VR3: Making a Difference
VR3  Ready...Reliable...Results June 2015

Business networking and VR teamwork lead to success

Business networking brought VR client Brian Denny (left) to the attention of business owner Charley Weston. VR’s assistance and teamwork led to Denny’s employment at Guardian Fence Suppliers as a sales manager.

Brian Denny didn’t think he could go back to work after he sustained a high level spinal cord injury (C3-C4).

Unable to move his upper or lower body, Brian uses a power wheelchair that he manipulates by blowing into a straw-like device called a sip and puff. It takes patience and determination, something that Brian has in great supply.

“Brian was hurt on the job while he was working at a building supply company,” recalls Niki Ostrander, his counselor when Brian came to VR to apply for services.

“Brian was very anxious to get started with the program,” she says. “He was unsure what he would be able to do but he knew that he could do more than he was.”

The struggle to make employers understand what he was capable of, however, wasn’t easy.

“I had not worked since the accident but had been applying to lots of companies,” says Brian. “I always got turned down at the interview because the company thought I wouldn’t be able to do the job duties.”

Ostrander encouraged Brian to let VR work with him.

“I told Niki that she probably wouldn’t be able to help me, and how discouraged I had become trying to do it on my own.”

Brian kept thinking “if I could just get someone to give me a chance, I know I could do it.”

He remembers Ostrander simply saying, “That’s why we’re here.”

During this time, Charley Weston, founder and president of Guardian Fence Suppliers, realized the housing market was growing again and needed to add staff to grow with it.

Weston is a member of Business Networking International (BNI), a professional networking group with a chapter in Columbia. At a BNI meeting Weston met Joe Burns, president of Joe Burns Heating and Air and a long time friend of Brian Denny.

“Joe told me about Brian and encouraged me to contact him,” says Weston. “I thought about it over the next few weeks, but it honestly scared me.”

Weston didn’t want to meet Brian and then have to say no, or hire him and have it not work out.

A short time later, Weston was at a Home Builders Association meeting where he met Reggie Murphy, manager of the Business and Employer Services Team of the Midlands Workforce Development Board.

“I started talking to Reggie about my conversation with Joe,” says Weston. “I told him I was thinking about hiring this guy that Joe had recommended, and told him a little about the guy.

“Reggie immediately said ‘Brian Denny,’ and I said, ‘how did you know?’”

Murphy, who also knew Brian, encouraged Weston to get in touch with Brian. This time Weston made the call.

“Brian and I met over the next few weeks, and came up with a plan that we both thought would help Brian ease back into the workplace at a comfortable pace.”

Based on Brian’s previous experience in construction and sales, Weston decided to hire Brian as a sales representative. The position would require both data entry and phone work, so Ostrander called Stephen Marshall, Business Development Specialist for the Midlands, to help set up a Skilled Workforce Apprenticeship Training (SWAT) for Brian.

The SWAT allowed Brian to learn the position and gave Weston the opportunity to see if Brian could really do the job, and to see if Brian would be happy doing the job.

Meanwhile, Murphy, who is familiar with VR services, had also contacted Marshall to discuss types of assistance that Weston might need, such as rehabilitation technology or disability awareness training.

Denny, sitting at an adjustable height desk, uses a mouth stick and an iPad to operate a laptop at Guardian Fence Suppliers. Denny is known in the office as the “Zoho Czar,” referring to the Zoho customer relationship management software which he uses and trains other staff on how to use.

“The Midlands Workforce Development Board has a strong collaboration between partners, and members work together and make referrals to each other based on each individual agency’s mission,” says Marshall. “Reggie gave me Charley Weston’s contact info and I immediately scheduled an appointment with him and Brian to discuss how rehabilitation technology could help.”

Joe Anthony, a member of VR’s Rehabilitation Technology team, met with Brian and together they came up with a list of tools Brian would need to succeed, including an adjustable height desk, phone system, adjustable laptop riser, and a mouth stick mounted to his desk which Brian uses with an iPad to control the laptop and phone.

