Ability Works 2012

Ability Works Recognition Ceremony 2012Six hard-working West Virginians were honored Oct. 24 for exemplary vocational rehabilitation through the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services. The annual Ability Works Awards honor one outstanding candidate from each of the agency’s six districts, coinciding with National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Their stories below are linked to their names here:

Kayla Bland, Beckley District
State Winner

Kayla Bland with Don Nehlen

Kayla Bland receives her award from former WVU football Coach Don Nehlen, whose keynote speech was a highlight of the 2012 awards ceremony.

Starting over isn’t a new concept for Kayla Bland. Her tremendous personal setbacks have not caused her to give up and she has refused to let those who doubted her potential interfere with her goals.

After graduating from James Monroe High School, Kayla was planning for her future just like most high school graduates. In the fall of 2006, Kayla started classes at Mountain State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

Just three weeks into her first semester, Kayla’s life was turned around almost in an instant. Kayla was in a devastating motor vehicle accident, resulting in a fight for her own life.

As a result of the accident, Kayla had a traumatic brain injury and she lost a lot of blood. She had several blood transfusions and one resulted in Kayla receiving some bad blood, which caused permanent kidney, thyroid and pituitary damage.

Kayla ultimately recovered from the traumatic brain injury, but the permanent organ damage necessitated very expensive and life-sustaining medications, as well as peritoneal dialysis four times a day.

Kayla’s inner strength and strong support system helped her recovery, and in 2008, Kayla decided it was time to try to get back to school so she could get the skills she needed to find a job and move on with her life. So, Kayla reached out to the Division of Rehabilitation Services for help.

According to Nancy Harris, Kayla’s rehabilitation counselor, Kayla wanted to get back to school, but was looking for something closer to home near her family and medical support system that she had in place.

In the fall of 2008, Kayla started classes at New River Community and Technical College. Harris explained that Kayla started out with a bang, getting good grades in her classes. However, not long after she started back to school, Kayla’s life changed dramatically again.

Kayla was on multiple lists for kidney donation and when she got the call notifying her that she was to receive a new kidney through organ donation, she didn’t hesitate. She spent the rest of the semester recovering from the surgery and had to drop out of school.

But, Kayla did not give up. And, her third attempt at getting her education was a success. Kayla earned her associate’s degree in computer science networking and technology from New River Community and Technical College in May 2011, an accomplishment for which she is proud.

Kayla was ready to look for a job, but she feared that it might interfere with her eligibility for the Medicaid program. She was receiving Social Security benefits and didn’t mind losing those, but Medicaid helped her to pay for the expensive, life-sustaining medications she must continue in order to maintain her health.

With assistance from Harris, Kayla received clarification from a Social Security work incentives representative about a special provision, 1619(B), which would allow her to maintain Medicaid eligibility, but lose the financial support she was receiving through Social Security.

Kayla’s job search wasn’t easy. She applied for every job she could and followed up on every possible lead. There were several unsuccessful attempts, but she did not get discouraged.

After seeing a job posting for a position at Appalachian Electronics Instruments, Inc. (AEI), Harris made a call to the company on Kayla’s behalf. Despite Harris’ attempts at promoting Kayla’s excellent qualifications, she was told that the position had been filled.

To the surprise of Harris, Kayla called her later to let her know that AEI had contacted her for an interview and they hired her on the spot.

At AEI, Kayla runs a contact machine, which uses computer software to tell her where to put the parts and how they go in correctly.

Becky Persinger, logistics manager for the global textile manufacturing company in Fairlea, says that Kayla’s job is very crucial and very detailed.

Kayla began working on the mechanical assembly line, but when a job opened up on the contact machine, Persinger knew she was the best person for the job. On-the-job training helped Kayla to develop her skills.

Harris credits Kayla for being dependable and really committed to her job.

But, Kayla’s accomplishments prove that she’s committed to more than just work. She’s committed to living. "Since my accident, my life has done a 360," said Kayla. "I was into a lot of bad things in high school. Since then, I’ve really matured. It showed me a lot and now I just basically keep a smile on my face, live my life, and just make sure that it is going the way I need it to."

