Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Choice Group Success Story!


     There can be a variety of obstacles our clients can face when seeking employment.  They are as diverse as our clients themselves.  One of our clients in particular, Ms. Smith, has not only overcome many obstacles but some of the hardest challenges anyone can face, period.  Yet, through it all, she never stopped striving to achieve her goals.  She asked us to share her story, so anyone going through similar hardships can find encouragement.

     Ms. Smith* has always been a hard worker.  Seven years ago, before developing her disability, she held two jobs.  She was a customer service representative at Greyhound and a restaurant manager, both of which required her to stand for long periods of time.  When she developed Lymphodema in her legs, she was no longer capable of standing the required amount of time during her 4 to 8-hour shifts.  Lymphodema causes fluid to build in the limbs and It became clear that she could no longer work her jobs when, during one of her shifts, she passed out and awoke at the hospital where her legs were so swollen her shoes had to be cut off.

     Shortly after losing her jobs, she was forced to move into a homeless shelter for nearly a year, living in and out of her car whenever she could not afford housing.  With the help of a caseworker, Mrs. Smith applied for social security and began receiving disability income after a two-year application process.  This allowed her and her young daughter to move into a subsidized housing apartment.  Things were looking up, but even working part-time in cleaning and housekeeper positions for extra cash, she was unable to support her and her daughter.   Bills piled up and many months she did not have enough to live off of.  She tells of one month when she went two weeks without having any food in the house.  At times things were so bad she even thought of taking her own life.  It was a dark time for Ms. Smith, but instead of giving up, she became determined.  After seven years of instability she was tired of barely getting by and became driven to make a better life for herself.

     One of her close friends had told her to apply to the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Counseling and even offered to take her to her first appointment with DARS Counselor, Dolores Heisler.  After her meeting at DARS, Ms. Smith started believing that making a better life for herself was possible.  Through a DARS referral to The Choice Group, Ms. Smith began working with one of our Vocational Counselors to find herself a better job.  Without a diploma, GED or recent work experience Ms. Smith was concerned she may not be able to find stable employment with a good income.

During her job search, there was a month where due to an error with social security she did not receive a disability check and she ended up being evicted from her apartment.  At this time, she moved in with a good friend for a few months until she could start working and make enough to get her own apartment.

Fortunately, she received a job offer at the same time to work in a local business's call center.  But one week into her intensive training program for this position Ms. Smith had a health setback and was hospitalized due to asthma-related breathing problems.  Due to the strict attendance policy during this training process, Ms. Smith knew that she would lose her job that she had worked so hard to get.  In the hospital she felt overwhelmed, thinking she would lose everything she was working for, but a nurse told her, “It will be okay, sometimes you have to have a setback for a comeback.”  Ms. Smith said she prayed for a miracle to let her keep her job.

The next day her job coach called to say that she would be allowed to begin work again in her position with the next training class that was hired.  She received job site training supports to learn the technical knowledge and computer skills required for this position.  Her job coach assisted her with transportation until she was able to arrange for transportation through Care Van.

This was in July of 2014.  Since that time Ms. Smith has worked to earn the respect of her peers and coworkers through hard work, consistent attendance and hours of overtime worked to support her company.   After several months of working part time, she has received a raise and a promotion to full-time work based on her merit.  After four months of living with a friend, she was able to buy her own apartment and furnish it with her earnings.  At this time, she decided to enroll in the Ticket to Work program with The Choice Group in order to work her way off of Social Security Income and become financially independent through her own work.

Ms. Smith is a valued employee of her company and is still participating in the Ticket to Work program.  She has received additional awards and certificates for being a “team player,” for taking more than 3,000 calls and for “outstanding workmanship.”  She continues to excel in her work and now newly hired trainees listen to her customer service calls in order to learn best practices for customer service.  She is currently saving to buy a car and living room suite to further improve her quality of life.

Ms. Smith says, “I have had bumps in the road, but, in the end, it all worked out.  Now I am making a better life for myself and helping provide for my daughter and granddaughter.  I want people to hear my story because there are people out there who don’t have any hope.  They may be sitting at home thinking they can’t do anything.  But there are programs out there that can help you. And it you work hard, you can make a life for yourself.”



*For the purpose of telling this story, the subject's name has been changed.

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