I want to explain a little of my story to you and help you understand some valuable ways you can help people overcome difficult circumstances. This story marks the culmination of years and years of hard work and determination after a life-changing event that occurred on May 25, 1991.
After months of being comatose, all of my effort and energy was put into simply remaining alive. I spent an entire year inpatient at a university hospital. At that time, I was at the lowest of lows. I could have easily just given up and allowed others to take care of me for the rest of my life. However, with hard work and determination, I did my best, being completely paralyzed, unable to eat/drink liquid or even breathe on my own, and lacking the ability to remember my own name… I made the decision that I would recover.
I had to relearn how to do everything, involving mental and physical exertion, all over again (thinking, reading, walking, talking, bathing, and swallowing). By the grace of God, and with the assistance of many, I pulled through those years of recovery. I believe in myself, others believe in me, and I fully recognize that is some of what has given me the health and endurance I have needed to overcome all I have. That is what it takes to recover… hard work and determination. I never gave up on myself or lost faith that eventually I would get back to being the person I knew I was and where I wanted to be within this giant ride called life.
I wrote letters to more than 100 organizations looking for college funds and grant money so that I could attend graduate school at the University of Cincinnati. Eventually one of the organizations wrote me back, and I received a full scholarship from a state-funded grant through a service called Vocational Rehabilitation. That was followed by years of straining scholastic effort, which allowed me to obtain my master’s degree in special education. I went through getting F’s, teachers and university administrators not believing in me, not having any friends, and even at the end of completing my master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati, the university told me that they would not permit me into their student teaching program. They did not believe I could teach with my speech impediment. I was forced to take a low-paying special education teaching job at a private school that allowed me to teach and obtain my teaching licensure at the same time. Many people would have just listened to the university and not taught. I am proud to say I was a successful special education teacher teaching at a highly regarded public schools for five years.
My teaching was all done in conjunction with 1,000 hours of volunteer service at local hospitals in Ohio and North Carolina along with volunteer service at a plethora of nonprofit organizations that help individuals with challenging circumstances reach their goals and dreams. Volunteering is important! Not just to help other people, but to help yourself.
I did and do all this because it is a passion of mine to help others, but another way people with disabilities can help themselves is for them to expand their networks. To meet people! The last thing someone in my circumstance wants to do is just sit on the couch at home and get comfortable.
After teaching for five years, the public school system where I worked dismissed me because parents of the kids I taught came to the principal and said, “Why is my child being taught by someone who is disabled himself?” Yeah! Again, I could have given up and submitted to what I was being told: “You can’t do it!” I have been told that time and time again. It takes hard work and determination!
It is actually illegal for a public school to fire me for that reason. Yes, I got a lawyer. And won! I was then hired by another school. After I was hired, the principal called me and said, “We have found out some things about you, and we cannot hire you now.” I had been blacklisted by the public school system where I had been employed. My teaching career was over. I tried and tried to get hired and at many schools even outside of the county where I had worked, but no school would hire me, and I have good credentials!
Again I found myself being told I couldn’t do it, but you know what? I didn’t give up. I knew I could. I began going to an Unemployment Support Group meeting for those without jobs. I knew absolutely nobody there. I just got online and found something to do on my own. I attended several meetings (they met once a month). The group leader took me under his wing. He liked me, he was impressed with my story, and he took me to meet a friend of his, the CEO of a nonprofit helping individuals succeed with developmental disabilities. From there, I went on to meet her husband, the director for the state of North Carolina Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services. He is a big wig! He advised me to go (on full scholarship from the state of North Carolina) to school at the University of North Carolina (UNC) to get my certification to become a peer support specialist.
I attended UNC, became certified as a peer support specialist, and this was followed by many personal visits to homes offering support, encouragement, and counsel to individuals with special needs working as a North Carolina state-certified peer support specialist. I also do a lot of public speaking for nonprofits. At these speaking engagements, I network my name and speak with vigor, passion, and inspiration about not giving up in the face of adversity.
I have learned firsthand the difficulty people with disabilities face being taken seriously, getting and keeping a job they deserve. This marks the third time in my life, after sustaining a traumatic brain injury, that I have had to start over from scratch, work and study to obtain new college degrees (paid for using money I worked to obtain through grants!) and certifications, and begin my life’s effort over again. Success, happiness, and contentment can be that much more difficult for people with challenging circumstances, but again... not impossible with hard work and determination.
Finally and biggest of all, my efforts included endless hours and years of service to my churches, the Vineyard in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Crossroads in Raleigh, North Carolina; many thoughts thanking Jesus Christ; and thousands of prayers asking for his help in all I do.
I have to mention my wonderful family whose love, help, support, and encouragement are in many ways the reason I have never given up.
I am extremely humbled and proud to say that after my effort working for almost a year as a peer support specialist, I have been selected as the director of peer services support for Monarch, a large nonprofit organization supporting other people like myself with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness, and substance abuse challenges.
Listen to me when I tell you that it is all hard work and determination. You have to believe in yourself. This would never have happened to me had I given up after being told I could not do it over and over again by universities and employers. This would never have happened had I not taken it upon myself to go to a simple Unemployment Support Group meeting at a local church where I met a trail of people that led me to get noticed by Monarch.
Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
Do you guys know what that is? Hard work and determination!
Believe in yourself and help others believe in themselves!
I hope what I have said has in some way touched you enough to further convince you to make a solid effort and to continue to help people with conditions like mine to remember to never quit pursuing their established goals—with a pre-designed plan on paper, to help them understand the importance of expanding their networks—to meet people by attending meetings and volunteering because someday, somehow, someway, sometime they will meet someone who can make a big difference.