Ability Works 2021

The annual Ability Works Awards honor one outstanding candidate from each of the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services' six districts, coinciding with National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DRS was unable to hold its annual Ability Works Recognition Ceremony in 2021. However, DRS honored six hard-working West Virginians for exemplary vocational rehabilitation.

Their stories are linked to their names below:

Chrystal Nugent-Hicks

Martinsburg District, State Winner

Determined is the word Chrystal Nugent-Hicks uses to describe herself, and that characteristic has helped her get where she is today, both personally and professionally, and her accomplishments have earned her recognition as the State Ability Works Award recipient from the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS).

Chrystal was diagnosed with McCune-Albright syndrome when she was 22 months old. The disease is caused by a genetic mutation, but it is not hereditary. It causes polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, which is scar-like tissue in the bones, and can often lead to bone fractures.

Chrystal is only 24 years old and has already had about 22 surgeries during her lifetime. She has rods in her legs and plates in her hips, and she walks with crutches.

At the age of 11, Chrystal and her family moved from Virginia to Charles Town, West Virginia. As a senior at Washington High School, she was referred to DRS for vocational assistance to help her transition from high school to postsecondary education.

Rehabilitation Counselor Ann Ramos explained that DRS worked with Chrystal to help her learn about different types of jobs, how much they paid and whether there were available opportunities in her location, and DRS also helped with college financial assistance.

After graduating in 2015, Chrystal went on to attend Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, where she originally pursued cyber security and then changed to business administration. It wasn't until she took a business law class that Chrystal found her passion. She enjoyed the class so much that she switched to the paralegal program.

Fortunately, Chrystal did not let several health issues stop her from pursuing her goal. She did have to take some time off from college to have three surgeries, but she earned her associate degree in 2019 with a 3.8 grade point average.

Chrystal's job search was not easy. She submitted many applications, but her biggest challenge was job interviews. A big part of the interview process is the handshake, which was awkward for her because of her crutches, and she feels that employers concluded that she was not suited for jobs that would require her to do things like carry heavy files to a copier machine.

However, Chrystal continued her search and ultimately was hired as a legal assistant by Winchester Law Group in Virginia.

According to Ramos, Chrystal found her job on her own, and Ramos could not be more pleased with Chrystal's accomplishments despite the obstacles she faced due to her disability.

Beth Coyne, a partner with the law firm, described the firm as small, with only four attorneys. They represent local social service departments. Chrystal was interviewed by Coyne, as well as the firm's office manager and the individual that she would ultimately replace. All three believed that Chrystal would be a good fit for the job.

Coyne explained that Chrystal stood out in the interview because of her enthusiasm about the job opportunity, and her enthusiasm became contagious. They had interviewed several people who had worked in bigger law firms, and they seemed to have predetermined ideas about how things should work.

Chrystal started the job as a blank slate. Coyne described Chrystal as eager, organized, willing to learn new things, open to constructive feedback, positive and extremely happy to be in the job.

According to Coyne, Chrystal is responsible for processing all documents and paperwork, including legal pleadings and filings, related to the representation of their clients. Coyne has been practicing law for 35 years, which makes her appreciate Chrystal's knowledge of social media and technology because they have added additional complexities to her field in the last several years.

Chrystal loves her job, her employer and being able to use her organizational skills. During college, she did an internship with the Jefferson County prosecuting attorney's office, and she believes it helped to prepare her for the job with Winchester Group because she dealt with different legal documents and was able to get a feel for the environment.

Chrystal is grateful to her family, especially her sister and her mom, as well as her friends for being such an incredible support system to her.

Chrystal is proud of her accomplishments. She worked hard to earn them, and she appreciates the chance she has been given to prove herself.

"It was really important for me to get the job because I saw things in myself, and I wanted other people to see them," said Chrystal. "I'm so determined, and I wanted people to see that."

Robert Partin

Charleston District

Robert Partin's persistence and hard work have generated great personal growth and progress in his life, and he is not finished yet.

Robert moved to Ripley to live with his dad when he was around nine years old and relocating to West Virginia had a positive effect on his life.

Robert has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which can make it very difficult for him to focus, and he has to work really hard to stay on track at times. As a senior at Ripley High School, he and his dad met Betty Parsons, a rehabilitation counselor from the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). At this meeting, they learned more about how DRS could provide vocational assistance to help Robert find a job.

