want to do."
Harer helped Betty with her résumé and with her job interviewing skills. And, he began approaching local businesses about potential job opportunities for Betty.
"Harer probably went to 20 different employers and advocated for Betty," said Almond.
Betty worked with a job coach to help her learn her responsibilities and they enlarged Betty’s task list to make it easier for her to see. According to Smith, one of his employees who worked with Betty to train her, picked up on signing and learned to communicate very well with Betty. Later, she decided to leave the company and Betty took over her role at the store.
Betty’s quality assurance responsibilities include making sure the store and its perimeter are clean and neat looking. This involves everything from cleaning the windows to the parking lot and the employee break room. Her job is a lot of work, but she does not complain.
Everyone involved in Betty’s case also believed her safety in the workplace had to be taken into consideration. The natural supports Betty has developed with her coworkers are her biggest safety measures. Her fellow associates watch out for her and someone will alert her in the event of a real emergency.
While Smith believes he has a store full of good associates, he refers to Betty as his "go-to lady for quality assurance."
Almond believes Smith’s open-door policy in working with DRS played a huge role in Betty’s success at Food Lion. "I have never worked so closely with an employer out of all of the clients I have worked with," said Almond. "He let us come in anytime we needed to. He would call me up and say we have something going on, can you come down here and we can address it as a team?"
Smith and his store were recognized by DRS as Employer of the Year for the Beckley District in 2013 because of his work with Betty and DRS.
Almond also believes that Betty is an asset to Food Lion because she puts all of her energy into her work. Betty likes to clean and she likes to do a good job.
Harer believes that Betty’s willingness to face her challenges head-on speaks volumes to those who work with and interact with her at the store. He hopes that her strong determination and work ethic serve as an inspiration to her community.
Betty is grateful for the assistance that she received from Almond and Harer. "They tried to encourage me and to change my life for a better future," said Betty.
Andy Shamblin, Charleston District
Goal-oriented is one way to describe Andy Shamblin. Determined is another. Those characteristics, and a small village of support, have empowered him to succeed. At a young age, Andy knew he wanted a college education. And later, he knew he wanted to be a teacher.
When he was in fourth grade, Andy started having difficulty with learning, especially math. He was eventually diagnosed with a learning disability, and began receiving some support through an individualized education plan through the school system.
But, the most essential support started at home.
Andy and his younger sister were raised by their father. His mother passed away when he was just 11 years old.Despite her illness, Andy’s mother could see that he needed some help with learning.
"When I was in fourth grade and I started having so much difficulty in math and my mother was sick, she recognized that she didn’t have the math ability to help me with my homework," explained Andy. She made arrangements with neighbors Betty and David Tidquist, who just happened to be a school teacher and a principal, to help Andy with his studies. Mrs. Tidquist helped Andy with his math and Mr. Tidquist helped him with his spelling and English.
"Looking back, in retrospect, they were instrumental in my early success academically in school," said Andy. "I mean, they devoted the time and put the effort into ensuring that I was successful in school."
At Nitro High School, Andy had another goal in mind running for student body.
At the end of his junior year, Andy ran against four girls and earned votes by giving away candy and his grandmother’s homemade pepperoni rolls. He won the election by three votes to become student body president of his senior class.
It was also during his senior year that Andy was encouraged to meet with a vocational rehabilitation counselor from the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services. Andy was a little hesitant because he wasn’t exactly sure how DRS might be able to help him. But, he met with Jennifer Gillenwater, senior rehabilitation counselor for DRS, before he graduated from high school.
Andy already had plans to attend West Virginia State University and he already knew that he wanted to be a school teacher. DRS was able to assist Andy with tuition and fees, as well as expenses for books and supplies while attending college, and provided vocational counseling and guidance throughout the process.
Gillenwater describes Andy as a go-getter, who’s popular and has great personal social skills.
In May 2014, Andy graduated from West Virginia State University with a Bachelor of Science in teaching.
Andy didn’t waste time applying for jobs. After a short job search, he was hired as a history teacher at Nitro High School, his alma mater.
