Turn It Up! Stories from People with Disabilities

Air Date: 03/22/2020

"Turn it Up! Stories from People with Disabilities"
This special program turns up the volume on stories from Nebraskans with disabilities.
Friends, neighbors, colleagues, and artists are all ways to describe people with disabilities, because they are just that — people first.

"Turn it Up!" offers stories from people in our communities about jobs and families, about pets and problems, about goals and dreams. Stories about the human experience. Listen to what people with disabilities have to tell you about the world.

This is a Connects program made possible in part by the Nebraska Association of Service Providers (NASP), the Nebraska Council on Developmental Disabilities and The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation.

"Turn it Up!" Storytellers

Brian Essex, Black Hills Works
Brian Essex
Brian Essex - Bellevue
Black Hills Works

Working for BH Services at Offutt Air Force Base has been a great experience for me. It has taught me how to work and interact with others, including those with disabilities.

BH Services has a great program. It has shown me leadership skills, which include speaking and communicating with others in the work place. This experience has helped me to succeed and to prepare me for being out in the "real world." I have been with BH Services for 23 years and never thought that I would someday be a supervisor in the company. Through all of the hard work that has prepared me for this moment, everything has paid off and I am proud of all that I have accomplished.

I would like for other people to know that you can do anything you put your mind to and you can accomplish your goals. Don't let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. Always try your hardest, no matter what. If you're living with a disability, no matter what it is, don't let anyone put you down or discourage you.

Jordon McCoy, Ollie Webb Center
Jordon McCoy
Jordon McCoy - Omaha
Ollie Webb Center

Hi! My name is Jordon McCoy and I live in Omaha, NE. I am 33 years old, I work at Huber handing out ads and I go to school at Ollie Webb. I like to listen to music, watch TV, and I love performing — singing, acting, tap dancing! My favorite musical is "Newsies."

Last summer, I took a musical theatre class. My teacher gave me a new song to learn right at the start of the semester to perform at the end of the summer in a concert. The song was called, “Giants in the Sky” from ”Into the Woods.” At first, I felt motivated to try this new song. In the process of learning it, it got very challenging because it is a Sondheim song — so many words! I have to learn songs only by memory [because I am visually impaired]. I got very frustrated and said I couldn’t do it. Then my teacher, Grace, said “Yes, you can! You have to be patient and encourage yourself.” About a month later, after lots of hard work, I had the song memorized and learned perfectly. We performed the songs in public and I felt much better! I was so proud of myself! My main lesson: be patient with yourself, keep trying, and don’t give up! Don’t back down from a challenge — say “Yes, I can!”

Bayda Al-Helfi, VITAL Services
Bayda Al-Helfi
Bayda Al-Helfi - Lincoln
VITAL Services
Employment and Relationships

My name is Bayda and I am 30 years old. I live with my parents and I have a younger sister that I enjoy spending time with. I have worked at VITAL Services since 2010. I like to read about the Kennedys, history, and America. I like to research and write. I really like to play on my phone and I like to read poems. I recently read a poem for our annual Talent show.

When I first started VITAL Services, I was not like I am today. I used to get angry really easily and not want to work. I have had Eldon as a staff member for a very long time. Eldon really encouraged me to do a good job. His sense of humor helped me to change and through all his help I have become a better person. He taught me sign language and helped me with my reading. I tell him that I wish he was my teacher at school. At the very beginning, I only worked on the line but as the years have gone by I have obtained community jobs such as Cleaning Ninjas and Anytime Fitness. I am also the main female that does dock work which consists of wrapping pallets and moving them around in our storage area. I have come a long ways through VITAL and they have helped me learn the skills I have today.

My staff, Eldon, has taught me that you never tell yourself that you cannot achieve something. You always want to try so, even if you don't get what you want, at least you still tried. Eldon knows me better that anyone at VITAL and he knows how to motivate me and he challenges me a lot. I would not be where I am today without Eldon and I appreciate everything he has done for me. I want people to understand that you can do anything as long as you have faith in yourself. I have come very far since I started services and if I can get to where I am today anyone else can do it too.

Tony Spomer, Omaha Black Hills Works
Tony Spomer
Tony Spomer - Omaha
Black Hills Works
Overcoming Bullying, Building Friendships

I think my story is worth telling. I suffered terrible bullying in high school because I was different. I am a person with Asperger’s which is a form of Autism. I am not different, I am just me. I had no friends in school at all so when some middle school kids told me they would be my friend if I pulled the fire alarm, you bet, I pulled the fire alarm. For this, I was given out-of-school suspension and transferred to another school that was supposed to have a better SPED program.

