By Marlene Ulisky, Manager, Financial Empowerment, National Disability Institute
The blog, Everything Changes with Time – Step by Step – My Nephew’s Journey to Work, provides background on my nephew Jeremy’s incremental journey to employment. Although he has faced many challenges, he knew that making changes in his life, including working, were the keys to his financial future. Part Two below provides an update on Jeremy, details on his next steps and how his motivation and his support team’s work helped him get where he needed and wanted to be!
The road was long, but even longer for Jeremy who was awaiting word from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) on whether or not he was “employable.” It was a rainy day last fall. I sat looking out my office window when the call came in that Jeremy’s assessment for competitive supported employment indicated that he was “employable.” However, we all knew that answer even before the formalized state review.
In 2011, Jeremy began attending a sheltered workshop shortly after his mother passed away, and it was in that workshop that he learned packaging and other skills needed for him to secure what he calls a “real job.” At various points prior to securing employment, Jeremy became frustrated and bored at the workshop, but his team provided encouragement and taught him accountability and to keep going until he secured the job he wanted.
In May, 2018, a company, “DreBo,” interviewed and hired Jeremy because he had a great attitude and had learned the skills they needed during his time at the sheltered workshop. The job paid higher than minimum wage and included benefits, and he quickly worked his way up from 10 hours per week to 20 hours per week. Jeremy works in a supported, integrated setting, and, if you ask him what he loves most about the job, he will tell you that he loves “it all.” He loves the fact that he uses technology with his fingerprint to access the building, he is proud to wear his polo shirt with the company logo on it, he loves his co-workers and he loves the fact that there is free coffee in the break room!
But what is the secret to how Jeremy, an individual with an intellectual and developmental disability, secured this job? You might have heard the expression “it takes a village”-and it does–but it all started with him. He knew that he could work because he grew up in a family that treated all of the children the same and expected the same of each of them – disability or no disability. As a result, he became comfortable around a variety of situations and people. He was also taught early on to be kind, considerate and respectful. These skills serve him well on the job.
The most important component in this story is, of course, Jeremy. However, his team, or “village,” was critical in helping him navigate systems and in achieving his goals. His OVR counselor, the sheltered workshop “Life’s Work” staff, his job coach, the group home “Step by Step,” his supports coordinator and his family played a critical role in helping him understand and cope with the day-to-day struggles he faced when things did not happen quickly. Daily motivational talks, the daily reinforcements and the daily choices he was permitted to make helped to build his confidence and independence, making him realize that that one day, if he persevered, he would get THE job. And he did.
But, what happens next in this journey? In addition to the confidence and independence Jeremy gained through working, it has become increasingly important for him to start becoming financially literate. Money is an important marker of independence because it represents the ultimate form of control over how one lives their life. Financial independence for people with a disability can come in the form of something as simple as having access to a bank account or a regular savings account and making choices to increase their quality of life. As a first step, Jeremy has opened a Pennsylvania ABLE account and will begin saving for items which enhance his quality of life such as bowling video games, Special Olympics competitions at Penn State, or “Pittsburgh Steelers” clothing to match his Pittsburgh Steelers bowling ball. He hopes that his employer will make contributions to his account vs. to his 401K. His second step is securing a “supports broker” who can provide him with the financial education he needs to take him to that next level. He has shown that he has the motivation to do many things, and these steps show that he is ready, willing and able to take on another challenge! Stay tuned as Jeremy becomes banked!
Marlene Ulisky, a 35-year employee (retired) of the Social Security Administration (SSA), developed expertise in developing relationships with partners across Florida to educate them on the disability programs administered by SSA, to their mutual benefit. After leaving SSA, she worked with the Florida Office of Vocational Rehabilitation to establish the Partnership Plus Program under the Ticket to Work Program and then was re-hired by SSA to conduct training and to assist them with managing critical integrity workloads including OIG investigations due to concealment of work and medical and work continuing disability reviews. At NDI, she is a part of the Training and Technical Assistance Team and provides support to her colleagues and to beneficiaries when complex issues arise. She is also a Disability Benefits Expert who works under NDI for the ABLE National Resource Center.