In my last article, I talked about going to school as part of the hunt for your professional niche and now, I’m going to go more in-depth on that subject.
In February 2008, I started school at the Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah. While there, I hit on some of my challenges but I also discovered that I have some excellent abilities as well. I am writing this to encourage fellow members to go after their employment dreams as I did.
My entire life I have had Cerebral Palsy which has created hand-eye coordination problems and I also have a speech impediment. In addition to this, I have schizophrenia. I came from a very supportive family. I was able to graduate from high school in 1993. Through hard work and dedication, I have discovered that I am much more than these labels.
In early 2002, I was offered a Transitional Employment Placement as a research technician at the Administration Building of Valley Mental Health (now called Valley Behavioral Health) through Alliance House. I also did a group placement at Frito Lay. From then until late 2007, I learned a number of skills at Alliance House. I continued to reconcile the Alliance House checkbook which kept my interest in numbers satisfied. I also started leading meetings around the Clubhouse. I went back to helping Kent, a Clubhouse member, with billing from time to time as well. I also discovered my interest in getting new members oriented into the Clubhouse world. Between ending my TEs and starting college, I sharpened my skills. I learned how to be a member leader and facilitate meetings. I also learned about mentoring new members.
In late 2006, I realized that I wanted to do more with my life than just dead-end jobs. Seeing my brother graduate from college helped me to make this decision, but the major factor was that I was ready for a new challenge. While preparing to go back to school, I had to decide whether to go the traditional route or to go through the Skills Center (School of Applied Technology) at Salt Lake Community College and get done much faster. I chose the Skills Center. The next question was my major. I thought back to an accounting course I took my senior year at Boise High School in Boise, Idaho and came to the decision to do the Accounting Clerk Certificate Program.
The next hurdle was figuring out how to do college work and continue to be a valued member of Alliance House. This was a tough one for me but eventually I realized that I had to take care of me. Part of going back to school was taking a TABE Test that was a placement test. I scored low on the Reading section and did a remedial class that slowed me down on my classes towards my certificate. However, in February 2008, I started classes at Salt Lake Community College to learn accounting. The first class at SLCC was a real challenge. It was Ten-Key, which was difficult with my poor hand-eye coordination; but I muddled through with lots of practice. My family was always there for me. While in school, Mom and my brother both assisted me with my Business Communications class which was basically English, my filing class and also my Accounting simulation which helped me get ready for my Accounting final. I was also taking my Business Communications, or English requirement, and this is where Amber, A Clubhouse staff, really became a life saver. She and another favorite teacher, Judy, helped with definitions and spelling.
Along with great instructors and staff, many members of Alliance House were instrumental with my learning experience. I remember one in particular who started calling me, “Education” when I started school and the nickname stuck all the way through the two years it took me obtain my certificate. Through all this time, members were interested in how I was doing. I remember one day at SLCC, we had an hour-long power outage. Then the computer I was working on at school wouldn’t work for me. This was annoying because of the challenging spreadsheet project I was working on. I was very irritated by all this. When I got to Alliance House that afternoon, one of the staff started playfully joking with me, and called me Cranky Pants. While working on a project in the business unit, we talked about what happened in class. The combination of staff members’ willingness to distract me from my problems and the work in the unit lifted my spirits. Another huge help was my good friend and mentor, Katie Lorz, a former staff member, took me under her wing and together we learned Excel and Corporate Accounting. One of my teachers, also helped me by teasingly saying “Q” when I had a question as a joke.
When I started school, I was looking for a challenge, but I didn’t anticipate how much of a challenge I was in for. I figured ‘in for a penny in for a pound.’ My entire time at school, I would get up at 5:30 in the morning to finish homework for that day. Also, there were days when the computer would not cooperate. I remember one time where the computer in my QuickBooks class wasn’t working properly because the school forgot to pay for service which took half of the day to get fixed. Early on, I would not mark in my textbooks where I left off the day before and would have to find my place, but I fixed that quickly by marking my place.
There were real fun times as well. For example, I got my picture taken for a poster at the college for the Disability Resource Center where I got some assistance with my classes. I also got to meet many interesting people. One specific person was a woman who was in her sixties who was taking classes to be an Office Clerk.
The Disability Resource Center helped me to get accommodations so that I could get a fair chance at school. They gave me a reader-scribe that would read me test questions and write my answers. I was also given double time on testing.
I feel that if you want to go to college, you should go for it. There is some blood, sweat and tears but it is also a fabulous opportunity to meet new people and get new perspectives on life.