In his second year at Nitro, Andy is teaching 12th grade civics and three sections of current events, which is an elective class. During his first year, he taught three world history classes, a community service class, a computer applications class and a law and legal class. After such a varied schedule during his first year of teaching, Andy appreciates the simplicity of his schedule this year because of the work that goes into planning and preparing for the classes.
During Andy’s time serving as student body president, he got to work very closely with Paul McClanahan, who was principal at that time and included Andy in a lot of the decisions that were made about the school.
"At the time I didn’t recognize it, but looking back on it, it was a very important thing in my life," explained Andy. "It gave me a lot of self-confidence as far as public speaking, and as far as organization, helping me to learn to organize and manage an organization of people."
Andy’s political career did not end in high school. In 2012, he was elected to the Nitro City Council, making him the youngest person ever elected to the council.
Meeting twice a month, Andy describes his public service as an experience. "The council manages a $6 million city budget, formulates personnel policy, sets the overall direction of the city … I’ve learned a lot and met a lot of good people."
He doesn’t have a lot of spare time, but when he does, he likes to hike, ride four-wheelers and read, especially history. Andy is still setting goals. He’s working on a Master’s degree in educational leadership, an online program through Marshall University. He has his future sights set on becoming a vice principal or principal. And, he also plans to run for re-election next year.
Andy has not let his struggles with learning math interfere with meeting his goals. "From the time I was in elementary school, I struggled with putting together complex math problems." As he progressed through school, his math classes got more difficult and so did his challenges. "When I finished my college algebra class, I think I danced a jig," stated Andy, "because I’d never have to do math again."
Andy gives a lot of credit to his "village" of support. His family, including his maternal and paternal grandmothers, supported and helped him throughout school, especially after his mother passed. He’s also grateful for the teachers and principals who were such positive influences in his life, ultimately affecting his decision to become a teacher.
Andy also appreciates the support he received from DRS and being able to complete his college education and enter the workforce without having huge amounts of debt hanging over his head.
He’s most proud of being the first one in his immediate family to graduate from college and being the youngest person to be elected to the Nitro City Council.
Andy enjoys teaching where he once went to school. "The fact that I get to talk about things that I’m interested in on a daily basis," Andy explains, "and the fact that, hopefully, I can make a difference in someone’s life, just like some of my teachers did for me."
Michele Howard, Clarksburg District
She may have been born and raised in California, but West Virginia was in Michele Howard’s heart.
Michele’s parents were originally from Fairmont, West Virginia, but the Marine Corps took them to California.
When she was in first or second grade, Michele’s teacher noticed that she wrote notes backwards. Soon after that, she was diagnosed with dyslexia. After the diagnosis, Michele became involved with the school’s special education program to help her with learning.
After graduating from El Toro High School in 1993, Michele wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. She knew she liked working with children, but didn’t really have a set goal for her future.
Michele decided to work while taking classes as she could. She worked at various jobs, including an after school daycare and at a residential youth lockdown facility.
She also decided to pursue early childhood education courses at a community college in California while she was trying to figure out what she wanted to do. She took classes at two sister community colleges, Irvine Valley and Saddleback, in Orange County, California.
At first Michele didn’t want to accept much assistance from the schools’ disability services, but eventually she realized that she needed to take advantage of the services that were available to her so she didn’t have to struggle so much with school. The schools provided her with note taking and studying assistance and with accommodations for testing.
During this time, Michele realized that she also had a disorder called dyscalculia that often coincides with dyslexia. Dyscalculia makes learning math extremely difficult. Luckily, she had a professor that didn’t give up on her and she didn’t give up on trying. It took her a couple of tries, but with his support and teaching methods, she got through her college math class.
Michele graduated in 2009, earning her associate’s degree in human services and family counseling. She also obtained mediation certification for California. But Michele still didn’t have a concrete plan for her future.
During summers, she often got to spend time with her grandparents in Fairmont and she loved the change from city life to country life.
Michele had never really liked living in California and a recent divorce made her realize that nothing was holding her back. She decided to uproot herself and move to West Virginia to spend more time with her two grandparents that were still living. About a month before her move, her grandmother passed away, but her grandfather was still living and she continued with her plan.
While living with her grandfather, Michele decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Fairmont State University. She immediately sought assistance from the school’s disability services office. They helped her with her educational accommodations and they also recommended that Michele contact the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services.
