John McDowell: Perseverance Through Adversity

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John McDowell: Perseverance Through Adversity

When faced with several challenges, some people choose to quit. But John McDowell used his strength to persevere through adversity.

John has several disabilities, including some mobility issues, which make walking difficult, especially on uneven surfaces. He also has a speech disorder, which makes communicating with and being understood by others very difficult.

John had a job that he liked, but when he was in his late 50s, he fell at his workplace. He had to be off work for an extended amount of time, and when he was released to return to work, his employer decided not to bring him back because of concerns relating to his safety.

The West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) had previously helped John address disability-related barriers so he could find work. So, John returned to DRS for assistance with finding a new job because he was determined to work.

According to DRS Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Jamie Lafferty, John had previously had a functional capacity evaluation that helped them determine the type of work he could or could not do, and they used that to help with a new job search.

DRS enlisted the help of Open Doors, a Community Rehabilitation Program, to assist with John’s job search. They helped John with job leads, completing applications, and meeting prospective employers.

John’s job search ended up being lengthy, and the onset of the pandemic in 2020 did not help matters. However, the right opportunity came along just at the right time.

Greenworks Recycling in Lewisburg had an available job opening. DRS approached them about John participating in an on-the-job training program, which was financially supplemented by DRS and allowed the employer to see John’s work capabilities. The venture turned out to be successful for Greenworks and John.

According to Greenworks’ General Manager Myles Yates, John works as a recycling technician and is responsible for sorting a variety of plastics that come into their facility.

DRS utilized a job coach from Lifeworks, another Community Rehabilitation Program, to help John learn the job tasks.

Greenworks does provide John with minor workplace accommodations. The primary accommodation allows him to use a stool to sit when necessary to do his work, alleviating some of his mobility challenges. They have also determined ways to address communication barriers.

Yates describes John as driven and detail oriented.

“You can’t just speed through this job,” he explained. “You have to take the time to ensure things get to the right places, and he really is committed to that.”

Lafferty believes John is one of the most determined people he has ever met. He had set his mind on finding a new job and accomplished that. Lafferty also credits him with having a solid work ethic.

John is pleased to be working again. He gets bored sitting at home.

John enjoys the work that he does, and he likes his coworkers and supervisors.

Yates is thrilled that John is being recognized for his accomplishments.

“He’s certainly put in the effort and hard work,” he said. “And, frankly, this is not the easiest job, and there are some blood, sweat and tears involved, and he’s certainly done that.”

Lafferty is encouraged by John.

“I kind of feel like John makes you want to do better,” he explained. “He makes me want to do better at my job or for my other clients. He is a good example, and that is what I would say about John.”

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John McDowell 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.