Joe Johnson said he could not stay in a bad mood at work “even if I was trying.”
(Photos by Josh Mitchell/Corinth Today)
Joe Johnson does not live life thinking “what if?”
He keeps trying until he gets the hang of something even though he may want to stop.
“If I hadn’t done my best, I would just be living in regret,” said Johnson.
AbilityWorks in Corinth helped Johnson become a productive member of the workforce. The agency falls under the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and helps people with disabilities learn job skills.
Johnson demonstrates some of the skills he learned during the AbilityWorks training program.
People with disabilities make quality workers, said counselor Jane Walker. They are grateful for the opportunities they have because they don’t come easy, she noted.
For instance, Walker said a legally blind client got a daycare internship paid for by AbilityWorks. The client turned out to be one of the best workers, and the daycare hired her.
Employers just need to see how “amazing a person is,” and then they will know that “they’re good workers,” Walker added.
People with disabilities are no different from others, said Jennifer Taylor, the AbilityWorks manager in Corinth. They might do something differently, but the end result is the same, she noted. She encourages people to give those with disabilities a chance.
“They’re wonderful,” Taylor said.
It is important for people with disabilities to work so they can feel self-worth and be part of the community, said Keely Green, MDRS district manager.
Many of the AbilityWorks clients have learning disabilities. Johnson, a 2012 Biggersville High School graduate, is a very likable person, said his AbilityWorks evaluator Mike Kemp.
Johnson “enjoys life” and makes others around him enjoy life, Kemp added.
Johnson said staff members at AbilityWorks are like family. From left are Mike Kemp, Jane Walker, Johnson, Jennifer Taylor and Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services District Manager Keely Green.
After going through the AbilityWorks training program, Johnson got a job at LaCosta at Kimberly-Clark in Corinth. The people he works with are fun to be around, Johnson said, adding, “They sure enough make me laugh.”
Moreover, his job makes him feel independent and lets him be his “own person.” He said he could not stay in a bad mood at work “even if I was trying.”
The training provided by AbilityWorks “helped me a lot,” said Johnson, whose job involves folding and packaging.
“They taught me how important it is to always be on time, and look my best going to work and how to be prepared for anything,” he said.
The agency’s staff were like his own family, Johnson said, noting, “I about cried when I left.”
Johnson is not the only one who gets emotional. Kemp said it can almost bring tears to his eyes when he sees a former client leading a successful life.
Johnson has other dreams, too. He wants to join the Corinth Fire Department, open a towing company, get his commercial driver’s license and run a mechanic shop.
Johnson, left, walks around the training area with Kemp.
“I even stay busy in my free time,” Johnson said, adding that he also volunteers for the Farmington Fire Department and Oakland Baptist Church.
Johnson is “pretty awesome,” and it is rewarding to see clients achieve success, Taylor said.
“Part of us is sad to see them go, but then another part of us is so excited for them because we know they’re about to take their next journey,” Taylor said.
The agency likes to find work that the clients want so they will stay in the jobs. Other clients may have autism, an intellectual disability, deafness or other issues. The nine-county region that includes Alcorn County serves about 400 clients, but not all of them go to AbilityWorks.
A legally blind client was able to intern at Corinth Elementary this summer. The plan is for her to be a teacher assistant, and her goal is to be a special education teacher once she finishes at Mississippi State University.
AbilityWorks also offers a program called LINCS that connects clients with local businesses. Under the program, AbilityWorks pays the client’s salary and worker’s compensation. The business helps enhance the person’s skills, and the client provides needed manpower. It’s a “win-win,” Taylor said.
Johnson is not part of LINCS, but is an actual employee of LaCosta.
Green would definitely encourage local businesses to employ people with disabilities.
Johnson said, “You got to keep on keeping on.”