Michele received vocational counseling and guidance from Diane Heldreth, her vocational rehabilitation counselor. After an assistive technology evaluation, DRS provided Michele with some equipment and software that would make learning easier for her, as well as college financial assistance.
After graduating in 2013 with her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, DRS also helped Michele with job placement assistance. Guidance from Heldreth reassured Michele that she was completing job applications correctly. Assistance with preparing for interviews provided Michele with different perspectives on how to best respond to the questions being asked.
Michele is currently working at a private non-profit comprehensive behavioral health center that serves Harrison, Marion, Lewis, Taylor, Braxton, Doddridge and Gilmer Counties in north central West Virginia.
Specifically, she is a service coordinator for the Title XIX Waiver Program, which is a federal and state-funded program through Medicaid that provides support and assistance to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
She loves working with her clients, but funding cuts to the program frequently make her job very difficult and frustrating. "That’s hard, but I’m going to try to support my clients as much as I can," said Michele.
Heldreth commends Michele for her educational accomplishments and believes she is an asset to her clients. "I think she brings a lot of compassion and caring for her clients," explained Heldreth. "She offers them the support we offered to her and I think that’s very important in her field."
Michele isn’t sure if she is finished with her education. At some point, she may decide to work toward a Master’s degree. Her dream job is to work at the FBI Crime Center in Clarksburg. She took a fingerprinting course while at Fairmont State, earning an A and thoroughly enjoying the course.
For now, Michele is happy being a part of a family and helping to raise four children she refers to as her stepchildren, shuttling them from football to band practice. "They’re not my kids, but I still love them and I’ll support them 100 percent," said Michele.
She believes the services and encouragement she received from DRS in West Virginia played a significant role in her accomplishments. She had applied for services from the California Department of Rehabilitation, but she received very little support.
While working on her education, Michele frequently struggled with the stigma associated with having a learning disability, but she refused to give up. She’s most proud of earning her membership in the National Criminal Justice Honor Society while at Fairmont State.
All along, Michele’s parents were supportive of her and she is grateful they stood by her, guiding and encouraging her. She is also thankful for the teachers who served as positive influences in her life.
Recently, Michele was able to reconnect with one of her high school teachers on Facebook. She had the opportunity to thank her for helping to empower and encourage her during school. "She was a special education teacher and I was able to thank her not in person yet, she lives in Florida but one day I will," Michele said.
Ashley Freeland, Wheeling District
Growing up in rural West Virginia, doing the things that her peers were doing and being independent were very important to Ashley Freeland.
When she was six months old, Ashley was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She was born at 28 weeks and experienced a loss of oxygen during the birth, which damaged the cerebellum part of her brain. As a result, Ashley has some physical limitations. She has problems with balance and coordination and it often takes her longer to accomplish some tasks.
But Ashley has not let her limitations stop her from excelling in what she wants to do.
In 1998, Ashley and her family moved from Parkersburg to Elizabeth in Wirt County.
When she was in the fifth grade, she got involved in cheerleading. She cheered for little league and all the way up through middle school. Toward the end of middle school, a meeting with her coach, teammates and other parents pushed her to continue on. The coach did not see Ashley pursuing cheerleading in high school, but that doubt lit a fire in her. She tried out for cheerleading her sophomore year and made the team. As a result, she had the opportunity to perform with her squad during halftime at the Peach Bowl in Georgia in front of 70,000 people.
"I remember being in the tunnel, because I was leading one of the lines out of the tunnel," explained Ashley. "… That was a huge moment for me to walk out of the tunnel and be able to perform in front of all these people."
It wasn’t always easy for Ashley, though. Her parents frequently had to fight for her to receive the accommodations she needed in school. One accommodation Ashley needed was an extra set of books at home so she didn’t have to carry her heavy books everywhere. When Ashley was younger, she didn’t understand the significance of the struggles for her accommodations. She understands now, and she’s thankful her parents were willing to fight those battles for her.
Early in her high school career, Ashley was referred to the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services to help her prepare for her transition from school to post-secondary education and employment. Marsha Spiker, her vocational rehabilitation counselor, worked very closely with Ashley to help her identify her strengths, abilities and interests in order to ultimately set a vocational goal.