Kayla dismissed those who doubted that she would ever complete her education or get a job after her accident. "I hate to be told no," she said. "I will do anything in my power to make sure that it happens. And I think that was my biggest accomplishment in life, which is definitely healing from the things that I went through, getting myself back in gear, getting on with my life again, getting my education and starting my career."

Kayla loves where she works and feels like her coworkers are a small family.

During an initial performance evaluation, Kayla got the answer to a question that she had since her accident. Who had pulled her from the vehicle? After the evaluation, the supervisor asked her some questions that caught her off guard. Some might call it fate, while others may say it’s ironic. It shocked Kayla to learn that he was responsible for pulling her from the accident and saving her life!

Kayla uses her renewed chance at life to promote the benefits of organ donation. Her message is simple – it’s important for all the people involved. It can change people’s lives and give them a chance at life again.

Kayla is extremely thankful for her second chances. She knows that without the kidney transplant, she might not be alive today. She’s met the donor’s family and they have become a part of each other’s lives and that means the world to her.

Darrel Beasley, Charleston District

Darrel Beasley with Don Nehlen

Darrel Beasley receives his award from former WVU football Coach Don Nehlen, whose keynote speech was especially appreciated by Beasley, an avid fan of the Mountaineers.

Darrel Beasley wanted independence. To get that independence, he knew he needed two things — a job and a driver’s license. If he couldn’t get his license, his alternate plan was to learn how to use the public transportation system so he could get where he needed to go.

Darrel, 23, has bilateral profound hearing loss. As he approached graduation from the West Virginia School for the Deaf in Romney, Darrel sought assistance from the Division of Rehabilitation Services.

According to Rossana Henson, Darrel’s rehabilitation counselor, he interviewed her at their first meeting. He laid out his goals and wanted to know how DRS could help him to meet those goals.

Darrel’s personality and tenacity quickly impressed Henson. A vocational evaluation revealed that Darrel liked to work on his own and he liked working with his hands.

The evaluation indicated several jobs that might fit Darrel’s interests and capabilities. One of those was janitorial work. Darrel was interested and looking for an opportunity.

Opportunity soon knocked for Darrel when a position opened up at Goodwill Industries of Kanawha Valley. They needed a janitor for their State Capitol Complex work crew.

Darrel was hired in October 2010. Darrel uses American Sign Language to communicate. For the first few weeks of his employment, Darrel trained with another Goodwill employee who was deaf and used sign language.

David Randolph, Goodwill’s Capitol Complex supervisor, said it didn’t take Darrel long to learn the job. After a few weeks of training, Darrel’s work passed inspection and a positive evaluation from Randolph allowed Darrel to start working on his own.

According to Darrel, he loves his job. He runs the vacuum, cleans windows and bathrooms, empties trash, and dusts around computers and desks.

Darrel was well on his way to meeting his goals. He had successfully secured a job. However, Darrel knew he needed to learn to drive, or to ride the bus, to meet his ultimate goal of independence.

Darrel did not let an unsatisfactory driving evaluation stand in his way. With great persistence, he worked with Susan Patterson, a DRS orientation and mobility specialist, to learn how to safely ride the bus to work and to other places he likes to visit, including the mall. Darrel keeps note cards handy so he can communicate with the bus driver.

According to Henson, Darrel’s strongest abilities are his personality and his work ethic. "Darrel is all about the job," she said. He lives in Cross Lanes and catches the bus every morning at 7:20 a.m. so he can be at work on time in Charleston.

Randolph agrees that Darrel’s biggest asset is his personality. "If everyone here was as cheerful and happy as him every day, it would be a wonderful place to work," he said.

Randolph said that Darrel "wears his happiness on his sleeve and wants to be a perfectionist. He’s an asset to the Capitol Complex team."

Henson credits Darrel with being loyal and believes he will stay at Goodwill as long as they will have him.

"His tenacity is strong. His mom was concerned about him riding the bus, but he wanted it and he made it happen," said Henson.

Darrel got his independence. He loves his job. In his spare time, he enjoys shopping at the mall, going to the movies and playing video games. His favorite pastime is shopping for WV Mountaineer shirts.

When asked what he’s most proud of, his response was graduating from high school and getting a job.

Sara Carlstrom, Clarksburg District

Sara Carlstrom with Don Nehlen

Sara Carlstrom receives her award from former WVU football Coach Don Nehlen.

