Ability Works 2017

Ability Works Recognition Ceremony 2017Six hard-working West Virginians were honored Oct. 18 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:

Kelly Stickler

Huntington District, State Winner

Kelly Stickler, 37, knows what it's like to hit rock bottom. But, through hard work and determination, she is now fulfilling her goal of being "a hope for someone else."

Kelly grew up in Ironton, Ohio, attending Ironton High School, where her hobbies included "things that normal kids do" like playing basketball and hanging out with friends. 

However, Kelly never graduated from Ironton High. She dropped out of school after finishing the 11th grade, went "a little wild" and ended up in prison, which is where she earned her GED.

After that incarceration, Kelly was working as a manager at Arby's and something seemingly innocuous sent her life back on a downward spiral. She couldn't afford a trip to the dentist for a toothache, so a friend gave her some pain pills. When Kelly finally got her tooth fixed by a dentist, he prescribed her some Lortabs. She filled that prescription one day, and the next day 60 pills were already gone.

Kelly realized she had a problem when her whole body went numb one day while she was driving. After calling her parents, her dad told her she was going through withdrawal.

But she couldn't stand that pain either.

“The only thing I knew, at that point in time, was I didn’t want to go through that hurt,” explained Kelly, “so I continued my pill usage. I lost my job. I gave up my job. I gave up my children. I gave up everything that I had known. I had my own place and everything, and I gave it all up for this demon, for addiction.”

Kelly’s downward trajectory continued. She was in and out of jail. She started injecting heroin. She overdosed more than once.  She pushed everyone who ever cared about her out of her life.

During her last stint in jail, she realized she wanted to change her life and credits God for helping her to do so. According to Kelly, when she got involved in recovery, people were betting she wouldn’t last for more than a few months.

“I was in addiction for 16 years, and let’s be honest about it – not many girls on the street make it off the street, but God had other plans for me, and here I am,” beamed Kelly.  

Kelly now works as a peer support specialist for Harmony House in Huntington, where she helps others on the streets with their basic needs of finding shelter, food and clothing.

According to Executive Director Amanda Coleman, Harmony House is a day shelter for people who are experiencing homelessness at its most basic. They help people transition from homelessness into housing, providing everything from showers and laundry to supported employment and assistance in getting housed and providing supportive services beyond that.

Kelly is more than prepared for her job. After getting involved in the recovery community, Kelly earned her associate’s degree in administrative technology from Huntington Junior College. She’s a graduate of the adult drug court in Cabell County, where she did community service that ultimately led to a full-time job at First Steps Wellness Recovery Center, which is also part of Harmony House.

The Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) helped Kelly get training to become a recovery coach and a peer support specialist.

Chad Halstead, Kelly’s vocational rehabilitation counselor, credits her with being focused and driven by her goals. “She came to us with the goal of wanting to become a peer support specialist and really just needed our ability to get that started for it to happen,” Halstead said.

Coleman believes Kelly’s training is significant, but her personal experiences bring a compassion and a persistence to the job that make her an incredible asset to the team.

Kelly is proud of how far she has come, and her goal is to continue staying clean – one day at a time. She overcame her biggest challenge, which was fear.

Kelly is happy to be able to use her story to encourage others with substance use disorders – to give them hope for a better future. Her biggest work reward is “to see hope come back into the individuals that we serve, come back into their face, and to see that smile.”

Kelly maintains a mental “gratitude list,” and she is grateful to all those who have helped and supported her during her recovery journey.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone that never gave up on me, that saw the good in me even when I couldn’t see it in myself, that loved me when I couldn’t love myself and that never gave up on me.”

Andy Kinder

Charleston District

Andy Kinder was in his mid-30s when a thyroid cancer diagnosis literally changed his life forever.

Andy had grown up in a little town called Uler in Roane County. After graduating from Roane County High School in 1994, he moved to Tennessee and started working for a manufacturing company there. In 2001, he moved back to West Virginia and got a job with Toyota Manufacturing, where he worked as a production team leader.

In 2010, Andy received the thyroid cancer diagnosis. People tried to comfort him by telling him that it was one of the better cancers to have if you have to face the disease. Andy disagrees.

