When I was young, whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answers were always a writer, a teacher, and a trainer for horses in the circus. I wrote a lot of poetry because I felt that it would help me with all three of these careers.
In 2000, I was given an opportunity to join the JEREMY Project (a Children & Youth Services program designed to support young adults to transition to adulthood by ensuring they have skills for employment and living independently), where we had a goal planning meeting to decide what I wanted to accomplish with my life. This allowed us to take those goals and break them down into smaller, more manageable goals that would allow me to feel accomplished. At that time, my goals were to get my driver’s license, finish high school, and achieve my career choices.
Through the JEREMY Project, I was able to develop social skills, learn about building relationships, and develop work and money management skills. I worked with a job coach through AHEADD (a program of the Autism Education and Research Institute designed to help students prepare to manage their college careers), which allowed me to practice interview skills, receive support to complete applications, and develop positive work ethics. I also worked with the transition services at my high school. They assisted me to obtain two coexisting internships with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I worked for human resources as a secretary and in finance, where I did filing and faxing. During high school, I worked many different positions, which gave me a vast variety of experiences, such as waitressing, office work, and cashiering.
During my time with the JEREMY Project, I was given the opportunity to speak about my mental health, which is when my career dream changed. I began to realize that I wanted to work in mental health and assist others who had similar experiences. Over the years, I was given multiple other opportunities to share my story locally and then in state-wide forums, which I continue to do today. This gave me a sense of personal empowerment.
I graduated from high school in 2004 and started college at Harrisburg Area Community College, where I had the opportunity to be a student worker with the Office of Disability Services, assisting people to obtain accommodations throughout the campus. In 2008, I heard about an opportunity to work in the mental health field as a peer support specialist. I decided this was a great opportunity and completed my peer support training and certification. In 2009, I began working for Keystone Human Services Mental Health as a certified peer support specialist. This has been a great opportunity for me to continue my dreams of being career-oriented.
My disability affects my work schedule when I have trouble staying well. I may need a flexible schedule, I may need to take frequent breaks. I have been honored to have multiple bosses who have supported my desire to work and have been understanding of my recovery needs and goals. They have allowed me to learn in a safe environment.