Hardworking, ambitious and energetic are words Sara Carlstrom uses to describe herself. And, her accomplishments are a testament to these personal characteristics.

At the age of 23, Sara is a registered nurse at West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown. She works 12-hour night shifts, three times a week, and she is going to school to get her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing at WVU.

As a registered nurse, she is responsible for coordinating the patient’s plan of care, which includes admissions, assessment, discharge planning and patient education.

According to Ella Grimm, the hospital’s director of the 7 Northeast Tower, Sara brings energy into the workplace. Grimm supervises Sara and praises her for her commitment, strong work ethic and her ability to connect with the patients and other nurses that she interacts with at work.

With just a year of experience, Sara earned respect for her capabilities, which was evidenced by her supervisor leaving her in charge at times, which is unusual for someone with that amount of experience.

Sara’s accomplishments can be attributed to her determination and perseverance, two personal characteristics that have also helped her deal with hearing loss that required her to get hearing aids when she was in grade school.

Sara explained that until she got her hearing aids in third or fourth grade, she compensated for her hearing loss by learning to read lips.

As a sophomore at Hurricane High School, Sara was referred to the Division of Rehabilitation Services by her teacher and she is grateful for that.

Rebekah Lynch-Kantes, Sara’s rehabilitation counselor, indicated that her grade point average was good enough for her to qualify for the Promise Scholarship, but Sara needed some additional assistance when she started college. Sara primarily needed assistance with coordinating services that would help her with her classes.

According to Sara, her biggest challenge in college was the large-sized classrooms. She needed preferential seating near the front so she could hear the lectures better and she needed someone to help her transcribe notes so she could process them better.

Sara earned an associate’s degree in nursing from Fairmont State University and for that, she is proud. "Graduating from nursing school is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire life," Sara said. "Cramming three years of knowledge into a two-year associate’s degree is hard work."

Sara originally wanted to be a pharmacist, but after her first semester, she realized she needed something that was more hands-on. Nursing had always been her second choice, and she’s happy she made the change in career paths.

"With the kinds of past experiences I’ve had with my family and hospitals, I believe nursing was the best choice for me," Sara said.

According to Grimm, Sara’s mother has some neurological health issues. Sara did an internship in the neurological unit and Grimm credits that experience with helping to prepare her for her job.

Despite her accomplishments, Sara isn’t done yet. She plans to finish her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in May 2013. She may take a year off from studying, but plans to pursue a master’s degree in nursing education and possibly a family nurse practitioner post-master’s degree.

Grimm explained that a bachelor’s degree will make Sara a better-rounded person because of the more in-depth studies and curriculum. The hospital encourages its employees to get the second degree.

"Those are the individuals who usually step up to be leaders," said Grimm. Sara has those qualities. Presently, she’s mentoring brand new graduates.

Sara doesn’t let her hearing loss interfere with her work. She uses an electronic stethoscope which helps to amplify heart and lung sounds for her.

Despite her hardworking nature, Sara still likes to have fun. Coworkers frequently find her dancing up and down the hallways at night. She likes to make people smile.

Sara is grateful for the support she received from DRS and she is especially thankful for the constant support from her parents and her sister.

"My favorite part about my job is being able to help people," said Sara. "I’ve always volunteered in the community. I love helping people and knowing that I’m making their day a little better by helping them to get better."

David Douglas III, Wheeling District

David Douglas with Don Nehlen

David Douglas III receives his award from former WVU football Coach Don Nehlen.

Early in his high school career, David Douglas knew what many don’t figure out until much later. His dream was to work in a job where he could help people, especially those with disabilities.

David, 21, is from Washington, WV, and he knows what it’s like to live with a disability. He was diagnosed as a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and attention deficit disorder.

David’s disability caused him to have difficulty with social skills, processing information and remembering things.

The challenges and life lessons David faced helped him to develop a sincere caring for people with disabilities.

David enjoyed helping the special education teachers at school. Knowing David’s interest in helping others, a teacher told him about Camp Echo, an annual summer camp for adults with disabilities at Cedar Lakes in Ripley. He began volunteering when he was in the ninth grade.

It was these experiences that he fell in love with, and he wanted to find a job that would allow him to continue pursuing this passion.

As a Parkersburg South High School senior, David was referred to the Division of Rehabilitation Services.