He had been through chemotherapy and thought the cancer was gone. In 2012, another tumor was found and surgery was required to remove part of his trachea. During that surgery, Andy had a spinal cord infarction, which was a stroke in his spine that left him paralyzed.

Andy was married, with five children to raise. He and his family had to adjust to his newly acquired disability. Not only was he still battling cancer, but he was facing the difficult challenge of trying to figure out what to do with his life now.

Andy lives in Spencer. His neighbor works for the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS), and he explained that DRS could help Andy with some of the issues he was facing.

According to Betty Parsons, Andy’s vocational rehabilitation counselor, Andy always had the goal of returning to work. They first pursued the idea of Andy going back to work at Toyota but then had to start looking at other options when they learned that goal would not be possible due to ongoing health issues.

Eventually, Andy reconnected with a high school friend, who runs a nonprofit organization called Patch 21st Century in Spencer, and just happened to have a job opening for a project manager that needed filled.

David McCutcheon, executive director of Patch, asked Andy to be a part of their team. He described the organization as a planned approach to community health, with a distinction to serve at-risk youth, help with senior citizens in the community, and to develop the local community.

Andy’s abilities are multifaceted, explained McCutcheon. His experience in supervising, his ability to deal with people and his willingness to learn new things are some of Andy’s strongest skills.

McCutcheon described Andy’s project manager responsibilities. “We develop walking trails, fitness centers, agricultural projects, and all of them involve kids, teenagers, middle schoolers and sometimes elementary age, and his job is to oversee those projects, do the budgeting, the financials, manage the infrastructure. Part of it we bring together with our community partners. If we’re building something, he’s usually our architect, so to speak, for those jobs.”

DRS helped Andy with vehicle modifications, so he can get to and from work independently, and with worksite accommodations, so he can access some of the more remote outdoor work locations associated with his job responsibilities.

Andy, now 41, loves his job. As a former little-league football and basketball coach, his favorite part is working with children. “I’ve always been involved with kids, and having kids of my own, just to be able to give back to the kids in the community. I enjoy doing things for the community. I enjoy seeing our community grow.”

Andy described his biggest challenge as losing his independence and having to rely on others for help.

“You’ve got to be willing to accept peoples’ help. And know, that they’re helping you with a good heart. And, that they’re just not doing it for pity, but they’re doing it because they want to help you, and that’s been the biggest thing for me, I believe.”

In his spare time, he spends a lot of quality time with his wife, Jennifer, and his kids – at ballgames, band competitions or just doing activities they enjoy like riding dirt bikes and four-wheelers.

Right now, Andy’s primary goals are to just keep working, overseeing his projects and ensuring they succeed for the kids in the community, and to continue to fight his cancer – without giving up.

Andy’s faith in God keeps him motivated, as well as his family. They continue to push him to surpass his limits and make sure he does things that he still enjoys. His children are his proudest accomplishment.

“Having five wonderful children and being able to raise them and support them is a big accomplishment,” said Andy. “Work-wise, is just maintaining a job. Doing my job on a daily basis. Getting promotions within the company and just continuing to work, you know, to benefit and supply for my family.”

Timothy Bayne

Clarksburg District

Timothy Bayne, 46, loved working in aviation – the field he had dreamed about since he was nine years old. But five years ago, a life-changing health issue left him clueless about his future employment options.

Timothy grew up in Harrison, Ohio. After his parents divorced, he spent a lot of time during summers with his grandfather, who owned a small airplane. That’s where Timothy’s interest in aviation began. “My grandfather always said, ‘Do it for fun,’” said Timothy. “And I’m like, ‘but they will pay me to do this.’”

After graduating from William Henry Harrison High School in 1990, Timothy joined the Air Force, where he spent time doing air cargo drops overseas.

After an honorable discharge, Timothy took a job with DHL Airways, loading and unloading airplanes out in the cold. At that point, he decided he’d rather be inside the airplane, so he did his flight training and became an instructor.

Timothy was working as a flight instructor at Fairmont State University when he had a heart attack. He knew he had type 2 diabetes, and he thought it was under control. After his heart attack, his diabetes required dependence on insulin, which meant he could no longer pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) medical certification required to fly.

