By Dave Tompkins
Just because an injury limits what you can do, it doesn't limit you. That is the life message you get when talking to Jim Brown, and it's one he knows all too well.
The Chicago native spent four years in the Air Force following high school and embarked on a series of careers after his discharge. From working at steel mills to management opportunities in manufacturing, he stayed busy and was doing well for himself-until the 2008 recession caught up with him. The housing market bust meant the small market granite manufacturing firm he managed had to let him go. While contemplating his options, he decided to keep a Colorado ski vacation date that he and his wife, Sue, set prior to the recession. The trip radically changed his employment options-and his life.
"I went out to ski early one morning," recalls Jim. "The snow was hard and cold. I took a 15-foot jump and zigged when I should have zagged."
Jim completed the jump, but his right ski flipped and rotated, causing him to roll 250 yards from his landing point. It also caused extensive damage to his leg.
"The lower half of my right leg was twisted," said Jim. "Basically, my tibia and fibula exploded. I lost six inches below my knee."
Jim spent almost three months recuperating in a Colorado hospital and then endured nine surgeries and rehab over the next two years to save his leg and learn how to walk. He also spent this time considering how his future might look.
"There was no way I could do what I used to do," said Jim. "All I had to rely on would be unemployment and disability. I would look at the ceiling wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life."
He decided to use the Illinois Veteran Grant to return to college and earn an Associates Degree in Business Management and Psychology. With the encouragement of Rochelle Chambers-Hyndman, a Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation (DHS-DRS) counselor, he discovered scholarships that allowed him to continue his education. With her encouragement and input, he graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Management.
"She was my cheerleader," said Jim. "She was very positive and reinforced that every decision I made was right."
Her advice and support was also needed as he entered the job market and learned how much the world had changed. Despite an excellent GPA and his work experience, he wasn't receiving job offers because of his age.
"As soon as they saw my grey hair, I could see it in their faces that they weren't interested," said Jim. "I could do anything a 19-year-old could do, but all they saw was an old man."
Rochelle met with Jim to review the interview process, the responses from his interviews, and hone his interview skills. Mostly she would encourage and prepare him for the next prospect. Through her support and his persistence, Jim was hired by Health and Family Services in the Department of Child Support Services as a child support specialist. He works for the Department of Child Support Services in the Joliet Regional Office.
"I try to make it a positive experience for the custodial parent as well as the non-custodial parent," said Jim. "Our job is to make sure the kids are taken care of."
To that end, Jim says he goes out of his way to help the parents feel positive and know that they will be taken care of. He ends each meeting by telling them to have a POSITIVE day-because how can anyone define a good day? For Jim, coming to DHS-DRS is one way.
"Had they not come in, my education would have stopped at having an associates," said Jim. "With them coming along, I was able to get my bachelor's and ultimately this job."
DHS' Division of Rehabilitation Services is the state's lead agency serving individuals with disabilities. DRS works in partnership with people with disabilities and their families to assist them in making informed choices to achieve full community participation through employment, education, and independent living opportunities.
To learn more, call 1-877-761-9780 Voice, 1-866-264-2149 TTY, (312) 957-4881 VP, or read about DRS Services. Refer yourself or someone else for services using the online Rehabilitation Services Web Referral.