Ability Works 2018

Ability Works Recognition Ceremony 2018Six 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:

James Morris

Beckley District, State Winner

James Morris was on a well-planned path to successfully fulfilling his goals. He had graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia University Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science in computer science and was working as a computer programmer at Appalachian Software in Scott Depot.

He and his wife, Cami, were planning for their future. But in 2012, just 11 months into their marriage, a blood clot formed in James’ middle cerebral artery, which caused a massive stroke. He wasn’t expected to live throughout the night.

James spent more than 70 days in intensive care and was then moved to an inpatient rehabilitation facility for a month. Doctors didn’t believe he would ever walk again.

That was six years ago and James has defied those odds. He’s walking, talking, working and planning for his future again.

Despite his new disability, James wanted to go back to work. James’ wife was a speech pathologist, and she encouraged him to apply for services from the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS).

DRS provided James with vocational counseling and guidance, as well as community-based assessments to determine his skills and abilities since his stroke.

James wanted more than anything to return to his chosen field of computer programming. After his stroke, he and his wife relocated to Beckley to be closer to family. Computer programming jobs in that area are limited so James and his vocational rehabilitation counselor, Crystal Lively, started looking at other areas of interest for possible employment.

James had always enjoyed sports. He played tennis throughout junior high, high school and college.

James applied for an opening at Dick's Sporting Goods in Beckley but got nowhere on his first attempt.

According to Lively, she and James spent time focusing on services to help him get ready to return to the workplace, including a driver evaluation, vehicle modifications and driver training.

James' second application to Dick's Sporting Goods got him an interview, which ultimately led to his current part-time job as a sales associate in the store's golf department. He's been working there for two years now.

James' primary role is customer service but he also stocks shelves and performs some specialized services like re-gripping or extending golf clubs. 

DRS helped James with some workplace accommodations to make aspects of his job easier to perform – a push cart to help him stock golf balls and a chair to help him get down to stock low shelves.

Dick's Sporting Goods Store Manager Dwight Marshall explained that James came in with a knowledge and understanding of golf, which helps him to provide good service to their customers.

"He's been great from day one," said Marshall. "It's nice for us, as a company, to put people into departments or positions that they … have an interest in, but then also already coming in and having a little bit of knowledge beforehand helps. But he's gotten countless compliments over the time that he's been here."

James describes himself as a person who never gives up. He admits he's stubborn and outgoing but also introverted.

He's used his faith in God and the support from his family, especially his wife, to help him through the tough times. "I think my biggest challenge was, before the age of 30, I lost both my parents and had a stroke," said James.

But James and Cami are working toward a future that's been adapted along the way. They are raising two foster children and are in the process of adopting them.

James likes the flexibility of his job because it allows him to focus a lot of time on taking care of the kids. He spends most of his free time taking care of household chores.

James had to learn how to do everything without the use of one arm after his stroke, but he's eternally grateful that he survived. He wants to continue rehabilitation on his leg and arm, and he ultimately wants to get back into the field of computer programming.

He's grateful to Lively and DRS for the assistance they provided, and he's grateful to his store manager for giving him a chance.

James and his wife have been an inspiration to Lively, and she believes his future is wide open.

“They were both very young and, all of a sudden, you have this huge thing that happens and disrupts your life – it was just very awe-inspiring to me to listen to them talk about what has happened, what they still want for their future, what they are going to have to maybe let go or modify,” Lively explained.

“I think he’s got a great future,” she said. “He’s just ready to take life by the horns, as he once did, and do whatever he needs to do to be successful for himself, for his wife and for his children.”

Kelly Counts

Charleston District

Kelly Counts knew what job he wanted, and he used his unending determination to get it.

Kelly had previously worked in the food service industry but was unable to continue that employment because of back problems.

Despite his limitations, Kelly wanted to work so he sought services from Goodwill Industries which referred him to the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS).

Jennifer Hudnall, a DRS vocational rehabilitation counselor, began working with Kelly to assess his barriers to employment, as well as his skills and abilities. Kelly had several diagnoses including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), degenerative disc disease and some learning disabilities.