David knew the type of work he wanted to do, but he didn’t know how to go about getting a job or filling out applications.

That’s where Karen Empfield, David’s rehabilitation counselor, came into the picture. Empfield arranged for David to do a communitybased assessment, where he learned about work and the type of job opportunities that might interest him.

According to Empfield, David was very active and engaged during the assessment process. He learned what a job coach does, what a direct service professional does, and he worked in the schools to learn what an aid does, but those jobs are often difficult to find.

Through this process, David made a choice – he wanted to be a direct service professional, a job that directly affects the lives of individuals with disabilities.

REM Community Options, a community rehabilitation provider in Williamstown, provided David with job training.

David persisted through the training process and didn’t get discouraged. Empfield explained that David had to take one test several times, but he didn’t give up and eventually received the necessary certification for the job and he ultimately landed a job with REM.

Jason Lynch, area director for REM Community Options, believes that David has one of the most important jobs at REM.

"We have lots of different positions and he has the job of making people’s lives better, and we all do that, but our company is a company that believes very much that the direct care staff are what makes us run," said Lynch. "He has fit into that almost immediately."

Empfield feels that David’s persistence and positive attitude are his most impressive qualifications. She’s impressed with the way David has grown since he graduated from high school.

"The David I see now is actually a matured young man," said Empfield. "He’s very comfortable with himself."

According to Lynch, David has been on the job for two years and he’s doing great. He’s working with one of their most challenging clients, and David gets along with him like they’re brothers.

David is most proud of graduating from high school, because that was a big obstacle for him.

With his job, David provides everyday assistance to people with disabilities, doing chores around the house as needed and taking them places they need to go.

He describes himself as fun, outgoing, kind and happy.

When asked what he likes most about working, "I do what I love," David responded. "I have great coworkers, great clients, and it’s just a fun place to work."

"We are proud of David," said Lynch. "We are proud anytime someone that we provide services to gets recognized for doing a good job. He’s impacting people’s lives and I hope he retires from us. He does a great job."

Hannah Nuce, Huntington District

Hannah Nuce with Don Nehlen

Hannah Nuce receives her award from former WVU football Coach Don Nehlen.

Finding a job can be difficult. And for Hannah Nuce, her story is no different.

Hannah, 26, was referred to the Division of Rehabilitation Services by Prestera in Huntington. She was interested in getting a job, but she had no work history and no transportation to get to a training program or to work.

Hannah has a cognitive disability, which causes her to have some difficulty in learning new tasks and with multi-tasking. Judy Patton, her rehabilitation counselor, knew that Hannah would benefit from a work adjustment training program, but she couldn’t seem to find a way to physically get her there.

Hannah lived with her parents in Lesage, WV. She doesn’t drive and they live a couple of miles past the bus route.

It took some time and involvement from other service providers and her family, but the transportation barrier was surpassed and Hannah was able to start training at Goodwill Industries of KYOWVA in Huntington.

By all accounts, Hannah blossomed during this training program. As part of her training, she cleaned floors, hung up clothes and stocked items in the store.

Not only did she improve her work skills, but she grew personally and improved in all areas of development. She became more confident, happier and more helpful at home.

According to Patton, Hannah completed life skills and work adjustment training at Goodwill very satisfactorily. She gained skills that qualified her for jobs that matched her strengths and capabilities.

Hannah’s self esteem had grown, as well as her skills, and she was ready to start her job search.

With additional assistance from a Goodwill employment specialist, Hannah got a job at Olive Garden in Barboursville after several other possibilities fell through.

According to Hannah, her biggest challenge in getting a job was the interviewing process. But, something must have clicked.

Katherine Allgood, general manager of the Barboursville Olive Garden, says that "Hannah quickly made herself an important part of our team."

Presently, Hannah works three days a week, rolling silverware for their lunch guests.

Allgood explains that the job may sound easy, but that isn’t the case. The work is tedious. However, Hannah does the job quite quickly and nicely.

According to Allgood, Hannah worked with one of their certified trainers when she started and she continues to get faster at what she does.

She takes her job seriously, follows their sanitation standards and isn’t afraid to ask for help when she needs it, especially with moving the silverware because it gets quite heavy.