During the second half of Brian’s apprenticeship, Weston decided to bring in a customer relationship management (CRM) software package called Zoho.

“I didn’t know how to use it myself, but I immediately recognized its potential to increase our business,” he explains. “Brian ate it up.”

Weston realized that Brian knew the software better than anybody. “So I asked him to be my ‘Zoho Czar.’”

This opportunity led to Brian’s promotion to a sales management position at Guardian. “Now I’m training the staff how to use the program.”

Brian is also getting ready to start a program where he will make sales calls to customers that have not been active, generating new business, explains Weston.

“None of this happened by accident,” says Weston. “I had to make it a point to get over my fears and take a chance on Brian.” VR’s SWAT and Rehabilitation Technology gave Weston the chance to see what Brian could do and alleviated his fears about hiring Brian.

“I encourage other business owners to give someone like Brian a chance,” he says, “because it turns out I had nothing to be afraid of.”

Weston once asked Brian, “Why did you want this job?”

Brian answered without hesitation, “I want to contribute. I want to do something, build something.”

That desire is just one of the many things that Brian Denny and Charley Weston have in common.

Around the state

Governor’s Committee Winners

The SC Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities works with mayors’ committees and state and local agencies to bring greater public awareness to the many talents and qualifications of workers with disabilities and their positive impact on the workforce and our state’s economy.

Each year a number of South Carolina businesses are recognized for their exemplary practices in hiring people with disabilities and actively promoting disability awareness and workforce opportunities in the business community.

Small Employer of the Year Award

W&B Enterprises in Orangeburg received the 2015 Small Employer of the Year Award.

W&B Enterprises, a family owned business that produces screen-printed shirts, promotional items and beach accessories sold at well-known large retail stores, has partnered with the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department’s (SCVRD) Orangeburg office and work training center to help meet staffing and production needs. The company has hired two individuals with disabilities for full-time screen printing positions through SCVRD. It has also established an agreement with the work training center for the assembly of hangers for clothes shipped to stores. This training provides VR clients with valuable skills in preparation for competitive employment.

The Orangeburg Mayor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities nominated W&B Industries for the award.

Photo: Jeffrey Watford, owner of W&B Enterprises, accepts the Medium Employer of the Year award. Left to right: Kitty Bamberg, business development specialist, S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation Department (SCVRD); Jeffrey Watford; Wendy May, Orangeburg area supervisor, SCVRD; Dr. Eddie Glenn Bryant, Orangeburg Mayor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.

Medium Employer of the Year Award

Johnny Coates, operations manager for Austin Industrial Southeast, accepts the Medium Employer of the Year award from Darline Graham, public information director for the S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation Department.

Austin Industrial in Graniteville received the 2015 Medium Employer of the Year Award.

For more than five years Austin Industrial has partnered with the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department’s (SCVRD) Aiken Work Training Center, where individuals are trained on standard operating procedures and quality measures for Bridgestone Tire’s recycling process. This training provides VR clients with valuable skills in preparation for competitive employment.

In the past year Austin Industrial has hired two individuals with disabilities through VR and has hired at least eight candidates from VR over the past five years and provided opportunities for advancement.

Also committed to safety, Austin Industrial has worked to provide a safer working environment for hearing impaired employees at the Graniteville Bridgestone facility. Although the plant met the National Security Safety standard, Austin Industrial went beyond that requirement by installing additional strobe lights.

Austin has also supported the disability community through its participation in SCVRD’s Open House and Training Center Advisory Board activities.

Large Employer of the Year Award

Gloria Graves (left), Coordinator of Student Programs, accepts the Large Employer of the Year award for Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System from Barbara Rhodes of the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department, representing the Spartanburg Mayor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.

Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System in Spartanburg received the 2015 Large Employer of the Year Award.