Kelly wanted to work as a janitor through Goodwill Industries, and he believed he could do a good job with this type of work. According to Hudnall, one of the first things DRS provided to Kelly was a community-based assessment, which functions as both an assessment of his abilities and as training for the job he was trying to get.

Through this assessment, Kelly worked 20 hours a week, without pay, with Goodwill on different janitorial jobs. Kelly gained training and work experience in the field, which ultimately helped him successfully gain employment as a janitor with Goodwill.

Hudnall explained that there was a lot of communication between DRS and Goodwill to arrange what was needed for his job.

“Kelly wanted to do janitorial work from the beginning,” said Hudnall. “That’s exactly what he wanted to do, and he met with me to apply and came to appointments with me till I could make the referral to Goodwill. He attended all of his assessment appointments and training. He went through background checks and fingerprinting and all of that until he was eventually hired.”

Kelly currently works as a janitor through Goodwill, which does contractual janitorial work in buildings on the State Capitol Complex in Charleston. Fred Johnson, Kelly’s supervisor, refers to Kelly as his right-hand man.

Johnson explained that Kelly is responsible for cleaning the first floor in Building 3, which he describes as the most important because it’s the first thing people see when entering the building.

Kelly’s responsibilities include sweeping, mopping, taking out garbage, cleaning windows and restrooms, and restocking supplies on the floors he cleans.

Kelly describes himself as a hard worker, who is funny and dependable. Both Hudnall and Johnson agree.

“He will come in early. He will pick up extra shifts. He’s just on top of everything,” Hudnall explained.

“He’s starting to be a leader,” said Johnson. “He’s my go-to guy when I need something done.” Johnson credits Kelly with never slouching on the job and with being a great guy that people in the building just love.

Hudnall explained that she’s received nothing but positive feedback about Kelly. He’s hard-working and he doesn’t miss work. He’s thorough, and he’s happy to help his coworkers.

But it was his persistence and determination that helped him succeed.

“The first thing I think of when I think of Kelly is how funny he is,” Hudnall said. “He is hilarious — one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He is very persistent. He was always calling to check on the status of his case. I never had to chase him down, like I have to do with some clients, and just a lot of determination and just really a lot of desire to work. Not every client has that much determination to work as hard as he does.”

Kelly feels the interview process was the biggest challenge he faced when trying to get the job, claiming that it was very difficult. But it was important for him to get this job so he could pay his bills and provide for his family.

Hudnall believes Kelly has the potential to eventually have a supervisory position in his field.

When asked about his accomplishments that make him most proud, Kelly replied that he’s proud of working for Goodwill, he’s proud of being married to his wife Tonya for 25 years, and he’s proud of his adult son.

Kelly enjoys his job — being able to work at his own pace and help his coworkers if they need him.

Brittany Lambert

Clarksburg District

Growing up, Brittany Lambert knew she wanted to help others, and that goal was a powerful factor as she was choosing a career path.

Brittany grew up in a small West Virginia town called Mill Creek. She attended Tygarts Valley High School. While in high school, she got involved with the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) through her transition plan.

Brittany has had glaucoma since she was a year or so old, which caused a significant visual impairment in her right eye and no vision in her left eye. The disability impacted her throughout her life but, because it’s something she grew up with, she’s accustomed to dealing with it.

According to Olivia Zivney, DRS rehabilitation counselor, Brittany’s plans always included college. From the time she started working with DRS, she knew she wanted to be a counselor; originally a school counselor, but she eventually changed her goal to become a rehabilitation counselor.

After graduating high school in 2011, Brittany moved on to West Virginia University, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in disability studies in 2015, and earned her master’s degree in clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling in 2017.

While in college, Brittany did need some accommodations. Those primarily included additional time on testing and large-print versions of paper materials.

But Brittany’s biggest challenge in life thus far has been transportation. Because of her disability, driving was not an option so she has to rely on public transportation or others to get where she needs to go.