In high school I was bullied by kids, made fun of because I have a speech impediment and was humiliated by teachers. People have no idea how bad it hurts when a teacher laughs at you with the other kids. I was taped to a pole in the school commons area and people ran at me and tore my shirt and bloodied my face. The high school football coach and the assistant went to our church. They were really nice and tried to help me and found me a place helping the football team. They secured me a position as student manager of the football team. The football players protected me from the bullies, but they were not my friends. I did not have any friends in high school.

After graduation, I had no idea what to do. People had said that I would never be able to hold a job. My mom knew Bob Matthews with Black Hills Works and he supported me in getting a job at the Air Force commissary, a position I have had for ten years. My job changed my life. I love my job. I love my bosses.I have more friends now that I have ever had. Having friends is really nice. I was invited to go to Washington, D.C., to represent Black Hills Workshop and assisted employment. I met Rick Sebastian, who is a motivational speaker, and his job was to get all of us to be able to tell our story. When he introduced me he said. "Before today, Tony didn't do this. You, my friend, are a powerful human being," We were all crying.  

Following the conference, I took my new courage to Capitol Hill and visited the South Dakota and Nebraska Senators and Representatives. These visits gave me a chance to tell these people just how much my job means to me. I think they really listened.

I am very thankful to Black Hills Works. I want everyone to know that we can make a difference. We don't have to be bullied and made fun of. We are real people with real feelings and we need to be heard. It was very emotional for me to finally tell my story, and probably very healing. I am very thankful I got to go to D.C. The trip was a lot of fun, and I realized I am somebody. I can make an impact.

Michelle (Shelly) Bruning, Region V Services
Michelle (Shelly) Bruning
Michelle (Shelly) Bruning - Lincoln
Region V Services

My name is Michelle Bruning, but my friends and family call me Shelly. I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and lived there until I was 13 years old. I currently live in Lincoln, Nebraska, in an Adult Family Home. It's important to me to be independent. I'm a hard worker and have three jobs. I also like to make my own jewelry and bags that I sell to family and friends. One of my goals is to live on my own and start a family.

Mark Pratt, North Platte Opportunity Center
Mark Pratt
Mark Pratt - North Platte
North Platte Opportunity Center

I am a 52-year-old man with Developmental Disabilities. I live in an apartment by myself with my cat named Tiger. I am from North Platte, Nebraska. I own my car to get me back and forth around town. I work at the North Platte Opportunity Copy Center for training wages.

In the past, I have worked for different restaurants in our community. I have 30-plus years in the restaurant business. I like working in the kitchen. I have washed dishes and done prep work all these years. I have plenty of experience to get paid. I would like to expand my experience into other opportunities but, Vocational Rehabilitation says I cannot, due to there being no funding.

I am currently on the waiting list with all the other population in the state of Nebraska [who are waiting for Vocational Rehab funding, these funds would let me hire a job coach to help me with my job search]. I have been on the list since 12/2018. They said if I do get a job, then I will have no support. The only reason I am on the list is due to being laid off of two businesses that closed. I shouldn't be pushed onto a waiting list when I can and have proved I can hold down a job at minimum wage for several years.

Developmental Disabilities can’t pay anything out of my budget to help me get the number one thing I want, a job at minimum wage. I have to still pay my above minimum wage expenses on a training wage salary. My car is parked because I cannot afford it. Here I sit waiting and waiting and more waiting.

Kelli Blacketer, RHD, Live Yes Studios
Kelli Blacketer
Kelli Blacketer - Lincoln
RHD, Live Yes Studios

I am Kelli Blacketer from Lincoln, Nebraska. I am 39 years old and live with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy affects everyone differently. The way it affects me is physically but not intellectually. I use a wheelchair to get through the world, and a letter chart to speak.

As a child, I taught myself how to read and write phonetically because in school many people assumed I could not — I think people assume I am intellectually disabled because of my physical disability and being non-verbal. I want to share my experiences of living with CP (cerebral palsy) and going through the public school system from grades K - 12. I want people to know what it is like to go through the school system when you have a disability — and that you can do anything you put your mind to — because I did!