While Robert had worked some at mowing lawns, he had no real work history because he was still in school. But he wanted to find steady employment so he could gain valuable work experience.

Parsons and Robert discussed his interests and abilities to try and determine a suitable employment goal for him as he was getting ready to graduate from high school. Kroger in Ripley advertised some job openings, and Robert was interested in applying.

Parsons helped Robert to complete Kroger's online job application and also helped him to prepare for a job interview so he would know how to appropriately answer questions. These steps can be intimidating to experienced job seekers, and Robert is appreciative of the help he received from DRS.

But the most difficult part for Robert was being patient as he waited to hear back from Kroger to know if he had gotten the job.

Robert did get the job at Kroger, and his perseverance and success at meeting his employment goal has earned him recognition from DRS as the Charleston District Ability Works Award recipient.

Robert was cross trained by Kroger to work in different areas, including stocking shelves, the meat department, Click List and as cashier. According to Robert, he would work in whatever area Kroger needed him most, and it often changed from day-to-day, which was something Robert liked about the job.

Parsons believes Robert has several qualities – being easy-going, eager to please, cooperative, dependable, and able to follow instructions – that make him a good employee.

"He's very personable and gives attention to detail and assists the customers," said Parsons. "He is punctual and very friendly and gets along well with his co-workers."

She is very proud of how he has progressed on the job, and Parsons recognizes that Robert will continue to grow.

Robert got his job at Kroger before graduating high school in 2020, and he's very grateful for the opportunity.

"I'm very thankful for the management at Kroger, for always being supporting and appreciative, and they're really nice people" Robert said. "… I thank the Kroger team for giving me these opportunities."

James Harris

Clarksburg District

James "Jimmy" Harris graduated from Fairmont Senior High School in 2020, and instead of taking the summer off like a lot of other kids his age, Jimmy took the initiative to begin his career.

His personal resolve to succeed in his employment has earned Jimmy recognition as the Clarksburg District Ability Works Award recipient from the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS).

As a freshman in high school, Jimmy was referred to DRS. Jimmy had been diagnosed at a young age as being hard of hearing and later as having a type of autism, which manifested in ways that caused him to have anxiety about doing certain things and to be somewhat socially awkward or shy.

During high school, Jimmy worked with DRS Senior Rehabilitation Counselor Lauren Carte, who helped him begin to think about his interests and abilities and what he wanted to do after graduation.

Carte used different assessment tools to help Jimmy identify a vocational goal, but his older brother worked as a coal miner, and Jimmy had an ongoing interest in that field. Right after graduating high school, Jimmy's brother told him about an 80-hour mining training program in Morgantown, and Jimmy was quick to sign up for the class. During this training, Jimmy learned essential safety protocols and rescue techniques in case of any type of mining emergency or disaster.

Jimmy applied for and got a job with Jennmar Services, and he works at the same mine in Marion County as his brother. Jimmy has moved from being a "Red Hat" miner to a "Black Hat" miner, which means he's no longer a rookie on the job.

Jimmy works underground, where he uses different machinery, like a micro track, mantrips, scoops, buggies and trolleys, to move dirt around.

He admits the job is tiring, but Jimmy loves his work and says it's the only thing he would ever want to do.

DRS helped Jimmy get ready for his job by providing him with appropriate and necessary work clothing and boots, which he really appreciated.

Carte is proud to see how Jimmy has transitioned from an awkward high school freshman, who struggled with school, into an independent, hard-working young man who used his personal determination to bring about his employment success.

According to Carte, Jimmy is an employee with a lot of commitment and a positive attitude.

Jimmy just recently passed his driver's test, earning his license, which is the accomplishment he is most proud of at this point in his life. To get to work, Jimmy had been riding with his brother or his mom would drive him. Since he got his license, he is committed to saving money so he can buy a car.

Jimmy admitted that the most challenging part of finding a job was contacting people because he was shy and had anxiety about doing that. But his brother assisted him with that and with learning the job, and Jimmy is grateful for his help.

His mom also played an important role in his life, and Jimmy appreciates everything she taught him.

When asked why he likes working in the coal mines, Jimmy explained, "It's something about going underground where nobody else has ever been. I don't know … It's a weird feeling. I love it."

Rachel Woods

Wheeling District

Rachel Woods was looking for someone to give her a chance to prove herself, and finally the store director at Riesbeck's Food Markets, a family-owned grocery store in Follansbee, provided her with the opportunity she was seeking.