In order to gain her independence, it was very important to Ashley that she be able to drive. However, an initial driver evaluation from DRS indicated that she should gain more experience as an in-car passenger and try again in a few years. Ashley refused to give up.
She was committed to meeting this goal. She spent a tremendous amount of time doing occupational therapy to help her overcome some of her physical limitations with driving. She also spent almost every weekday of one summer, working one-on-one with a trainer, to help her learn to drive and how to use hand controls on a vehicle.
Ashley’s success in meeting this goal was an emotional moment for both her and Spiker. "I actually have a farm not very far from where she lives," Spiker explained. "There’s a common convenience store and I saw her in her car for the first time driving herself, and so it was pretty emotional for both of us. She was actually going to meet her friends. It was a great moment."
After graduating from Wirt County High School in 1990, Ashley went to West Virginia University, where she majored in criminology. She had the opportunity to job shadow an investigator at the Parkersburg Police Department and the popular TV crime dramas were her favorites, so choosing a major was easy for her.
She loved her criminology classes and the experiences she gained. DRS assisted Ashley with financial support for college and with ensuring that she knew how to access the accommodations she needed while at school.
After graduating in 2013, finding a job became her top priority. She worked with David Valentine, a DRS employment specialist, who helped her with her résumé. He also boosted her self-confidence through mock interviews.
To assist her in her job search, Spiker also referred Ashley to SW Resources to work with a job coach. After working with a case manager at SW Resources for a couple of months, applying for jobs and going to interviews, unbeknownst to Ashley, her case manager planned to leave the organization and believed Ashley would make a good replacement for her. After applying for and interviewing for the job, Ashley earned her current case manager position.
"The person that was trying to help me find employment recommended me to take her place," Ashley said, "and that meant a lot to me."
According to April Pennell, director of rehabilitation at SW Resources, Ashley’s compassion for others puts her above and beyond everybody else. "She’s a team player," said Pennell. "She’s always looking for what’s not only best for her clients, but also her co-workers."
Ashley is very happy at her job, where she manages about 110 cases. She loves working with people with disabilities and is an avid proponent of DRS. She frequently refers her clients to DRS, using her personal experiences to encourage them in their search for employment.
She hopes to continue in the field, eventually moving into a managerial position. "That’s where my passion is and where it naturally fell for me," Ashley explained.
Her parents, friends, teachers and Spiker were instrumental in her success. She appreciates all the help she received, "cheering" her on, along the way.
"My parents were the biggest inspiration and I will never be able to thank them enough," said Ashley. "… Marsha we’ve been through the good, the bad and the ugly. She’s always been there."
Ashley used this support to motivate her through difficult times. "People don’t realize, when you’re living with a disability and you have people who are always saying positive things to you," Ashley explained, "when you have that, when they are not present, their words are still present within you. No matter what was going on, I heard those voices saying, 'you can do it.'"
Justin Gerber, Beckley District
Justin Gerber is the epitome of not letting his circumstances define who he is.
Justin grew up in Lashmeet, a small town on the outskirts of Princeton. He loved music and sports. He started playing guitar when he was just six years old. After school, he’d do his homework, then play his guitar and play basketball until it was too dark to see.
On June 8, 2002, Justin’s life was torn apart. He rode his bike across the street to a neighbor’s house, who was working on one of his guitars. On his ride back home, Justin was hit by a car and thrown about 50 feet through the air. It was later estimated that the car was traveling between 48 and 52 mph in a 25 mph speed zone.
As a result, he had a blood clot on the right side of his brain and the left side of his body was completely paralyzed. He was in a coma for 11 days and on life support for about half that time. He was only 12 years old and doctors told his parents that he probably would not survive and if he did, he would never walk or talk again.
When he finally came out of the coma and his mother told him what had happened, his response was, "Man, it’s going to take a long time to get ready for ball season." Justin spent 49 days in three separate hospitals that summer. He came home from the University of Virginia Child Development and Rehabilitation Center with a wheelchair and a walker that had a platform to support his left arm.
Justin fought to regain his strength and to walk again. He was at his aunt’s house one day late that summer and he decided he wanted to walk. Using her and his wheelchair for support, he managed to accomplish the task. It wasn’t easy, but he kept on going, moving up to using just a cane.
