Keonea Cooper: Increasing Skills and Reaching Career Goals with DRS

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Keonea Cooper: Increasing Skills and Reaching Career Goals with DRS

With a smile, Keonea Cooper helps customers and performs her other job tasks at a Goodwill store in Huntington.

The Goodwill store is part of Goodwill Industries of KYOWVA, a multi-service agency that provides training and employment-related services to people with disabilities, according to Community Work Readiness Coordinator Erica Finster.

After graduating from Huntington High School, Keonea approached the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) because she was interested in getting a job. DRS Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Joy Winters explained that Keonea had a stroke when she was an infant, which left her with a learning disability and weakness in some of her extremities.

Winters said that Keonea was involved in a high school work program, where she could work at different job sites, including a library, some restaurants and Goodwill. Her experience at the Goodwill store had been positive, and Keonea really wanted to return to work there.

Goodwill Industries of KYOWVA is a Community Rehabilitation Program that DRS uses to provide training services to some consumers. Winters arranged for Keonea to participate in several services, including a facility-based work adjustment training program, life skills training and a community-based work adjustment training program. These services helped Keonea to gain self-confidence, develop stamina for working and learn specific retail-related job skills.

After completing her training through Goodwill, Keonea obtained part-time employment with the store. Winters believes that Keonea’s positive attitude and performance in the Goodwill training programs helped her secure employment with them.

Finster agrees with Winters. “With Keonea, one of the fantastic things that I love about working with her is that she began working with me in our work adjustment training program,” she said. “And she did so well that we hired her as an employee.”

Keonea works as a store retail associate, handling multiple duties, including assisting with processing merchandise in the back warehouse area and engaging customers and other merchandising responsibilities on the retail floor.

Finster also stated that Keonea’s responsibilities have grown since she started working there. She often contributes to training new people who are being introduced to the workforce and serves as an excellent example of what someone can accomplish.

Keonea is happy with her job and plans to stay there indefinitely. She enjoys helping people at the store and is proud of her accomplishments, the most recent of which was earning her purple belt in karate.

“The feedback that I’ve gotten from both Keonea and her mom is that she’s pleased about her employment, and she gets a lot of fulfillment from what she’s able to do,” said Finster.  

Keonea contributes a lot to the store.

“Keonea just brings a shining light into the store. One of the things Keonea does is she’s always eager to help and always eager to interact with the customers,” Finster explained. “She’s friendly and always has a smile on her face. Regardless of what kind of day you’re having, Keonea will do something to make it brighter.”

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Keonea Cooper 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.