Disability does not mean unemployable
April 24, 2009
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Two years ago, Linda Prowell of Lawton was living on disability benefits. She had an illness that left her with depression and mood swings.
She had a 12-year stretch where she couldn't work and was hospitalized 15 times. Today, it looks like the worst of those years are behind her.
Thanks to support from a "really good employment team," Prowell is back on her feet as a kitchen worker for Swanson's Food Service at Fox Dining Hall at Fort Sill.
"I'm off SSI [Social Security Income] now and can support myself," Prowell said, "The money I make is mine. And this job is better suited to me than any job I've ever had."
March 9 marked Prowell's second anniversary at Swanson's.
<b>Turning it around</b>
Prowell credits friends from several agencies and community organizations with helping her "turn things around." She began receiving mental health services in 1979 from Jim Taliaferro Community Mental Health Center in Lawton.
"I got on this [Program of Assertive Community Treatment] team. Their job is to keep us out of the hospital and keep us on our medication - get any kind of counseling we might need," Prowell explained.
Janet Evans, a registered nurse on Taliaferro Center's PACT Team, referred Linda Prowell to Carolyn Wilkinson, a counselor at the Department of Rehabilitation Services in Lawton.
Wilkinson, now retired, provided career counseling and tested Prowell to determine which jobs were the best match for her skills and interests. Initially, Prowell chose to become a certified nursing assistant. DRS paid for training, job coaching and placement and related services.
Leona Newton, Employment Training Specialist and Lawton Supervisor for Dale Rogers Training Center, Inc., worked with DRS and Prowell to find a job as a medical assistant in a nursing care facility, but it wasn't the right fit.
"Linda faced all the traditional barriers to employment for many people with disabilities housing, transportation, losing funding for medication," Newton said. "Plus, she did well in the nursing assistant training, but had difficulty passing the certification test, so that held her back."
Looking for other employment options, Newton encouraged Prowell to complete a job application for Swanson's Food Service.
It proved to be a good match.
"This job is really my cup of tea." Prowell said. "I was thinking about being a certified nursing assistant, but this came up, and actually, I'm making more and it's less back-breaking."
"Finding great jobs sometimes takes teamwork," DRS Director Mike O'Brien said. "It may seem like the Department of Mental Health, Taliaferro Center, Dale Rogers, Swanson's and our agency put a lot of effort into helping Linda Prowell go to work, but now she's self-sufficient and paying taxes. The truth is Linda Prowell deserves the credit for transforming her life."
Thanks to a steady income, Prowell has moved into her own apartment. Last year, she earned the Governor's Disability Employment Award of Excellence based on her employment success.
While she battled her illness, Prowell managed to quit smoking, a habit acquired at age 13.