Walter’s Journey to Getting His Dream Job

Walter begins his employment story thinking back to when his mom first brought him to “Take Your Kid to Work Day” at Cornell where she works in a library.  Walter liked what he saw –  the environment, the campus/buildings and going to football games. Looking back, he believes this is where his dream of being a part of the Cornell University community began.

Walter has a developmental disability, which made school a challenge. With the help of his family, Walter enrolled in Vocational Rehabilitation services (ACCES-VR), and was referred to Challenge Workforce Solutions, a nonprofit organization that is committed to creating pathways to employment for people with disabilities or other barriers. Through Challenge, Walter received the supports offered with Supported Employment. Early on Challenge helped Walter with landing a job at the place he always wanted to work, at Cornell University in Custodial Services.  Cornell University is a very competitive workplace with high standards for its employees and, even with support, the expectations for productivity and independence were too much for Walter (at this time), and he was let go from his job. After this setback, Walter realized that he had more to learn about the world of work to succeed and reach his goals.

Walter then joined the team at Challenge in Contract Staffing that provides the dishwashing operations for many Ithaca College and Cornell University dining halls. Walter says he learned important skills, such as following attendance policies and working as part of a team, which he needed to move forward in any workplace.  With this progress, Walter increased his work hours and responsibilities. Along with dishwashing, Walter gained experience with janitorial skills that re-sparked his interest in his goal to work at Cornell University.

During this journey, Walter depended upon his Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits to make ends meet. As Walter’s wages increased, Walter received benefits advisement and was introduced to the Ticket to Work program to better understand the impact of work on his Social Security benefits, the availability of work incentives, and the choices he had in determining his financial future.

The Ticket to Work Program is a free and voluntary program available to people ages 18 through 64 who are blind or have a disability and who receive Social Security disability benefits. Ticket to Work offers, to eligible individuals, free employment services to help them decide if working is right for them, prepare for work, find a job or maintain success while they are working.

Walter can remember numerous times he was helped with navigating the benefits system to move ahead. He remembers everyone in Ticket he worked with. “Kevin, Jason and Shammi helped me with understanding and making choices about work and managing my Social Security benefits. I was initially scared of losing my benefits or doing something wrong,” Walter remembers. “It helped a lot because my earnings were going up and I wanted to be able to make more money, work overtime and have a home and security. With support through SSA’s Ticket to Work program, I felt a lot more comfortable with taking steps these steps.” This included utilizing work incentives that allowed Walter to prove to himself that he could manage full-time employment, save for his future, and eventually get off Social Security benefits entirely.

Walter was able to chase his dream. He shared his goals with his employment supports at Challenge and was enrolled in a new temporary worker collaboration between Challenge and Cornell University. Walter was able to refine his skills and prove himself and, within six months, Cornell hired him as a permanent full-time member of the custodial staff.

Walter is aware of the benefits of being financially self-sufficient. “I like the simplicity of being less reliant on benefits, with fewer hoops and regulations to worry about,” he says. And, Walter still has support from his enrollment in Ticket to Work to help guide him.

Walter is a home owner now, and feels grateful for the supports that have helped him reach this goal. “My mom definitely, as she was the first person I called when I was hired by Cornell. My dad is my rep payee who helps me manage my finances, make connections with supports and helped me with the process of purchasing my home.” He adds, “All the Challenge employees, including Larry, Heather, Sherry and all the Medicaid Service Coordinators and Employment Specialists, I never would have made it this far without the encouragement to do my best and set high expectations.”  Walter suggests that “Anyone who is scared to lose their benefits or scared to retire should get in touch with Challenge and Ticket to Work.”  He also values keeping in touch with his old friends and supports, and reminisces about “getting the original crew at the dish rooms together again someday.”

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