Riding High with Vocational Rehabilitation

Jacksonville, FL – The list of Jose Maestre’s disabilities is a long one. He has “…four herniated disks in my back, herniated disk disease, 14 surgeries on my right knee, [it was] rebuilt twice, chronic pain. I became totally disabled in 2004 and couldn’t work or do physical activities, so I gained weight and was over 600 pounds at that time.” But that didn’t mean Jose gave up his goal of working again.

Jose came to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) in 2010. Unfortunately, he started having problems with his illness. It got worse in 2011, and Jose ended up in the hospital on life support for a few days. “I became dehydrated, so the pain meds that I was taking became toxic to my system. They didn’t think I would make it,” he says. He did get out of the hospital. He got off the meds and became determined to make it.

He contacted his VR counselor, Kelly Harbert, and she helped get him motivated and back on track. He started going to the YMCA three hours a day. VR paid to have his van modified for his wheelchair so he could get out of the house. They paid for special shoes to help his mobility. “VR made it that much easier for me to become productive again,” says Jose.

Kelly introduced Jose to Melonese Elliott from Helping People Succeed, and she worked with him, helping him attend job fairs and look for a job. “I must have sent out 50 resumes; I was determined to be employed,” says Jose.

Jose was hired by Convergys but he started out too quickly for his health. He was working full time, and it became too much for him. He then went to work for Apple, where he could work from home. VR bought him a special chair for him to use in his home office.

After a short time working from home, Jose realized that it wasn’t a good fit, and he wanted to get out of the house. He wanted to be with people. He used his prior work experience and what he had learned from Kelly and Melonese to find a job with Liberty Tax Services.

Jose is starting slowly this time and working part-time, so he can get used to it. He goes to the office every day. “Larry Goodwin is the owner, and he has been very helpful in recognizing the fact that I’m disabled, and he’s made it very comfortable for me,” says Jose.

Jose is very happy with his new company, “I plan to be there quite awhile. I get to use my Spanish, and I recently passed the IRS certification test.” Jose is a tax preparer and a bi-lingual agent preparing business and personal taxes. He also helps people who speak Spanish with their paperwork and has applied to be an IRS acceptance agent.

Kelly enjoyed working with Jose and says, “He was really a good person to work with. He did his part and was determined to work.”

Jose is glad that Melonese, Kelly, and VR were there for him. “It’s been a trial process getting back to work. The good thing was that I had people who kept saying ‘give it a shot’ and that made a difference. People weren’t negative; they were really positive. Melonese was always there for me. Kelly was instrumental in getting the things I needed to get back to work. If it wasn’t for their help and the program, I wouldn’t be functioning today. I’d be at home popping pills or in the grave.”

Things are looking good for Jose. “I’m doing excellent. I’ve avoided the doctors. I feel great. I am no longer diabetic. I was literally reborn the minute I got out of the hospital. I now use a scooter and got rid of the wheelchair. Had it not been for the state program, I probably wouldn’t have done this. I am not off of social security, but I am headed in that direction.”

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 6,071 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.