However, she did not let that barrier stop her. During her undergraduate program, she did a practicum at Valley Health Care in Morgantown, where she worked in crisis intervention, assisting individuals with finding resources that could help them with various mental health issues.

During graduate school, she also worked at an addiction recovery facility called Ascension, and she did an internship at the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which is a contract service of the federal Office of Disability Policy based at West Virginia University.

Brittany considers herself fortunate that she didn’t really have much of a job search after graduating. She did such a good job on her internship that JAN hired her for a full-time consultant position.

Her responsibilities include providing consultative services to employees, employers and service providers on the employment provisions of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as workplace accommodations including assistive technology. She also does a lot of writing for publications on the JAN website and, most recently, she has started doing Webcast training in their office and traveling around the country to do in-person training.

JAN Codirector Anne Hirsh believes Brittany’s top qualifications for the job include her education and intellect, the on-the-job training she received through her internship, her great demeanor with customers, her knowledge of assistive technology, and her personal experience with disability.

Brittany considers herself to be strongly motivated. “I’m someone who wants to help others, and that has really been a driving factor through choosing what career path I wanted to take and in the job that I have now — that what I do is always about trying to help other people and provide them with resources that they need to improve their experience, in the way that people have helped me along my journey,” she explained.

Brittany’s family has been the biggest inspiration in her life. Through their advocacy efforts, she’s received the services and support she needed to be successful.

She’s proud of the fact that she graduated from college with two degrees after having come from such a small town with limited resources.

She’s grateful to DRS, not only for the help they provided but for helping her to realize what her ultimate career goal should be.

“DRS has been really helpful to me because they were there from the high school transition, so they were able to help me get an idea of what to expect in a college setting, what things I might need,” Brittany said. “They helped with providing equipment. They helped financially with things like tuition and really, if it weren’t for being a DRS client myself, I probably wouldn’t have been familiar with the profession of rehabilitation counseling, which is what I ended up pursuing as a career, so I think they had a lot of influence throughout my life in where I ended up.”

Her current plans for the future include staying on with JAN and continuing to grow her knowledge about workplace accommodations and assistive technology so that she can continue helping others as she was helped along the way.

And Hirsh wants to keep her as an employee. “She is tremendous,” she exclaimed. “We are extremely lucky to have her and hope that we can engage her and keep her interested in this job for a good long time.”

Zivney believes Brittany has the motivation and ambition to do whatever she sets her mind to do. “She’s really a shining example of what DRS is all about,” Zivney said. “She has a disability, but it hasn’t stood in her way at all — with the right accommodations, she has just plowed forward and she hasn’t let anything get in her way so she’s just very admirable in that respect.”

Daniel Boggs

Wheeling District

For Dan Boggs, it was his own motivation, determination and persistence that earned him employment success.

Dan grew up in Wheeling, where he was raised by his grandparents. He had an older sister and three younger brothers that were adopted.

A detached retina in his right eye caused him to lose his eyesight in that eye between third and fourth grade. While in eighth grade, he had another detached retina in his left eye, which left him legally blind.

Dan got involved with the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) as a sophomore in high school. DRS helped Dan with several accommodations while in school, including a closed-circuit television (CCTV), which is a video magnifying system, and a computer so that he could do the schoolwork that other students were doing. They also got him involved with the Seeing Hand Association, a community rehabilitation provider that serves people who are blind or visually impaired to help them become self-sufficient and independent.

After graduating from Central Catholic High School in 2003, Dan went on to Wheeling Jesuit University, where he decided to major in criminal justice. He later transferred to West Liberty University.

According to Beth Lipscomb, DRS rehabilitation counselor, DRS also helped sponsor Dan in college and made sure he was established with the college disability services office to ensure that he received accommodations in his classrooms as well.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2008, Dan went on to complete a disability services certificate program at City University of New York.

After that, Dan began a massive job search.

He had some work experience. Dan had worked part-time at Seeing Hand while in high school. While in college, he also worked with the student affairs and disability services offices, and gained internship experience through the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department and the campus police office.