In the blink of an eye, the career he had known and loved was gone. Timothy had no idea what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

Timothy’s wife encouraged him to seek help from the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). He hesitated at first. “When I first came in, I was pretty nervous, and I was really probably in a state of depression at the time,” he explained.

A rehabilitation counselor started working with Timothy to find out what his skills and interests were. Everything led back to what he had been doing all his life.

While vacationing at Hilton Head, he saw an airport management job opening. However, they wouldn’t even look at his résumé, because he didn’t have a degree.

Timothy had some previous college credits, but he had never completed a degree program. He decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in aviation technology, which he earned in 2016 from Fairmont State.

DRS provided college financial assistance for Timothy to go back to school, as well as a support network for this new challenge.

“When he began his bachelor’s degree, he completely applied himself, and he graduated with a 3.72 GPA,” explained Hannah Lilly, Timothy’s vocational rehabilitation counselor.

Timothy is now the flight program manager for Fairmont State University.

According to Dr. Don Trisel, Dean for the school’s College of Science and Technology, Timothy’s responsibilities are broad.

He serves as a liaison between the FAA, the Veterans Administration (VA) for students using VA benefits to participate in the program and HOVA, the company that owns the airplanes used by the school.

“Not only does he schedule flights for students, but he is running a forklift. He is running a tug to be able to move airplanes around. He helps with recruiting,” Trisel described. “He is an invaluable resource.”

Timothy loves his job. “It has kept me involved in something I was already interested in. I was able to bring a skill set I think was needed and it is really satisfying,” he said.

Lilly considers Timothy’s experience and passion to be his best work qualities for this new job. He was passionate about continuing to work in aviation but needed some help to figure out how to do it. “He has taken that passion and experience and really brought it to a program where he gets to share that passion and experience with students,” said Lilly.

Timothy is grateful for the opportunity to continue working in the field and to give back by encouraging others to pursue aviation.

He appreciates the help he received from DRS and is thankful that his wife encouraged him to pursue services through the program.

“She had to push me a little bit,” Timothy admitted. “I’m a little bit set in my ways. I try to be independent, so I didn’t really want help. And there was a pride factor, but you got to put that away sometimes. It’s hard to do, but it’s worth it in the end. That is what these services are there for. Use them.”

He still gets to go up in the air once in a while too. “To me, when I’m up in the air, I’m in total control, and it’s freedom, and it’s peaceful.”

Ryan Shifflett

Wheeling District

Ryan Shifflett, 33, knew he had to change his life. He just needed someone to give him a chance or he would never succeed.

Ryan grew up in Martinsburg and has fond memories of spending time with his grandparents, who lived and worked in the orchards near there.

Ryan had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was just six years old. Because of this, he also has neuropathy and significant problems with the blood vessels in his eyes, which can cause problems with his vision.

He feels he was doing okay until he started drinking and using drugs when he was 12 or 13. Ryan made it to high school but dropped out before graduating. The life he was living ultimately landed him in prison. 

Ryan now knows that he was using alcohol and drugs to self-medicate his anxiety and depression. He recalls contemplating suicide at one point but deep down, he knew there was something better for him out there.

“It’s just something inside that told me there was a better way and I just kept pushing,” Ryan explained. “It was hard. Basically, I didn’t know how to live. That was my problem. Drugs and alcohol were my solution at one time, and that stopped working, so there I was, left exposed – nothing was working.”

Ryan ended up at the Mid-Ohio Valley Fellowship Home, a residential recovery program in Parkersburg, with not much more than a duffel bag to his name. With no education and a criminal record, he couldn’t find a job.

An employee of the Fellowship Home suggested he try SW Resources. They told him to apply for services at the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS).

After becoming a DRS client, Ryan ended up back at SW Resources, which is also a community rehabilitation program (CRP) that DRS frequently utilizes to provide assessment and training services to clients.

According to Linda Lucas, Ryan’s vocational rehabilitation counselor, SW Resources has a reputation for giving people a second chance and not shutting the door on them for their past.

Through his training program at the CRP, Ryan proved his worth as a valuable employee, earning the second chance that he desperately sought.

