Andrew Rager: How Determination and DRS Helped this Ability Works Winner Thrive

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Andrew Rager: How Determination and DRS Helped this Ability Works Winner Thrive

Andrew Rager’s determination to do more and a thriving partnership helped him foster job skills and self-confidence to meet his employment goal. Anxiety and an intellectual disability have made things difficult for Andrew throughout his lifetime.

After graduating from Brooke County High School in 2002, Andrew began working at a job. But it was in a sheltered employment setting, meaning he worked part-time and was paid less than minimum wage.

The West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) reaches out to individuals with disabilities working in sheltered settings to inform them of available services. DRS provides support to help them find jobs in competitive, integrated settings. After hearing a presentation by two DRS employees in 2019, Andrew contacted DRS to help him find a different job. He wanted full-time work in the community, but he needed help.

According to DRS Senior Rehabilitation Counselor Kaylee Carpenter, Andrew wasn’t sure what he wanted or could do. So, she referred him to Goodwill Industries, which is a Community Rehabilitation Program that frequently provides assessment and training services to DRS consumers.

Carpenter wanted Goodwill to begin with a work skills assessment to better understand Andrew’s job skills. During this assessment, Andrew worked in the Weirton Goodwill store, where he learned various retail skills, including processing clothing and running a cash register.

After that, Andrew received work adjustment training, where a Goodwill job coach worked one-on-one with him at Kroger, which is one of their business partners. Andrew learned specific job skills for working in a grocery store during this one-on-one training. He also developed better soft skills like communicating with others.

Frequently described as quiet and shy, Andrew became more self-confident and comfortable with what he was doing as his training progressed.

Peter Bortz, Andrew’s former job coach, explained that Andrew spent about six months to a year applying for jobs after he completed his training. But it was through his own initiative that Andrew applied for and secured employment with Kroger.

According to Kroger Store Leader Keith Leshuk, Andrew works as a courtesy clerk where his primary responsibilities include bagging groceries, retrieving shopping carts and providing good customer service.

Bortz believes Andrew’s best personal characteristic to be his willingness to try new tasks despite his insecurities.

Leshuk has 24 years of experience with Kroger but is fairly new to the Wellsburg location. He explained that since he started at the store, Andrew has been trained in self-checkout technology and often manages four registers there.

Leshuk describes Andrew as a dependable employee. He doesn’t call off, and he takes care of the customers.

Andrew is extremely happy working at Kroger and believes his coworkers and managers are the best part of his job, referring to them as a second family.

Carpenter is very proud of Andrew for everything he has accomplished and for not being afraid to try to succeed at doing something different. DRS and Goodwill supported him along the way, but Andrew did the hard work, she explained.

Andrew met his goal of finding a new job and recently took on more hours at the store and is now working full-time.

Andrew is proud of his accomplishments, especially for being the one who called 911 five years ago when his mom had a stroke, which helped to save her life.

He also has not given up on trying new things. He has obtained his learner’s permit and is working toward getting his driver’s license.

Andrew is thrilled to work at Kroger and plans to stay there. “I love it, love it, love it with exclamation marks,” Andrew said enthusiastically.

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Andrew Rager was selected as an Ability Works Award Winner in 2023. The annual Ability Works Awards honor one outstanding consumer from each of the agency’s six districts, coinciding each October with National Disability Employment Awareness Month.