Dan’s goal was to find work in state or federal government because the benefits were better for people with disabilities, and he was willing to relocate if the right opportunity came along.

Dan worked with a DRS employment specialist who helped him build his résumé, and using a job search website called Indeed, he applied for somewhere around 13,000 jobs and traveled to 15 different states for interviews.

Dan’s hard work and persistence paid off when he was offered employment at Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC) in Utica, New York. Dan works as an accommodations specialist, where he coordinates essential services for students with learning, physical, emotional and psychological disabilities so they have what they need to succeed in the classroom.

According to Jim Daoreuang, director of the MVCC disability resources office, Dan is frequently the first contact a student has when seeking services from their office.

“Dan does a great job of immediately connecting with students and working with students and understanding their abilities, their accommodation plan and their pursuit of higher education,” he explained.

At his job, Dan’s primary tools to help him with his job are technology that aids him with reading and seeing his work materials. He also has a guide dog, Mickey, that assists him with getting around obstacles that he can’t see.

Dan knows how hard it is for people with disabilities to get jobs, and his goal is to encourage people to use available resources to help them succeed.

During his own educational experiences, Dan’s biggest challenges were ensuring that he had all necessary information in a format that he could access using computer-based technology, and dealing with the stigma associated with blindness and disability.

In addition to his job at MVCC, Dan is working on his master’s degree in disability services, and completing that is a top goal for his future. It also takes up a lot of his free time when he isn’t working.

Other goals include advancing his career in government and maybe eventually working for a vocational rehabilitation agency or the state Commission for the Blind.

Personal goals include staying healthy and hoping for a future technology-related solution that would enable him to regain his vision; having a family; and completing his quest to visit all 50 states, and he’s only missing three — Alaska, Hawaii and Arkansas. Maine and Montana are his favorites because of their sheer beauty.

Daoreuang credits Dan with being a great colleague and asset for their team. “We were without that position for a little over a semester,” he said, “and since Dan has been on board, he has uniquely created that position to reflect his skill sets, his abilities and his unique perspective.”

Sally Johnson

Huntington District

Sally Johnson used her own determination to persevere in starting over at the age of 55.

Sally grew up in Huntington and graduated from Huntington High School. She went on to Ohio University for pre-nursing courses and ultimately earned her nursing degree from Marshall University.

But, according to Sally, “I was in addiction, we call it substance use disorder now, since I was 12 or 13. It started with drinking and smoking some weed. After that, it was something every day. My sobriety date is December 3, 2010.”

Sally was going through a recovery program at HER Place, an addiction recovery center for women in Huntington, and they encouraged her to apply to the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). Sally was interested in becoming a recovery coach, and DRS helped her receive on-the-job training with HER Place. She worked through them as a recovery coach at Cabell Huntington Health Department. The on-the-job training was supposed to turn into a full-time job, but their funding fell short.

Sally had a lot of past work experience as a registered nurse at several different hospitals, but she had lost her nursing license due to her substance use disorder.

In 2011, Sally started working toward getting her license back when she wrote her first letter to the state licensing board.

Sally found out that it was possible for her to get her license back, and DRS assisted her along the way. Sally had to complete training modules, including computer classes, because she had been away from the field for so long. She also had to seek services from an addictions counselor. DRS helped pay for both the training and counseling services.

She is still working on getting reinstated as a nurse and is under a three-year contract, which allows her to work in the field.  Her experience as a recovery coach at the health department provided her with the opportunity to get to know the nurse supervisor and the other people who worked there. So, when a position became available, she was quick to apply, and they gave her the chance she was seeking.

She enjoys the versatility of the job the most, getting to work in the department’s five different clinics, which include the areas of immunizations, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, family planning and harm reduction.

Sally believes trying to get her license reinstated has been her greatest employment challenge, and she credits Anne Moncer, her DRS rehabilitation counselor, with helping her learn the importance of structure, patience and listening to others. “She taught me those things through preparing me and getting me ready for work, for employment,” Sally said. “I couldn’t have done it without her. She was a very integral part of my recovery.”