He started back to school through the homebound program in the beginning, but began attending a class or two a day until he got his stamina up so that he could make it through the entire day.
He continued with physical and occupational therapy, until they finally told him he had reached a plateau and wasn’t progressing any further. After that, Justin started doing it on his own. He no longer had to walk with a cane. He lifted weights to build his strength and pushed himself to where he could play some basketball and shoot free throws.
"So, I went from absolutely nothing on this arm, to when I was 21, I weighed 184 pounds and I could bench press 255 pounds," said Justin. "I was proud of myself, not like bragging proud, but I felt good about myself."
Justin attended Pikeview High School, graduating in 2008. While he was in high school, he was referred to the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services to help him with his transition from school to post-secondary education or employment. DRS provided driver evaluation and driver’s education services, and taught Justin how to use adaptive driving aids.
Justin chose to go to Bluefield State College, enrolling in the mining engineering program. DRS assisted with his college expenses.
About two years into his program, Justin got an internship with ArcelorMittal Princeton, a coal mine in Princeton. He worked with their mining engineering and safety department. After encouragement from his boss there, Justin decided to double major, earning a bachelor’s degree in mining engineering and an associate’s degree in electrical engineering.
After graduating in 2013, Justin had a hard time finding a job. He worked at a sporting goods store while he was looking for something in his field. A DRS employment specialist also helped Justin with his job search, sending him leads as they became available.
It was suggested that he consider AEP, so he applied for a station engineering job. Justin interviewed for that job and was completely upfront about his disability. "I told them, 'Look, I have some limitations but I guarantee you I can find a way to do anything you ask of me,'" Justin explained. "I may do it a little different, but I will find a way to get it done."
He went several months without hearing anything. During a follow-up phone call with the company’s human resources manager, he was asked if he would be interested in a different area with the company. Justin jumped on the opportunity. A short while later he interviewed for the position. A week later, they set him up for orientation in Columbus. He went to Columbus for training on a Friday and started his new job the following Monday.
Justin works as a transmission construction representative for a company called Tech Serve, which is an engineering company out of Texas, but he works at AEP Transmissions in Bluefield. "I work with project management and construction management to manage, plan and coordinate substation construction projects," explained Justin.
The job is very demanding, but Justin loves what he does and he plans to continue with the company, moving up in his field as he can. "This job requires a lot of me," said Justin. "I mean there have been days I have been 10 to 12 miles shy of driving 600 miles in a day."
Michael Scott, DRS vocational rehabilitation counselor, credits Justin’s steely determination for his success. "It’s extremely unusual that someone would be in a coma for that long and still be able to achieve what he did," Scott explained. Since his accident, Justin has had a lot of support from his family, encouraging him to never give up. "My biggest supporter has been my mother," Justin explained. "When my accident happened, she stayed in the hospital with me the entire time."
Justin admits that his journey has not been easy. "I remember being 13 or 14 years old, laying in my bed, very depressed," said Justin. He couldn’t understand why this had happened to him. "I remember lying in my bed crying and thinking God, why me? Why did this happen to me? I was a good kid. I was the best or one of the best at everything I did … I wasn’t a troublemaker."
In time, Justin stopped asking why and started focusing on the opportunities that were still available to him. "After I started college, probably in my second year, I just decided, 'Look, I haven’t lost the opportunity to do what I want to do if I want it bad enough and I try hard enough.' I understood then that you can do anything that you set your mind to."
Stacey Leep, Huntington District
Stacey Leep decided it was time to transform her life. Little did she know, a tremendous amount of potential would be unlocked.
Stacey grew up in Huntington, attending Beverly Hills Middle School and Huntington East High School, graduating in 1996. She was a good student, made good grades and loved art.
Starting in her early teens and going on for nearly 20 years, Stacey struggled with depression and addiction that dramatically affected her life.
"It really affected my life, sometimes more than others," explained Stacey. "It did keep me from being able to have any consistent ongoing success and happiness until I got involved in the recovery community about five years ago."
