There are many people with disabilities in workshops or day programs across Kansas who very much want to be working in the community. For them, what a difference paid employment can make. A competitive job, a “real” job, can truly be life-changing.
It’s not just the money they can make, although the earnings from even a part-time job can help them rise out of poverty. No, it’s more of an entry into the real world of their own community.
- At his job, Colin loves being treated like every other employee.
- In building his small business, Anthony took advantage of a high school transition program to improve his ability to make a telephone sales pitch.
- LaDena Hemken, despite multiple disabilities, found a job that fit her life's goal -- helping other people.
- Just like all of us, Robyn had her fears starting a new job. But she overcame those fears and for three years has been an important part of a retirement home work force.
Like all of us, people with disabilities want to live as full citizens.
A job coach watched the change in one young man as he moved from work inside a developmental disabilities center doing piece work to work in the community. In the former position, the young man had been childlike and dependent. With the community job, the job coach said it soon became “I’m an adult. I have to follow the rules. I don’t get special treatment. I better grow up.”
On these pages, you will find numerous stories of interest to people with disabilities and their supporters about how employment success is achieved. These success stories need to be duplicated, again and again.
The Director of Nursing said it was among the worst resumes she had ever seen.
And no wonder.
Katherine Carpenter, 52, had been through a lot before presenting Brighton Place West Nursing Director Jil Godfrey what Ms. Godfrey called “a resume that made her almost unhireable.”
Although she had updated her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) license, Ms. Carpenter has worked very little in the last 10 years. And that, Ms. Godfrey said, was the main problem with her resume. But here’s Katherine Carpenter’s reasons for that major employment gap: mental illness with diagnoses of Bi-Polar Disease and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, life under a bridge in cardboard boxes for two years, alcohol and drug addiction, a suicide attempt, and trouble with the law.
It wasn’t until a court-ordered trip to Valeo Behavioral Health Care in Topeka that Ms. Carpenter’s life made a major change for the better. The culmination of the improvement: a job at Brighton Place, brought on by help provided by Ms. Carpenter’s Employment Support Specialists at Valeo.
“I believe in giving people a second chance,” Nursing Director Godfrey said. “I’m known for hiring the unhireable. They need somebody to pick them up, help kick the dust off.”
“I’m right in there with everybody else” could be said to be Colin Olenick’s life theme. “With a little bit of what I’d call ‘unorthodox help,’ I’ve been able to achieve much.”
Whether it’s working a job for seven years and counting, going to college to advance his career, or, earlier in his life, attending the public schools of his choice, Mr. Olenick has been right in there with everyone else. Even in high school at Shawnee Mission South, he didn’t let cerebral palsy or autism hold him back.
On the high school swim team, he jokes, “I was the guy with the life preserver.”
Such joke lines are not unusual for Mr. Olenick, 25. At the job at Cinemark Theater in Overland Park, where he is a ticket-taker but tells friends he works “in show business,“ one of Colin’s bosses calls him “our resident comedian.”
Allison Loveland gets a kick out of the fact the hospital where she works is also where she was born.
“I was born here in 1978,” Ms. Loveland says as she makes her way down the fourth floor hallway of Wesley Hospital in Wichita, dusting the walls high and low as she goes. “I was born in the old part of the hospital.”
Ms. Loveland, 32, is actually employed by Aramark Healthcare, which contracts with the hospital to provide environmental services. Ms. Loveland, who has Down’s Syndrome, has worked at the hospital three years, working three days a week, four hours a day.
“I love part-time,” Ms. Loveland said.
It was through Kansas Elks Training Center for the Handicapped (KETCH) that Ms. Loveland received help obtaining the job with Aramark. Ms. Loveland originally worked with KETCH job coach Patty Waters at the hospital learning the job, and Mrs. Waters still comes by occasionally to see how Ms. Loveland is doing.
Esther Lazos, assistant manager for Aramark, said Ms. Loveland has done a very good job at the hospital.
“She has a great attitude,” Mrs. Lazos said.
In his senior year in high school, then 19-year-old David Vinsonhaler was in a difficult spot.
Living alone in the very small town of Macksville outside Pratt with no family, no transportation, and no job income, he said he was so troubled he even attempted suicide.
“I had little or no direction in my life,” he said. “I had no faith in what I could do. I was moody, emotional…I’m diagnosed with manic depression. My teachers had to put up with quite a lot.”
But help from a high school teacher and then from a series of assistance agencies has David on track. Now 21, he works full-time as a medication aide in a senior center, has his own apartment, car, and computer, and plans to gain additional education to continue a career in health care. He even has a very active kitten scampering through the rooms of his apartment.
Help for David -- who is diagnosed with a developmental disability -- came first from his resource teacher at Macksville High School. Patty Sanders said she recognized David had a home environment that did not provide a lot of support. She also said she recognized he had lots of potential.
The first group of calves was named after candy, like "Dark Chocolate." Then country music held sway, thus the twin calves "Tex" and "Ritter."
Angela Klaassen gives each of the calves in the pens on her parents' "Swinging K" farm just outside Hillsboro a name and that name goes on an ear tag. Since the spring of 2008, she has raised over 50 calves, feeding them from three days old until they reach 400 to 600 pounds months later and go to the sale barn. During the first five weeks, she feeds the calves milk replacement she mixes into bottles, then gradually the calves move off of the milk and are given cattle feed.
Angela, now 21, feeds the Brown Swiss and Holstein calves twice a day, in rain, snow, ice or mud. She also feeds the other farm animals, including horses, a donkey, goats, dogs, and barn cats.