Despite losing most of her hearing when she was very young, Jennifer Lee has been placed in a job at J.C. Penney through the Columbus Community Programs of Ellisville State School and has become a valued employee. Photo by: Kelly Tippett
March 28, 2009
For too many employees, reporting to work every morning means just another day at the office. But for Jennifer Lee, the punch of the clock as it stamps her J.C. Penney Co. time card is a success story, a validation of her newfound courage and confidence. Complications from jaundice and hepatitis soon after birth robbed the 25-year-old of most of her hearing, but that doesn''t keep this smiling young woman from thoroughly enjoying her first mainstream job.
"I''ve never seen anybody who loves to work like Jennifer!" her father laughs. No one is more pleased than George Lee with improvements his daughter has made since the family first discovered resources available to them at the Ellisville State School''s Columbus Community Programs center several years ago. "She''s just blossomed," he beams, "and she''s still learning new things."
The CCP center -- formerly and more familiarly known as the ACT Center -- is currently located on Main Street and assists individuals with developmental disabilities through assimilation of life, social and vocational skills and work opportunities.
March has been national Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, and the theme -- "People with disabilities are just like you" -- is meant to stress the similarities, rather than differences, between those with special need and others.
CCP Division Director Connie Tilley and Vocational Training Instructor Georgeanne Green take great pride in Jennifer''s accomplishments, too.
"When she came to us she was very insecure; when she got this job, it was so neat to see the difference," said Tilley.
On the job
While Jennifer''s speech may be difficult for some to readily understand, she and her work supervisor at J.C. Penney, Anna Jones, seem to have few problems. As they walk companionably through the stock areas, Jones intermittently gives instructions. Jennifer wears a strong hearing device and is improving her lip-reading skills.
"If you''re standing directly in front of her with your voice at a good level, she can usually understand," her father said.
Two to three days each week, Jennifer unpacks incoming merchandise, replenishes items in Penney''s vast stockrooms and sometimes restocks floor displays.
"We''re learning different tasks in a ''door to floor'' plan," said a supportive Jones. "She''s also learning how to read a ''set and sell'' plan."
"She''s a pleasure to have, I tell you," praised Mike Law, manager of the local retailer. "She loves people, has a constant smile on her face -- it''s a different personality since she first came here," he added, noting Jennifer''s confidence boost and pride in her work.
Help for others
Jennifer''s is the kind of success CCP likes to see. About 40 adults are currently helped at the center through employment services, case management, community living, vocational workshops and day habilitation programs providing improvement in living, social, communication, self-help and other adaptive skills. Respite services to assist caregivers and the James W. Hunt Group Home in Columbus are also of significant benefit to challenged individuals and their stressed families.
Like Jennifer, who still goes to day habilitation several days each week, most with developmental disabilities who are able to move into the community workforce got their start in the center''s sheltered workshop.
"Columbus and Lowndes County have been very supportive of us," praised Green, who contracts with local companies for jobs that can be done at CCP. In different areas of the building, workers industriously sand and refurbish metal floral spray stands, package plastic cutlery for eateries or undertake light industrial tasks for businesses such as Baldor Electric, ABC Systems and Lowndes Manufacturing. While on task, they chat and pause to smile and wave at visitors.
"We want to get the word out to anybody and everybody that needs these services," Tilley stressed. "All they have to do is give us a call at 662-328-4955, and we can help them through the process."
Diagnostic evaluation for each applicant is done in Laurel, followed by a committee review to determine which services Ellisville State School has that best fits the needs.
In Jennifer''s case, a suggestion from a family friend inspired her father to seek out the help.
"I knew once Jennifer could get in the program, it would help her to grow," the widower shared. "She''s been a happy camper ever since.
"I want her to know I''m proud of her, but I also want her to understand she needs to keep going forward. She''s progressing real good; it even surprises me sometimes," he lightly chuckles. "I''m glad that she can -- it shows she''s willing to learn, and if you''re willing to learn, you''ll always see progress."
For more information about the Columbus Community Programs of Ellisville State School, contact Tilley at 662-328-4955 or e-mail [email protected]
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.