That’s when her life started changing for the better. She connected with a mentor in the recovery community, who was also a client of the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services. Stacey admired her for being able to pursue her education and getting a job in her chosen profession. Her mentor’s success encouraged her and motivated Stacey to reach out to DRS for assistance.
After contacting DRS, Stacey began working with Clint Poston, her vocational rehabilitation counselor. With his assistance, she worked through the process of applying for services and trying to determine what her interests and strengths were and ultimately what job might suit her. A vocational evaluation identified two potential areas for her to consider, one was parks and recreation and one was social work.
Stacey had an interest in both fields. "Having had a negative impact on myself and those around me, and even society, for a number of years due to the destructive nature of my disability," she said, "I wanted to be in a profession that was going to have a positive impact."
Poston’s vocational counseling and guidance helped to steer Stacey toward the less stressful field of parks and recreation.
DRS provided college financial assistance for her to attend Marshall University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in natural resources and recreation management in 2014.
Stacey’s first year was a little difficult, but she hung in there and earned her place on the Dean’s list during her second year. She used her maturity and life experiences to really take advantage of the educational opportunity. She was involved in the student Parks and Recreation Organization, which allowed her to network with a lot of people, and did community service activities with other students, building relationships along the way.
To earn her degree, Stacey was required to complete an internship. Typically, those are done during the summer, but due to scheduling issues, Stacey needed to complete the requirement during the winter semester. She had to petition the school for permission to take this nontraditional path and she had to find a park internship that was available during the winter.
Stacey was ultimately offered an internship with the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District. She worked with the activities coordinator doing events. At the end of her internship, she really wanted to stay.
Later, she went back to work for the park district on a part-time basis and worked part-time with the extension service on a special gardening program for kids. "That was a great experience, and I appreciated that opportunity as well," Stacey said, "but when the park district offered me a full-time position, I left that part-time position and came on full-time here this year."
According to Kevin Brady, executive director of the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District, they manage and maintain 14 parks and four cemeteries, doing landscaping, maintenance and building maintenance. They’ve recently gotten back into the recreation aspect, hosting activities and events for people in Cabell and Wayne counties.
Stacey is their new recreation coordinator. "As an intern, Stacey learned it takes a lot of teamwork," Brady explained. "As a part-time person, she learned more and more of the operation and how we spend money — the processes that you have to go through — the requisitions and accounting and keeping up with your employees’ time."
In her new role, Stacey has the responsibility of coordinating all the activities and recreation programs for the park district, including supervising employees assisting with the events. Brady credits Stacey with creating a number of successful programs and for always being prepared for every contingency, including the possibility of bad weather when you have an outdoor activity scheduled.
Stacey loves her job and believes she is making a positive impact. "When I am out here hiking in the park with people or I’m holding a little kid’s hand at an event, I know I’m doing something good and I know that I have landed right where I’m supposed to be," said Stacey.
She maintains a positive outlook on her job, with her main goal being that people have a good experience and have fun. She’s pleased when she gets a large turnout for an event, but uses those times when only a few show up to talk to those people individually and make a connection.
Stacey tries to maintain a positive perspective in her personal life, as well. She’s thankful for her supportive parents and siblings. She has two daughters who serve as a strong motivation for her. And, she recently celebrated her first wedding anniversary and is grateful that she and her husband are positive forces in each other’s lives.
Stacey also values the faith that her boss has in her abilities and the encouragement and support she received from DRS.
Stacey is proud that she seized the opportunity to make a transformation in her life. "I was self-destructive for many years and I made a lot of mistakes and I hurt a lot of people, myself the most," she said. There was a turning point in Stacey’s life where she knew she had to make a change and she believes that some sort of divine intervention played a role in that revelation. She had to make a commitment and work hard and she’s proud of her choices.
Stacey believes that everybody deserves a second chance.
"I just want people to know that people like me, who at one point were written off by society and had given up on themselves, and people were starting to give up on them — they hold potential inside them and with the right resources and the right encouragement they can do good things and those good things have a positive impact," said Stacey. "People that are struggling right now. It’s hard to tell what kind of potential they have inside of them that can be unlocked with the right encouragement."
Matthew Burch, Martinsburg District
Faced with a bad situation, Matt Burch chose to take advantage of opportunity to turn his life around.