Rachel grew up in Weirton and graduated from Weir High School in 2009. After graduating, she went on to a local community college and then to Bethany College, where she was pursuing a social work degree.

She was two weeks away from graduation in 2013 when she was in a serious car accident that dramatically affected her life. Rachel was not wearing a seatbelt when the car she was in flipped, and she was thrown from the vehicle.

Rachel was life flighted to a hospital in Pittsburgh, where she was in a coma for about a month. She had sustained a traumatic brain injury during her accident. Ultimately, she was transferred to a rehab facility, where she had to relearn things like how to balance herself so she could walk again. She also has permanent hearing loss and double vision since her accident.

According to Rachel, there is no cure for a brain injury, and she will always have ongoing issues because of it. But it was important for Rachel to move on and do something with her life.

A friend told Rachel about the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS), which provides vocational assistance to people with disabilities, and she applied for services.

DRS Rehabilitation Counselor Kaylee Carpenter explained that Rachel had experience working at a grocery store prior to her accident, but she needed some training to further develop skills that she had not used in a long time. Carpenter got Rachel into a program at Goodwill Industries, where she gained hands-on experience, learning things like how to work the cash register, customer service and how to stock merchandise.

The program also helped Rachel with building her work tolerance because she had difficulty standing for very long, and she strengthened her soft skills, which included appropriate workplace behaviors like communicating with customers and coworkers.

DRS also helped Rachel with her job search, which was a difficult process for her. According to Rachel, she applied for a lot of retail positions in the Weirton area and got several interviews, but no one would give her a chance until she came to Riesbeck's Food Markets, which she calls a "magical place."

Store Director Burke Nickerson hired Rachel to work as a cashier at Riesbeck's, where it is essential that employees treat customers like family, and Rachel is a good fit for the family-owned business.

"Rachel was a talker, but in a good way," said Nickerson. "She brings in happiness. She's very friendly with the customers. Customers enjoy that."

For Rachel, her favorite part of working is talking with her customers and listening to the stories they tell her as they move through her checkout line.

"… The customers are the biggest part of my soul," Rachel said. "I love them. They are like extended family …"

Rachel has worked at her job for over a year now, and she is so thankful that she has regained some of her independence. She's accomplishing things some people thought she would never do again.

Rachel's vocational success has earned her recognition from DRS as the Wheeling District Ability Works Award recipient.

Rachel is extremely grateful to so many people who helped her get a part of her life back – her parents, the hospital workers and doctors who took care of her, Kaylee Carpenter and other DRS employees, Goodwill Industries' job coaches, and Burke Nickerson and her coworkers at Riesbeck's.

Rachel is currently working with DRS, where she is pursuing training to regain her driving skills so she can eventually earn her driver's license, a goal Carpenter believes Rachel will accomplish through her sheer determination.

For Rachel, having the opportunity to prove herself has been surreal. She admits that the odds were stacked against her but getting the chance to work again has made her feel like a true champion.

Lindsay Brady

Beckley District

Lindsay Brady wanted to be more than what she was, and by making positive choices and working extremely hard, she has accomplished that goal. Now, she is helping others make positive changes in their lives.

Lindsay's success has earned her recognition as the Beckley District Ability Works Award recipient from the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS).

Lindsay grew up in Braxton County, where she was homeschooled through most of her high school experience. She ultimately earned her general educational diploma (GED). At a time when she might have been planning to move forward with her future, Lindsay was plagued by a debilitating anxiety disorder that made her afraid to leave her own home, and she developed a substance use disorder.

"My addiction stemmed from childhood trauma," Lindsay explained. "It was my way to escape, and I found that escape in the form of a pill, which quickly spiraled me out of control. I was doing fentanyl, getting in trouble, almost lost my children … I had two children at this time."

Eventually she made the positive choice to move on with her life. For most of her life, she wanted to be a counselor, even during times when she could not help herself.

For 16 years, Lindsay has been sober, and she thanks God that her disabilities do not affect her life now as they once did.

After she decided to go back to school, Lindsay sought assistance from DRS. According to Rehabilitation Counselor Brandon Smith, DRS provided Lindsay with college financial assistance, as well as vocational counseling and guidance.

Later this year, Lindsay will earn her master's degree in industrial and organizational psychology from Indiana Wesleyan University, where in 2019, she also completed her bachelor's degree in addictions counseling, and she plans to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy degree in organizational leadership beginning in 2022.