Her biggest life challenge, though, is finding a way to balance everything that she needs and wants to do, including work, family, friends and her recovery. “My recovery comes first because, if I don’t put my recovery first, I’m going to lose it. Then I’ll lose everything else that I’ve worked so hard to get and that’s been given back to me,” she explained.

Sally believes prayer and a support group of good friends, who hold her accountable, to be her biggest motivation through difficult times.

Sally is most proud of her sobriety and of her children and their accomplishments. She’s also grateful that everything she’s been through has taught her humility.

Personally, she just wants to continue learning and being the best person that she can be. Professionally, her focus is on completing the nursing contract that will ultimately earn her the nursing license for which she’s been working so hard.

In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her two grandchildren, swimming and other outdoor activities, as well as helping other women with their recovery process.

In the long run, Moncer would like to see Sally stay at the health department. “She likes the job. They were the ones that gave her a chance,” she explained. “They knew what she had been through. They knew she was trying to get her nursing license back, and I think she appreciates the fact that they took a chance on her and she likes it. She’s good with them, and she is able to, in a lot of areas of her work, help people through the recovery process.”

Julian Baldwin

Martinsburg District

Julian Baldwin describes himself as friendly, nice, kind, outgoing, unique and fun. And he’s working in an environment where he shares those traits with others.

Julian grew up in Harpers Ferry, where he still lives with his family.

He attended Washington High School and graduated in 2016. His favorite thing about school was spending time with his friends.

During high school, Julian was referred to the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). A diagnosis of autism, as well as difficulty with math, reading comprehension and staying focused, made him eligible for DRS services that would help him transition from school to employment.

According to Suzanne Van Nosdall, Julian’s vocational rehabilitation counselor, he was a good fit for services from DRS because he really wanted to go to work.

DRS provided community-based assessment services to help him learn what type of jobs might be suitable for him and what type of support he might need on the job. DRS also provided one-on-one job search assistance and job coaching services to help him learn the job once he was hired.

Julian wanted to work in a retail department store or a similar environment but did not want to work as a cashier. So, a vocational goal of stock clerk or maintenance associate was set. DRS helped him learn more about those types of jobs.

Ameriworks, a community rehabilitation provider, helped Julian with his job search, which included applying for jobs and helping him develop his interviewing skills.

In working with Ameriworks, Julian enjoyed going out to potential job sites to learn about work and meeting new people.

It was his idea to apply for a position at Walmart, and Ameriworks helped him with the application process. According to Julian, answering the application and interview questions was the most difficult thing about getting the job. But he was hired by the Walmart in Charles Town, where he works as a maintenance associate.

DRS paid for a job coach who “assisted him with learning all the job duties and responsibilities, as well as understanding his employer’s expectations toward what was required on the job,” Van Nosdall explained.

As a maintenance associate, Julian works mostly on the floor, cleaning up any spills, as well as sweeping, cleaning bathrooms and parking lots and helping to assemble trash for pick up in the back of the store.

For Julian, it was very important for him to find a job. He wanted to contribute – to be part of the community and fit in – providing a service to others.

His favorite part of working is seeing old friends and getting to catch up with them when he can.

He’s grateful to his former Washington High School teacher, Miss Burgess, “for setting me up with DRS to give me all the help I needed to get me where I’m at today,” Julian said.

Julian is most proud of graduating high school and getting a job but there are still things he’d like to accomplish, including pursuing a driver’s license, eventually finding a better job and getting married at some point down the road.

Van Nosdall credits Julian with being happy, personable and friendly but also with being a responsible, dedicated, hard worker who wants to be the best employee that he can be.

She explained that he’s doing great on the job, and his employer even told her that Julian is helping to train other maintenance workers.

She also believes that Julian will do very well in his future, especially now that he has some work experience and is becoming more self-confident and independent.

“Julian is just a delight to be around,” said Van Nosdall. “His personality is very infectious, and people are drawn to him. Yes, he does a good job, but he’s also very well-liked, and that causes people to want to be around him.”