At age 52, I have found a place — and a purpose — through my job in food services at a military base in Virginia Beach, VA.
I was born with a congenital condition and I’m missing my left arm below the elbow. I began my career as an architectural draftsman and designer, but as my job became increasingly stressful, I started having trouble coming to terms with my disability. I felt self-conscious and isolated, and I became so severely depressed that I was eventually hospitalized. I knew I had to make a change in my life, so I moved from Pennsylvania to Virginia Beach and began looking for a new job.
At the time, I didn’t have any self-esteem. My confidence was at an all-time rock-bottom level, and all I knew was that I needed to get back to work.
I connected with Palmetto Goodwill (North Charleston, SC) at a job fair three years ago. They recruited me for a food service contract at a top-secret military facility. I consider myself a jack-of-all-trades there. I serve customers, maintain the dining room, make coffee, wash dishes and work the cash register.
I have become friends with some of the wounded warriors who visit the cafeteria. Like me, some were missing limbs, and I feel a real a sense of camaraderie and belonging with them. I have also taken an active role in a self-advocacy group for Goodwill employees with disabilities.
Last year, the Goodwill team helped me navigate the process of obtaining a prosthetic arm with a bionic hand through the company health insurance plan. Palmetto Goodwill covered all my out-of-pocket expenses — a total of more than $22,000. After months of occupational therapy, I am now able to use the arm for my full workday. It has made a huge change in my life.
I’m no longer ashamed to look at myself in the mirror. I’ve been given some amazing gifts, and I want to be part of seeing others getting the same.
I have shared my story on TV and radio and in speaking engagements.
I don’t have a red carpet rolled out for me wherever I go, and that’s fine with me. That’s Hollywood; that’s another world. My world is a little different. Mine is ramps and handrails and curb cuts. That’s my world, and the world of access for my disabled brothers and sisters. And I’m pretty darn proud of my world.
Goodwill Industries International’s Achiever of the Year is a person who has shown great progress and accomplishment in overcoming challenges to finding employment, and who still benefits from the Goodwill work environment or receives services to support employment at a community site.