NOTE: 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the Vocational Rehabilitation Program.
Vocational rehabilitation helps student gain confidence and discover passion for public speaking
By Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation
(part of the Adult Learning & Rehabilitation Services, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education)
Kelsey Redding wasn’t sure if Missouri’s vocational rehabilitation was right for her when she first became aware of the program. She had been going through a difficult time in her life, living first with a friend and then with a married couple who worked as teachers at her high school. She had no confidence she would even be able to get a job.
However, Kelsey persisted and participated in a VR work experience during the summer between her junior and senior years at East Carter High School in Ellsinore, Missouri. She started out as a shelf stocker at a Town & Country grocery store then moved up to working as a checker.
“Having a job felt really good,” she said, “especially saving money up for a car.”
The summer work experiences paid for by Missouri VR allow young individuals the chance to understand what it’s like to be employed and how they might use employment to envision a brighter future.
For Kelsey, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, the experience continued on past the summer.
“The great thing was that as soon as I was done with the program, the manager asked me to come work for him,” she said. “I kept that job for over a year.”
Another experience that helped boost Kelsey’s confidence was her involvement in the Missouri Youth Leadership Forum, a career-development conference for students with disabilities. She initially participated as a delegate but then reapplied the following year and served as a facilitator who spoke to groups of students. Kelsey said she has always enjoyed public speaking and rarely gets nervous anymore.
Both of these successes in her life helped propel her to test out of special education services for her senior year of high school. She has since graduated and is currently a full-time student at Three Rivers College in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. She also works as a resident adviser on campus.
While she is realistic about her career goals, her dream job is to become a motivational speaker.
“I like telling an interesting story and letting people know that, even if you’re going through a rough time, you can make it,” she said. “Just look at me.”
Kelsey Redding’s story was originally published online in January 2020 in the Missouri State Rehabilitation Council 2019 Annual Report.
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After reading Kelsey Redding’s story I felt a deep desire in my heart to respond to her story of stunning success. I’m sure that Kelsey struggled in many areas of her life, as a child being bipolar. As a parent, my first daughter of four children struggled early in life. Relationships, school, homework, and just the ability to try to ask for help was such a challenge for her. It wasn’t until about 8th grade that she was diagnosed as being bipolar. Like Kelsey, public speaking terrorized her. She also lacked confidence in many areas of life, along with some decision-making abilities that would keep her on a straight path. Today, she is in her early thirties and has accepted that she has a disability. Accepting who she is was imperative, for her, to be on the successful path that she is today.
I can only assume that the encouragement and love of other people helped Kelsey in her journey to be persistent and not give up on who she is, and the gifts that she has to offer. I am so grateful for programs like the Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation program that employ caring staff, who truly want to see positive changes in their clients. Relationships in the community, like the manager of the Town and Country grocery store that hired Kelsey should be applauded. The opportunity in stocking shelves was enlightening, in that, it showed her that there is value in being an employee. It was that partnership with the vocational rehab program and the grocery store that allowed her to see that she was able to envision a brighter future for herself. I can only imagine the joy she felt after her internship, when the manager asked her to stay on as an employee.
After reading about Kelsey’s life experience, it gives me hope that anyone experiencing challenges, has the ability to live a fruitful life with encouraging, caring, and loving family and community.