Cole Zulauf – Unsung Hero

Cole Zulauf, age 21, works for Cherry River Construction in Red House and his dedication to his job during the pandemic has earned him recognition as an Unsung Hero by the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS).

While a student at Winfield High School, Cole began working with DRS. Cole has a genetic disorder called retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive eye disease that causes his vision to deteriorate.

Cole always liked being outdoors – hiking, fishing, kayaking – but after graduating in 2017, he still was unsure of what career path he wanted to take.

DRS arranged for some training opportunities where Cole got to participate in hands-on experience in the field of construction and he found that working outside was the right fit for him.

Cole has worked for Cherry River Construction for more than a year. At his job, Cole helps to prepare a construction site for a future building, which can involve excavating and grading land, laying exterior piping, and digging ditches for footers. The work is very physically demanding but Cole enjoys doing it.

Unfortunately, construction work can be sporadic and last March, Cole was just getting ready to return to work after being laid off for a few months. When the pandemic hit, he was laid off again until mid-June.

When he returned to work, the primary safety precaution implemented to protect Cole and his coworkers from COVID-19 was "social distancing" at the jobsite. Workers were encouraged to stay as far away from each other as possible. By working out in the open air, they have an advantage against people who interact in closed-in spaces.

For Cole, the pandemic has created additional stress. Coworkers have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Those individuals quarantined as needed but the positive test results would leave him wondering how close he might've been to an individual with the virus and questioning whether he needed to go get tested. Financially, he also has not made the money that he originally anticipated for the year, but he knows that could not be helped.

To deal with the stress, Cole opens up about what's going on with his friends and coworkers. They talk about it and at work, they might do it in a joking manner, but they are candid when they let a coworker know that they are getting a little too close. They take social distancing on the jobsite very seriously.

DRS Rehabilitation Counselor Meredith Perry explained that Cole was nominated for the Unsung Hero recognition because of his hard work and his motivation to continue helping his employer regardless of the pandemic.

According to Perry, Cole is very determined. He faces challenges that others may not comprehend, like restricted driving privileges due to his vision that allow him to only drive during daylight hours. Cole's strong work ethic and persistence make him an asset on the job.

Cole does not let his visual disorder prevent him from getting the job done. His employer is understanding and allows him to come to work after it gets daylight, which is a little later than others, and Cole appreciates the accommodation.

Cole was shocked to learn that he had been nominated for the Unsung Hero recognition but is thankful for the opportunity to participate. Cole hopes that by sharing his story, he might encourage others facing similar challenges.