SRHS has a longstanding history of providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities and it is estimated that 60 were hired in the past year. SRHS partners with the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department (SCVRD) and with the Charles Lea Workability Program to meet its staffing needs for dedicated associates.

Through a partnership with Spartanburg School District 6 (Dorman High School), SCVRD and the Workforce Investment Board, SRHS became the training site for the first Project SEARCH program in the state. This school-to-work transition program provided education and job training to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities through three 10-week internships in twelve different departments at Spartanburg Medical Center.

In its first year seven students participated and all have moved into competitive employment—five of them with SRHS, one at Anderson Mill Elementary School (District 6) and one elsewhere. Plans are to expand the program for the 2015-2016 school year to encompass twelve departments at SRHS.

SRHS also provides technological accommodations for employees with hearing impairments and visual impairments, ergonomic work stations with accommodations, schedule accommodations, automatic doors and renovated ramps, and other measures that make the work environment conducive to people with disabling conditions.

Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System was nominated by the Spartanburg Mayor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.

Employment Achievement Award

Roy Dunning received the 2015 Employment Achievement Award.

Dunning is a sales associate at Palmetto Goodwill Industries of Lower South Carolina. He has excelled in his work despite the challenges posed by his disability and severe asthma. He has demonstrated an exemplary work ethic and is a team player who is quick to come to the assistance of co-workers when there is a need outside of his normal job duties or schedule. Dunning has thrived and grown in Goodwill’s supportive atmosphere. He has won multiple Employee of the Month awards.

Dunning was nominated for the award by the Orangeburg Mayor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.

Photo: Roy Dunning (second from left) of Orangeburg receives Employment Achievement Award from the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. From left to right are Lottie Dunning, his mother; Roy Dunning; Dr. Eddie Glenn Bryant of the Orangeburg Mayor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities; Robert Smith, CEO of Palmetto Goodwill Industries; Mandy Puckett of Palmetto Goodwill Industries.

Journalism Contest

Marci Morrow is recognized as the 2015 Journalism Contest winner by Mark Wade, SC Vocational Rehabilitation Department and the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.

Marci Morrow, a junior at Lancaster High School in Lancaster, is the winner of the 2015 Journalism Contest.

Morrow wins a four-year scholarship for tuition and fees to the state-supported college or university of her choice.

A panel of professional journalists chose Marci’s article as the best among entries submitted by students from throughout South Carolina, all of which focused on the theme “Expect. Employ. Empower.” Each submission reflected on the diverse contributions of people with disabilities in the workplace and the need to foster an environment in which people with disabilities can expect to have equal opportunities to succeed in employment and be empowered to utilize their skills and talents. Morrow’s article focused on two young professionals whose careers and personal lives had been severely damaged by addiction and other disabling conditions. With great determination and with assistance from staff at the Vocational Rehabilitation Department, they are again leading productive and successful lives.

Morrow has been very active in her school. She is a member of the National Honor Society, a Senator on Student Council, and in Beta Club. She has been involved in community service and leadership in several ways, through the Civinettes, Young People in Charge, and with Leadership Lancaster.

Marci is the daughter of Donna and George Morrow of Lancaster.

Bluffton gift-basket company offers opportunities to individuals with disabilities

Through a partnership with VR, Aunt Laurie's, a new Bluffton-based company that sells handmade gift sets, provides opportunities for individuals who have disabilities.

"Our goal is to provide an opportunity for clients to learn job skills and to feel more valuable," said Laurie Brown, founder and owner of Aunt Laurie's.

Watch a video to learn more about how Laurie Brown’s business has benefited from her partnership with VR.

Read more on The Island Packet.

Palmetto Center orientation

On Friday, May 15, 2015, probation and parole agents from Colleton County and board members from Williamsburg Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission attended an orientation at Palmetto Center to become more fully aware of services available and to collaborate on networking.

Photo (l to r): Elleanor Pressley and Eddie Castle of the Williamsburg Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission Board; Dawn Farish and Tehran Jones, agents with Colleton County Probation and Parole.