Robin Graham, production supervisor at SW Resources, explained Ryan’s transition at the CRP. “When DRS sent Ryan here to us, we were so impressed with Ryan’s ability, his responsibility role he took, his compassion for his coworkers. He is just so easygoing. He never gets bent out of shape over anything. He works so well with others, that it was unanimous with the management team that, when his time was up with DRS, that it was unanimous that we hire him and offer him a full-time position. We just did not feel like we could afford to lose someone like Ryan.”

Ryan works as a lead worker and forklift operator in SW Resources’ warehouse. His favorite things about where he works are the people and the fast-paced environment.

“In the warehouse, a day for me consists of getting Amazon orders ready, freight orders. We do things for Home Depot, Walmart, a couple other ones,” Ryan explained. “It’s fast paced. It’s our busy season now. There is no happy medium back there. It’s either slow or you have no time to think. I drive the forklift. If my supervisor isn’t working, I’ll fill in for him, help Robin out printing labels and all the paperwork that we need to get them sent out, loading trucks and getting them sent out. There’s a variety of different things.”

Ryan’s work earned him the Robert P. Nutter Award from SW Resources last year, an award given to the employee who has most reached his fullest potential.  

Ryan appreciates all the help and support he received that ultimately enabled him to succeed. DRS got him bus passes, clothing vouchers and eyeglasses when he had nothing. SW Resources’ management gave him the opportunity to prove himself.

Ryan has a family now, a fiancée, a son and two stepsons. He feels that he used to be selfish but he now realizes that it’s really about others.

“I know I have seen it time and time again that being a parent doesn’t stop you from going back to your old ways. But it’s a good motivator, for sure.”

Cindy Simmerman

Beckley District

After relocating to West Virginia, 54-year-old Cindy Simmerman had good work skills, but getting employers to hear her was the challenge to overcome.

Cindy, originally from Kingston, New York, was diagnosed as being deaf when she was just two days old. Her condition was caused by a high fever from measles.

She started out in a mainstream public school. She didn’t know sign language, but she could read lips. Eventually, her principal recommended that she find another school and she ended up at the Rochester School for the Deaf (RSD).

Within a year, Cindy learned to use American Sign Language, which was very challenging. She became quite outgoing, and was involved in many school activities and clubs. She graduated from RSD in 1982.

Cindy also has an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Broome Community College in New York.

Four years ago, Cindy moved to West Virginia. She had met someone from West Virginia and relocated here to marry him.

She also wanted to find a job, so she contacted the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) for help in her search.

Russell Cole, Cindy’s rehabilitation counselor, explained that Cindy’s biggest barrier to finding employment was communication. She had computer skills and training doing office work, which made her overqualified for many types of jobs that were available in the area.

Cole and Cindy worked together for a while. Cindy participated in a community-based assessment and job placement at a community rehabilitation program. She applied for close to 40 jobs and ended up nowhere.

Cindy became discouraged by all the doors that were closed to her.

“Well, I was really frustrated,” explained Cindy, “with interviews with people – it’s like immediately they just, I could tell they didn’t want me. They didn’t want to hire someone who was deaf, even though you could have all the skills necessary to do that job. You could also communicate through texting or writing down notes, but they still wouldn’t be open to that – just because someone was deaf. Even though you are a human being, just like everyone else. They will look at you as different – as someone they can’t hire.”

An on-the-job training opportunity at Bookkeeping for You and Taxes Too, sponsored by DRS, changed everything for Cindy. Through the on-the-job training program, DRS paid Cindy’s salary for her first 90 days of employment with the bookkeeping business. She learned everything she needed to know to help her prepare for tax season, and this experience ultimately turned into full-time employment for her.

Mary Keene, owner of Bookkeeping for You and Taxes Too, described Cindy as a good asset for her business that does payroll, bookkeeping and taxes for local businesses, as well as income taxes for other customers.

According to Keene, Cindy has brought in several hearing-impaired clients because of her skills with communicating with them, and she has started an online set-up for taxes as well.

Cindy does bookkeeping, a lot of data entry using Excel and a tremendous amount of filing to keep everything organized. She’s also been teaching her coworkers American Sign Language.

Cindy has a digital hearing aid and a video phone at work, which is a video relay service that makes it possible for someone who is deaf to make a phone call. She believes being able to call her clients from time to time is a way to establish good customer service.

She believes this job is a perfect fit for her.

