How to live independently after you graduate from college
Panama City, FL – Kristen Gusmus was born with arthrogryposis, a neuro-musculo-skeletal disorder that affects various joints in the body. By the time she was two years old, she’d had seven surgeries along with multiple rounds of physical therapies. Doctors told her parents she would never walk. Young Kristen took that as a challenge and today walks wearing braces and using a walker for short distances, only using a wheelchair for long distances. "That’s basically how I am," says Kristen. "You tell me I can’t do something, so I do it."
Kristen is an independent woman, living on her own and working full time as a financial sales representative in the lending department at Tyndall Federal Credit Union. If you’ve called to apply for a loan recently, that energetic, young woman you spoke with could very well have been her. Kristen received help and guidance along her career journey from Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), a state agency that helps people with disabilities find or keep a job.
Kristen first learned about VR when she was a senior in high school. VR Counselor Pam Cramer worked with Kristen to decide on a job goal and the services she would need along with way. Kristen’s parents bought her a mini-van, and VR provided the vehicle modifications so she could drive for the first time on her own. VR also helped her purchase an electric wheelchair. Although the Bright Futures scholarship covered the majority of her college tuition, VR helped pay for her other school expenses. Kristen also worked outside jobs to earn extra spending money.
After graduating in August 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, Kristen immediately began looking for a job in her field. Within a month, she was working at the credit union. Having a full time job was the last piece of the puzzle in Kristen’s independence. She’s totally independent now, living in her own place and employing a part-time caregiver to help, driving on her own, and working at a good job. "I love living on my own," she says.
The long journey with Kristen has been absolutely worth it to Pam. "Kristen was a fantastic client. We worked together for a little over five years, she never complained, and she always did everything she said she was going to do. Kristen was just a regular college kid going to school, and now she’s reached her job goal. I’m so proud of her."
Kristen encourages other people with disabilities to find their independence. "There are ways that you can become independent. You just have to find them and do it. I would never have been able to drive or finish school debt-free without VR."
Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation program is committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America’s workforce. Our employer-focused website, FLJobConnections.com, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 80 offices across Florida, and last year helped 6,523 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit Rehabworks.org.