When Vickie Jones enters a room she exudes confidence with her beaming smile and contagious laugh. Vickie faces the world with a developmental disability, but she has so many things to be grateful for – celebrating four years as a breast cancer survivor, a new apartment, her friends and family, and especially her new full-time job.
It’s hard to imagine that less than a year ago, Vickie was unemployed and found her disability was keeping her from finding a job. With bills piling up and an apartment nearing condemnation, Vickie needed help. She turned to Missouri’s Vocational Rehabilitation services and was referred to MERS Goodwill. Vickie learned about the organization’s new internal computer disassembling program called Computer Works, which provides one-on-one job training and development for individuals with Development Disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Cynthia Bourgeois, Coordinator for Computer Works first met Vickie in June 2013. The two clicked instantly.
“I could see how bright Vickie was and knew she had so much potential to blossom in both her professional and personal life,” said Cynthia. “Vickie had faced so many obstacles in her life, but she had a real motivation within to overcome her hardships and it was apparent from the moment I met her.”
Vickie was diagnosed with a developmental disability at an early age. She dropped out of high school and had her first child at the young age of 17. Vickie struggled to financially support herself and her children, eventually turning to her ex-husband and grandmother for support. She took on various cleaning and service jobs and even worked as a crossing guard, until the unthinkable happened. Vickie was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2003 – just shy of her thirtieth birthday – and would spend the next six years in recovery. The stress of undergoing chemotherapy and radiation took a toll on Vickie. She struggled to cope with both her disability and diagnosis and developed severe emotional distress during her treatment, which ultimately manifested to extreme anger, affecting her ability to find and keep employment.
“I’ve had a really hard life,” said Vickie. “Cynthia was one of the first people I met who really listened and understood where I came from.”
Vickie was eligible for MERS Goodwill’s Computer Works program which provides in-depth, one-on-one assistance to individuals who are severely disabled by teaching them a set of skills they will be able to use forever. The program relies on computer donations from individuals and businesses within the community and needs a minimum of 325 computer donations per day in order to successfully serve its clients.
Vickie joined the Computer Works program on June 17, 2013 and spent three days training on various tasks. Clients who join the Computer Works program must be interested in deconstruction of computers and, depending on the individual’s skill set, different tasks are assigned. Clients are encouraged to take on new tasks and work to achieve certain levels before graduating from the Computer Works program.
Vickie started out by taking apart computers, which are handled according to guidelines from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. She learned how to demagnetize and physically break down the computer and its components, starting with a goal of 5 computers a day. Within two months, Vickie could tackle 28 computers a day – more than any client had ever accomplished at Computer Works. Vickie loved the challenge of taking on new tasks. She learned how to do it all – computer demanufacturing, stocking monitors, sorting computer components, and collecting materials to set up for the next work day.
Cynthia marveled at Vickie’s progress and encouraged her to take on more responsibility. Soon, Vickie started to take on a leadership role and trained other clients on various tasks. It wasn’t long before Vickie learned how to sort computer motherboards, which up until that time was a job that only Cynthia knew how to do.
“Vickie became my right-hand woman,” said Cynthia. “The fact that Vickie learned so fast and could help train others allowed me to spend more time with clients who needed further one-on-one assistance.”
After just three months in Computer Works, Vickie was no longer suitable for sheltered employment. She was assigned a job developer through MERS Goodwill and started the process of applying for jobs, including how to put together a resume and what to expect in a job interview. Vickie’s biggest obstacle in her transition to full-time employment was learning how to control her anger and overcoming frustration she felt if she witnessed one of her colleagues messing up or doing their job wrong. She began taking anger management classes through St. Patrick’s Center and learned how to cope with her anger.
When Vicki was offered a full-time position as a porter for RiverCity Casino in St. Louis, it was a bittersweet moment.
“Vickie and I were inseparable for nearly three months and she felt like she was disappointing me by leaving the program,” said Cynthia. “She needed some extra encouragement and I kept reminding her how smart she is and to really own her pride.”
Vickie started her new position at RiverCity Casino in March 2014 working almost 40 hours a week. She regularly visits Cynthia and her friends at Computer Works, and is still eager to throw on her apron, put on her gloves and get down to work.
For the first time in her life, Vickie has full benefits and time off. She recently moved into a new apartment and, with the help of Goodwill and good-hearted neighbors, is starting to fill her home with furniture and décor. When Vickie reflects on how far she has come, it brings tears to her eyes: “I can finally say I’m proud of myself.”