The Pathway to Meaningful Work for All Abilities Starts Here!
Shane Kelly – Challenge Unlimited
Shane Kelly’s disability is invisible to some. He joined the Challenge Unlimited team in 2011. He was still living at home with his parents and the AbilityOne program was exactly what he needed to gain his independence. Meaningful employment provides opportunities for people living with disabilities to grow and develop life skills far beyond workforce training. It also provides a sense of community by fostering diversity, equity, inclusivity, and personal development. Here is Shane’s story.
Shane’s first job was working as a Page in the House of Representatives, but he was not comfortable doing it. The position required him to wait in a room with many people until a Representative pushed a button, the Page would then go to the representative and complete the task requested. The unknown upcoming interaction made Shane extremely uncomfortable. Through the AbilityOne Program he was able to find a better fit. He was introverted, quiet and rarely made eye contact when he began the GSA janitorial position at the Paul Findley Federal Building in Springfield, IL. Shane’s supervisor recalls that in his interview that “he did not look up once, gave one-word answer to all questions and when asked to explain his feelings he simply replied, I don’t know.”
At first, he never said more than a few words or interacted with co-workers. Shane mostly kept to himself, but with each passing year he began to gain confidence and engage more with his peers and the tenants in the building. This was something his case manager and his mother noticed too. He became more social and engaged more often with his family at home. “He joined in on family functions, even attending family reunions.” Which his mother said made her “incredibly happy for him.”
Over time, this growing confidence created a desire for him to help others who had similar struggles. He specifically displayed this when new hires would join his team. Shane developed the ability to train inexperienced staff with patience, empathy, and compassion, especially when dealing with teammates who were struggling. He was sensitive to their discomfort and would assist them in learning new things, help them to navigate the building, show them where they could find the things, they needed to do their job. Shane would also introduce them to and engage them with tenants in the building.
There was one new employee that Shane showed a sensitivity toward; he could relate to their struggle with communication and confidence. He saw this as an opportunity to help. His supervisor remembers him coming into her office and closing the door to share a story. She said, “it was like hearing a proud father explain how their child overcame a huge obstacle.” Shane went on to tell her that this once introverted employee, who was just like himself, had directly asked one of the tenants if it was “ok to vacuum their office.” A small feat for some, but for people living with disabilities who have trouble communicating and expressing themselves, this is amazing progress. This individual now has conversations with guards and tenants in the building. The same growth seen in Shane is now being seen in this individual, all because of Shane’s help and patient coaching.
His new confidence and communication skills made him feel that it was important to advocate for persons with disabilities too. He went on to represent Challenge Unlimited and the AbilityOne program at the Grassroots Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C and participated in personal and group meetings with members of Congress. He took the Source America training courses to help with public speaking and the development of sharing his story. Shane spoke with other SA non-profit organizations about his personal growth and the importance of providing these opportunities for people with disabilities.
Shane was promoted to lead janitor in 2019 and is one of the only people that Federal Judge Sue Myerscough will allow to clean her space. He is trustworthy and his work ethic is appreciated. She said that “Shane is an exceptionally hardworking and responsible young man. We enjoy having him in our chambers and could not imagine anyone else occupying his role.”
When Shane came into the AbilityOne Program he was living at home with his parents, since then he moved into his own apartment and has learned how to budget his income. Shane’s takeaway from his time at Challenge “Over the course of my time of being a part of Challenge Unlimited, I have been able to break out of my shell. I used to be a shy and withdrawn person, and now I have the confidence to strike up a conversation with someone. I am able do things on my own, without the assistance of others.”
The GSA Supervisory Property Manager said, “Shane is a true success story that should be shared and honored for his dedication and hard work.” He is a shining example of an employee with a disability who has exhibited outstanding achievement, exceptional character, and significant personal growth.
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