Rep. Henegan visits Bennettsville office

The Bennettsville office hosted a lunch and tour with Representative Patricia Henegan and Andrew Jordan, Regional Director for Senator Tim Scott on April 20, 2015.

Photo (l to r): Steven Douglas, Center Manager; Barry Waddell, Palmetto Center Supervisor; Rep. Patricia Henegan; and Andrew Jordan, Regional Director for Senator Tim Scott.

Q Stories

Christie Watts, Human Resources Specialist at the State Office, recently passed on the following story:

“Ray Gillie stopped by the State Office front desk delivering a floral bouquet. With a big smile on his face, he told me that he had gone through our program and based on what he said, I asked if Don Helms was his counselor. He said yes and that he has been substance-free for 15 years this year! I shook his hand and congratulated him. Such a nice gentleman and it was a pleasure to meet him. This is what we are all about! Making a difference. Congratulations, Don!”

Christie passed this on to Don, who replied:

“When someone like Ray shows up it is a great reminder for me as to why this agency is a valuable asset to the community and gives me even more assurance in knowing I am in the place where I can make a difference. The team who worked with Ray deserves just as much credit as I, from the State Office on down.”

Did you know...

…the South Carolina Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities traces its origins back to 1949 when Governor Strom Thurmond created a committee of community leaders to promote what was then called “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week?”

That week eventually evolved into National Disability Employment Awareness Month, held each October, and into a year-round focus on disability awareness for the Governor’s Committee.


July 8-10 - The SC Youth Leadership Forum (YLF), an annual career leadership program for high school juniors and seniors (or high school students between the ages of 17-21) with disabilities who have leadership aspirations in both their school and community, will be held at Columbia College and the Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School. Students will enhance and grow their leadership, citizenship and social skills while taking part in activities enabling them to network, learn from each other and build lasting friendships. Get more information at ylf.scvrd.net.
July 24, 8am-4:30pm - Life with Brain Injury Statewide Conference at the Columbia Conference Center, 169 Laurelhurst Avenue, Columbia, SC. Get more information from the Brain Injury Association of South Carolina.
The Bryant Center
  The Bryant Center in Lyman is accepting referrals for its two-week Summer Program for Transition Students. Students attending one of the scheduled sessions will participate in physical therapy or exercise; take part in simulated work experiences and learn independent living skills through occupational therapy; enhance leadership, teamwork and communication skills; explore careers and post-secondary interests; and engage in mock interviews and other job preparedness activities.
June 8-19 - Session 1: Summer Transition Program.
July 13-24 - Session 2: Summer Transition Program.
July 27-August 7 - Session 3: Summer Transition Program.
  All sessions meet 9 am-12 pm Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
  To refer a student, please fax a SCVR 219, SCVR 318, SCVR 318a (signed by the student and parent) and a Comprehensive Center referral form to Jennie Thomas at 864-949-6775.
  For more information, call 864-249-8030 or 888-322-9391
Comprehensive Evaluation Center (CEC)
  The Summer Transition Evaluation Program for Students (STEPS) is a two week program at the CEC in Columbia designed to assess the needs of transition students with physical disabilities or who require assistive devices in a variety of areas and to provide recommendations that will enable them to make a successful transition from school to work and/or post secondary training. Each session is different, to meet the different needs of our students:
June 8-19 - Session 1: STEPS. For students who are transitioning to post secondary training.
July 13-24 - Session 2: STEPS. For students who are transitioning to work.
  To refer a student, complete a referral form (#204) and indicate which session is preferred.
  For more information, contact Ali Cato at 803-896-6040

Enabling eligible South Carolinians with disabilities to prepare for, achieve and maintain competitive employment

VR3 is published by the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department (SCVRD), 1410 Boston Avenue, West Columbia, SC 29171.
The Public Information Office provides all news and information. News material may be reproduced with credit to VR3. In accordance with federal and state laws, SCVRD does not discriminate against any race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability in employment or in provision of services.