Erica Brown – Unsung Hero

Erica Brown, a 25-year-old young woman from Bluefield, is being recognized as an Unsung Hero by the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) for her work during the pandemic.

Erica works as a case manager for Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare in Roanoke, Virginia, where she works with people with disabilities, specifically those with developmental disabilities.

She has been with the organization for about a year. Her job is to provide one-on-one assistance to link her clients with community support services, which can consist of disability-related waiver programs, day support programs, group homes, dental and doctor appointments, medication, insurance and other needs.

As a former DRS consumer, Erica has firsthand knowledge of case management practices from her experience with DRS.

Diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, Erica became a client of DRS while attending Montcalm High School. DRS provided her with services to help her prepare for college, as well as financial assistance after she began working on her undergraduate degree at Concord University.

Erica graduated with a Regents Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis in social work in 2019.

Erica had relocated to Virginia for her job and was just getting used to it — meeting face-to-face with her clients in the office and in their homes — when the pandemic hit, and things changed dramatically for her and her clients. Erica's office quickly transitioned to remote work, which meant new rules and guidelines to protect everyone from exposure to COVID-19.

The transition has been difficult for Erica, who had to adjust to new processes for interacting with clients, using phone calls and Zoom meetings instead of face-to-face appointments, as well as having to mail paperwork back and forth to get necessary signatures.

The change has been an equally challenging adjustment for the nearly 30 individuals with disabilities for whom she coordinates services, many who didn't understand why they could no longer interact with her in person.

For Erica, the changes caused by the pandemic have been stressful, but she has learned to adapt to the new work processes.

To deal with stress, Erica likes to take a few minutes for herself and step back away from her problems. She also spends time with her two dogs, Frisk and Willow.

Russell Hazelwood, DRS Rehabilitation Counselor, believes Erica deserved to be nominated for the Unsung Heroes recognition because of how hard she worked to earn a degree so that she could work in the field of social work. Ultimately, Erica always wanted to help people and that's exactly what she is doing.

According to Hazelwood, Erica is working to make sure an at-risk and vulnerable population receive essential community services, so they don't fall through the cracks and get overlooked during the pandemic.

Erica may pursue a master's degree in social work in the future but right now she's satisfied where she is. Down the road, she would like to work with adolescents who are on the autism spectrum. She wants to help them, so they are not stigmatized because of their disability and so they know that someone cares.