In the industry of supported employment, we at CHOICE hear and see many stories that are uplifting, inspiring, and worth sharing with others. Today I’m writing about a young man named Kyle Hennessy, who was in job development for over 4 years prior to working with CHOICE. During those four years in job development, Kyle never got an interview with an employer in the community.
Kyle is from the small town of New Hampton in northeast Iowa and was born at 27 weeks old. Upon entering the world he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and hearing impairment. Due to his CP, Kyle has limited use of his hands and arms. Today, Kyle uses his wheelchair or walker to ambulate, and has a powerchair which he uses to get around in the town of about 3500 people from which he hails.
When CHOICE first began working with Kyle in June of 2015, he and his family were frustrated with the lack of progress in Kyle’s search for community employment. He had spent the previous 10 years working at the Treasure Chest in New Hampton, a vocational training site, where he would enter their payroll, organize the bulletin board, and greet customers entering the store. In order to complete his work, Kyle has become efficient in the use of a “Sip’n’Puff.” Sip-and-Puff or Sip 'n' Puff (SNP) is assistive technology used to send signals to a device using air pressure by "sipping" (inhaling) or "puffing" (exhaling) on a straw, tube or "wand." It is primarily used by people who do not have the use of their hands.
Despite Kyle’s aptitude with computers, upbeat personality, and established reputation around town, many employers were hesitant to give Kyle an interview, much less a job. CHOICE had literally gone business to business in New Hampton, for over a year and half, getting the same answers over and over. “We know Kyle, he’s great and everyone loves him, but we just aren’t sure how we could fit him in here.”
Employers were concerned about his ability to move around the store in a timely manner, to communicate with customers, and his inability to use his hands or arms. Despite being repeatedly told by employers that they wouldn't be able to hire Kyle, we never gave up and continued to knock on doors and advocate Kyle. Although, at times we felt like we were letting him down as we were struggling to help him find a job. After nearly 6 years, I can only imagine how frustrating and hopeless it must have seemed to Kyle.
Finally, in September of 2016, CHOICE was able to get Kyle a WRA (work readiness assessment) which led to an interview (Big props to our CHOICE representative LaCreasha McNeese)! Shortly after the interview Kyle was hired as a Library Assistant, working three hours a week. His job duties included sorting books and movies in alphabetical order and returning books back to the shelves. He maintained this position for over a year and was then ready for a career advancement.
With the support of his Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Lewis Litzel, Kyle chose to go back into job development with CHOICE to find his next career.
In October of 2017, after multiple discussions and meetings between CHOICE representative Deana Hageman and New Hampton's Superintendent Jay Jurrens, Kyle was hired as the Community Relations Representative for the New Hampton Community School District. Not only did this position come with more hours, but also better pay and an office! It is his responsibility to manage the sign located at the MS/ES, update the Facebook page and manage the school’s websites. Some of the reasons behind wanting to work at the school stem from his social nature and desire to work with the students, teachers, and other staff.
Some of Kyle’s hobbies include coaching fifth and sixth grade football for New Hampton Parks and Rec. He is a black belt in Tae Kwon-do and loves watching football games on television, especially the Minnesota Vikings. Kyle also has a passion for storm tracking and has garnered some attention for that as well. Check out the article here: http://whotv.com/2017/03/13/northern-iowa-man-doesnt-let-cerebral-palsy-hinder-his-meteorology-