“I am able to teach my coworkers sign language,” said Cindy. “We have a lot of teamwork. We discuss the pros and cons of each way to do things and how we can change the system that we are using. We really work well together, and we communicate.”

When she’s not at work, Cindy enjoys her family, loves shopping and likes spending time outdoors.

Her personal dream is for all people who are deaf to be able to have equal access to employment and get help through the Americans With Disabilities Act, so that they can find employers who are willing to work with them.

She’s most proud of the way she has been able to face tough situations without giving up.

“I always keep trying, and always try to keep growing and be part of the community and encourage people in the community to keep going and move forward. I think there is a good future ahead of us. I think the community is going to grow and excel.”

Adam Boswell

Huntington District

Adam Boswell, 24, could very easily have let his health issues affect him in a negative way. But he chose to live his life as a positive force, ultimately benefiting others.

Adam was born with cystic fibrosis, a progressive, genetic disease that affects the lungs, pancreas and digestive system. It causes frequent respiratory infections, and problems in the pancreas can stop the absorption of food and key nutrients, often resulting in malnutrition and poor growth.

Adam grew up in Moorefield, where he loved playing sports, going fishing and hunting, going out on the river and other outdoor activities.

As a senior at Moorefield High School, he and his parents were introduced to Linda Porter, a vocational rehabilitation counselor for the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS), because he had a 504 Plan, which ensures students with disabilities have access to accommodations they need to succeed academically.

After graduating in 2011, Adam went on to Shepherd University, where he majored in secondary education with an emphasis in physical education and health for grades kindergarten through 12.

Porter originally expressed concern over his choice of a vocational goal.

“He wanted to be an athletic trainer, and I was concerned about that because of his physical limitations,” explained Porter. “But Adam’s the kind of guy, once you get to know him, he is just somebody that draws you in. He has such a good personality – a good moral character. He is so determined that you’re not going to ever hold him back. He’s going to do what he wants to do no matter what. He has his mind focused.”

Adam describes his college experience as the best four years. He learned a lot at school, especially in the areas of time management and dealing with his disability to stay healthy and thrive in his field. Adam must take medication and do breathing treatments every day.

The best part of his college experience was being a student coach for Shepherd’s football team.

“I had a lot of responsibility. It was a lot of time management,” said Adam. “On top of that, I had to keep up with my classes and my grades and I worked the hours that the coaches work, so I was there probably over 40 hours, working at football each week and weekend. So, it was a great experience to learn a lot from the coaches and learn how to deal with everyday tasks.”

DRS helped Adam with college, primarily furnishing books and supplies. But Adam feels his counselor, Linda Porter, assisted him more by providing guidance and helping him to consider different employment opportunities and to prepare for job interviews, which was most beneficial to him.

Adam graduated from Shepherd University in 2015. He now works as a physical education teacher at the Nysmith School for the Gifted in Herndon, Virginia, teaching preschool kids all the way up to students in the eighth grade, where he focuses a great deal on physical fitness activities.

According to the head of Adam’s school, Ken Nysmith, Adam is a wonderful teacher, who is always energetic.

“When we hire teachers, we’re looking for teachers that have their degree in the area they’re teaching,” Nysmith explained. “But we’re also looking for that spark. We’re looking for the teachers who enjoy teaching, who enjoy working with the children and that enjoy bringing that energy to the class.”

Adam loves teaching. His favorite part is getting to know the kids and seeing them grow as students and as people.

He enjoys the environment he works in and believes that everyone working there has the same goal, which is to improve both the school and the students.

For now, he plans to continue teaching. He’s also started his own personal training business, where he does fitness training with youth and some adults.

Adam strives to always be positive. His most significant accomplishment so far was being able to play sports in school.

“There’s been a few times where I’ve been hospitalized because of cystic fibrosis, but I’ve never really gotten down on that. It’s always been – ‘What can I do to get better?’ There’s never been a time that I felt sorry for myself. There’s no reason to dwell on those things, and I just try to always be a positive person.”

He’s grateful for the support he’s received from his parents, friends and coaches throughout his life.

Adam doesn’t see himself as having a disability. He’s just a regular guy trying to be the best person he can be, while not comparing himself to anyone else.