April 23rd, 2018

I Do it To Make A Difference

The simple answer is because my clients have told me what a difference I’ve made in their lives. In the last week I’ve seen three different clients – all with different backgrounds, different disabilities and different experiences – change their lives, set goals, face challenges, look at multiples options and find their path to rebuilding their future. The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say, is that I’m a mom with an adult daughter with disabilities. Finding myself as a single mom with a three-year-old daughter, being told she would never walk, and living a life overcoming obstacle after obstacle, has taught me so much more that I would have ever learned being married and having a house full of typical kids.

I Do it Because I’ve Been There Myself

After realizing I was doing this alone, my first challenge was to find a job to subsidize the meager alimony and child support I received from my daughter’s father. I had worked in clerical jobs, so I had skills I could sell, which helped me find something in a large company. But coming home after working all day was where I had to face the greatest tests. There were the weekly therapy appointments which my mother graciously helped with. The emotional trauma of not knowing or understanding what supports my daughter needed to help her build the best life possible was always lurking. I questioned what I was doing constantly and wondered if I was doing enough of the right things at the right time. That self-doubt was compounded by the rejection I felt from some of siblings, because I was the only one of five brothers and sisters who was not married to their first spouse and parent of their child. The safe shelter of my Mom and my sister’s family allowed me to know I wasn’t a “screw-up,” but was instead dealing with a totally “interrupted life” as Priscilla Shirer says in her book. However, these hardships brought me the gift of seeing life through new eyes, searching each step for answers, finding no guidebook or manual for this thing called single parenting a child with ataxic cerebral palsy. I was fortunate enough to build a career in the human resources field, but I was continually looking for something more satisfying than Corporate America. Almost 15 years ago I happened on some training for Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation Services for employment consultants to work with people with developmental disabilities. As a job developer, I was tasked with helping employers carve out entry level job, freeing more highly trained people to do what they were hired to do. I continued to expand my practice and in 2008 found the Ticket to Work Program. This opportunity combined my business and HR background, my experiences as a parent of a child with disabilities and my need to find a place for my entrepreneurial spirit.

I Do it Because I Understand

I understand the transition it takes to rebuild one’s life after being sidelined with a disability. Although it wasn’t my disability, I watched my daughter struggle after she left school to find a place where she “used her brain” as a productive team member. Her working for me gave me an opportunity to understand what an employer faces when asked for an accommodation. We know what it means to balance earnings with Social Security benefits and other resources. She may never completely transition off benefits, but I know how difficult the decision is to go back to work fulltime and leave the “security” of government benefits. So why do I do this work? Because I get such great pleasure when my clients tell me that they couldn’t have done it without my support. Yes, they could have, but it may have been more difficult to gain the confidence of leaving benefits without a cheerleader saying, “try this.”  “Approach her that way.” Or ,“what will it feel like when you are completely supporting yourself?” Just last night a client had a satisfied smile on his face and said, “I feel so much better now.” That is why I do this.