Lindsay works as the assistant director of the Nicholas County Day Report Center and as a grant writer for Nicholas County. She did an internship at the Day Report Center during her undergraduate degree program, which is how she got the full-time job there.

Nicholas County Day Report Center Director, Gary Jarrell, supervises Lindsay. He explained that the purpose of the center is to rehabilitate nonviolent offenders, who are referred to their program, in a way that helps them get on their feet and back into society. Participants enter their program through directives from magistrate court and circuit court. Other participants are either on parole, probation or home confinement. About 95% of the crimes committed by their program's participants are drug related.

As assistant director, Lindsay handles a caseload. She also does everything from crisis intervention to program development and implementation, as well as data entry and billings.

Jarrell refers to her as an energetic go-getter who serves as his right hand. They work as a team, whether it is planning how the program should run or going out during the middle of the night to help someone who has overdosed on drugs.

Lindsay believes her personal experiences have helped her to progress in her job.

"Because I'm able to relate to my client base on a level that most are not able to do, they know that I've been through the same struggles that they are going through," said Lindsay. "They know that I would never judge them, that I am compassionate and empathetic toward their situation, and that I will do whatever I can to make their story a success also. And for that reason, I'm able to build rapport and really connect with them to where they open up, and they tell me their issues so that we can try to resolve them."

Lindsay truly enjoys working with her clients; it is therapeutic for her. She believes them to be people who have made bad decisions, resulting in them being judged for their choices, and she wants to help them.

She also believes that her most significant barrier to her own employment success was herself. Lindsay feared that people would judge her and perceive her as unworthy of a job, but she has found the complete opposite – that people are kind and accepting of her.

Smith is hopeful that people will hear Lindsay's story and take it to heart to make positive changes in their own lives, just by putting in the effort and reaching out to the right resources.

Lindsay is proud of her educational accomplishments and of her job, and she is grateful for the job opportunity, as well as the support from her family and DRS. She has six children, two of whom are adults now. She and her family have a farm, with horses and a pond. It was important for her to be able to provide them with a home where they can create pleasant memories.

Luke Hubbard

Huntington District

Luke Hubbard works as a retail associate at Goodwill Industries of KYOWVA in Huntington, and his employment success has earned him recognition as the Huntington District Ability Works Award recipient from the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS).

Luke became involved with DRS about two years ago at his mother's request. She had been seriously injured in a car accident, which created a lot of stress for Luke, and she encouraged him to seek vocational assistance to help him find a new job.

Luke had been diagnosed with an intellectual disability when he was younger. He admits that it may take him a little longer to understand and learn new things but that does not keep him from getting the job done.

According to DRS Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Dustin Mills, Luke had a fairly good work history, having held previous jobs at Walmart and Kroger, but he needed some vocational training to help him ease back into the world of work.

Mills referred Luke to Goodwill Industries for work adjustment training, where he learned a variety of work tasks, as well as for life skills training, which focused on soft skills like the importance of showing up for work on time, how to talk to his supervisor and how to work with other people, as well as basic accountability in the workplace.

Luke did so well during his training at Goodwill, they later hired him for a full-time position where he's worked for more than a year now.

Luke explained that he sorts and organizes clothing by color. But according to Amy Coleman, Goodwill representative, Luke is also a very good customer service representative.

"Luke does a fantastic job on the sales floor," said Coleman. "He is very friendly with the customers. I think he really enjoy his job; he knows where all the product goes on the sales floor. He is able to show the customers where to find those things, and I think it really makes him feel good helping them find what they need."

Coleman indicated that when Luke first started coming to Goodwill, he was very shy and quiet, but he came out of his shell. Now he is outgoing and is flourishing with their customers.

Mills credits Luke with being very friendly, laid-back and easy to get along with, which are traits that make him a good worker. Mills also believes Luke sets a good example for his coworkers because of his strong work ethic.

For Luke, the best part of his job is being able to spend time with his work friends. He also believes that sorting the clothing helps him to focus.

Luke believes more employers should provide opportunities to people with disabilities. "Just because we have disabilities, doesn't mean that we can't be good workers," said Luke. "Everybody's good at something."

Luke is grateful for the encouragement he received from his mom and two of his friends, who never let him believe that he was incapable of working. Luke believes that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

While he is not certain what is in his future, Luke indicated he may work toward earning his GED and his driver's license, and he may save his money to get his own place.

But right now, Luke is happy to have a steady job and very proud that he can help others.