After graduating from Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, Maryland, Matt enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1994. During his Navy career, he served as a sonar technician on a submarine where he monitored underwater conditions and other vessels using sonar equipment.
After getting out of the Navy, Matt relocated to Arizona, where he worked primarily in the construction field. During his time there, Matt was involved in an altercation, where he was attacked by a group of men, causing him to sustain a traumatic brain injury.
Matt’s situation was serious. He was badly injured and was living in a state where he had no real ties. His injuries left him with serious vision problems, as well as problems with speech and cognition. It was going to take months, if not years, for him to completely recover.
Matt needed help and his parents were there for him. "Through my own faults, my relationship with my parents wasn’t the greatest after I’d gotten out of the military," explained Matt. "After this injury, they opened up their home to me and told me the only thing I had to worry about was healing. That was great for me."
Matt moved back to Paw Paw, West Virginia, with his parents. After his injury, Matt set two very important goals for himself. First, he wanted to get stronger. And second, he wanted to find a blue-collar job.
During his recovery, he focused on getting better by lifting weights and doing cardio exercise. He also doctored with a neurologist in Winchester, Virginia, who referred him to a neuropsychologist who also was located in Winchester. This doctor, Dr. Thompson, believed Matt could benefit from assistance from the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services.
Dr. Thompson made the referral to DRS and coordinated Matt’s first meeting with his vocational rehabilitation counselor, Jim Floyd, in her office.
According to Floyd, Matt knew he wanted to get somewhere, but didn’t know how to go about it. Working with DRS, Matt identified a vocational goal, setting his sights on heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) technician.
DRS helped him get the services he needed to achieve that goal. They visited James Rumsey Technical Institute in Martinsburg and Matt decided to enroll. They worked together to secure him a dorm room at the school because Matt was still unable to drive.
In the beginning, Matt was worried that he wouldn’t be able to handle learning and going to school. His severe vision problems caused reading to be extremely difficult, especially when reading more than a few words at a time. But he did not let his fear stop him.
"I had the philosophy that I am going to keep doing it," said Matt. "I’m going to show up every day and keep doing it until they tell me I can’t do it and they take it away."
But, Matt excelled in his program. According to Floyd, Matt overcame the obstacles related to his injuries and "… he became exceptional in his school." During his training, he achieved his universal HVAC certification.
While he was still in school, Matt started looking for a job. He met Glen Martin, a representative from Complete Building Services, at a job fair. He and another James Rumsey student were invited to interview with the company in Washington DC. That’s when Matt first met his current supervisor, Travis Younker.
Complete Building Services does facilities maintenance and operations, primarily dealing with HVAC, troubleshooting and preventive maintenance.
Younker explained that Matt’s training did help him get started. "When he came in the door he was a step above everybody else that’s out there," said Younker.
"We hire everybody, it all depends, but whenever you have 30 residents and a guy who went to school, it shows initiative and commitment. That was our first starting point in considering him for a job." Matt began working with Complete Building Services as an apprentice. According to Younker, Matt has already been promoted because of his dedication and drive. "He’s hungry to learn," said Younker, "which these days, is sometimes hard to find."
According to Matt, he works for a great company and with a good bunch of guys. "This company is all about second chances," Matt explained. "It’s just up to you … how you want to go through it." Currently, Matt is a building engineer, but would like to expand on his training and licenses so he can become even better at what he does.
In his spare time, Matt continues to work out and lift weights, and enjoys watching TV, especially football and baseball. He also spends as much time as he can with his teenage daughter, who he used as a source of motivation during difficult times.
Matt is especially proud of his service in the Navy. "It’s a community," he explained. "It was a good experience. I got to go around the world. I spent time with a lot of good guys."
Matt still struggles with some of the effects from his injury. His vision is different. It can impair his driving and cause him to not react as quickly. His processing speed is also different.
But, he’s learned to adjust and handle himself differently. "I don’t drive as recklessly as I did before," explained Matt. "I have to give myself more distance from the car in front of me … I have to tell myself to slow down."
Since his injury in 2010, Matt has made good choices to change his life. He credits his parents with making the biggest difference. "I was in serious trouble," said Matt. "But they pulled me out of it and gave me a chance. So without them, none of this would’ve been possible."