"Hannah takes great pride in what she does," said Allgood. "She’s very friendly with the rest of the team. If there are new people coming in, she welcomes them the way she was welcomed."

During last year’s holiday season, Hannah was trained to be a greeter, where welcoming guests was her responsibility. Allgood says they are preparing for the upcoming holiday season and Hannah "will greet customers again, wearing her fancy hair bows."

Hannah describes herself as slim, beautiful and pretty. And when asked what she likes most about working, her quick response was, "I like the money."

Since she started working, Hannah has moved into an apartment in Barboursville that she shares with a roommate. She likes being on her own. She likes playing the Wii, dancing and singing when she isn’t working.

Patton describes Hannah as an inspiration. "She should be an inspiration to everyone," said Patton. "She’s been so very successful. She’s determined. She’s very pleasant and sweet. She’s an asset to her employer. She’s an asset to everyone who knows Hannah."

Hannah is proud of her job and living on her own. She appreciates her parents and everyone who helped her along the way.

Christina Deusenberry, Martinsburg District

Christina Deusenberry with Don Nehlen

Christina Deusenberry receives her award from former WVU football Coach Don Nehlen.

Christina Deusenberry learned the importance of education at a young age. And, the lesson paid off for her.

Growing up in Seneca Rocks, Christina graduated from Petersburg High School and is the first in her family to go to college. Her parents stressed the importance of learning and getting good grades when she was in elementary school. Neither of them had gone to college and they wanted better things for their daughter.

At 27, Christina is an accomplished pharmacist for West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown.

Carol Miller, assistant director of operations for the hospital’s pharmacy department, speaks highly of Christina’s qualifications.

Christina attended West Virginia University’s School of Pharmacy where she earned her Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree. She successfully completed a pharmacy residency, which is a 12-month post-graduate training program, at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), where she also gained experience in publishing and research. Christina is also board certified in pharmacotherapy.

Miller explained that pharmacists at WVU Hospitals typically start as floaters where they work in many different areas, learning the different specializations, until they find a home when a position opens up and needs to be filled.

When Christina came to work for WVU Hospitals, she landed in a home immediately with the position that she currently has.

Christina covers both the emergency room, as well as the ICU satellite, which services the hospital’s 33 operating rooms.

According to Miller, Christina stood out in her interview because of her training experience, her drive to make patients better, and her personality and willingness to provide excellent patient care.

Some of her responsibilities include ensuring that the anesthesiologist has enough drugs, resolving any narcotic discrepancies in the operating room, and entering and verifying orders to make sure dosages are appropriate in the critical care areas across the ICU, including the medical ICU and surgical ICU.

She also serves as the emergency room pharmacist where she assists on codes for respiratory, cardiac and trauma patients. She often consults with emergency room physicians on dosage of medications before they are given to patients.

Christina is proud of finishing pharmacy school and completing her residency program. She decided in high school that she wanted to be a pharmacist.

She had two family members and a neighbor who were pharmacists, but a job shadowing opportunity when she was in high school sealed the deal for her. She fell in love with the field.

Once Christina started college, a friend referred her to the Division of Rehabilitation Services. Christina has asthma, but she had no idea that the condition would make her eligible for DRS services.

Michael Reel, Moorefield branch office manager, served as Christina’s rehabilitation counselor. Reel indicated that medical reports showed Christina’s condition to be pretty severe.

She is allergic to a number of things that can trigger asthma attacks, including smoke, perfume, dust and molds. Physical activity can also trigger her symptoms. She uses inhalers and takes medication to keep her symptoms under control.

According to Reel, DRS helped Christina by providing counseling and guidance, as well as college financial assistance while she attended WVU.

Reel credits Christina for being diligent and dedicated. "I believe that the employer will find that she is very conscientious about what she does."

Christina describes herself as a goal-oriented, motivated person who loves what she does and where she works. When she left WVU for her residency in Pittsburgh, she knew that she always wanted to come back there and work.

Christina really enjoys working with the patients. "Just last week, I had an opportunity to go out and speak to the family about a patient that had come in," said Christina.

"It was really rewarding to me, and for them, that I was able to explain what was going on in the process and they actually came back and thanked me later for taking the time to talk to them. So, I really enjoy the fact that I get to be involved in the patient’s care and work with the families as well."