A Slip in the Rain Changed His Life

William Garnaflo photo

Dunnellon, FL – A simple slip in the rain sent William Garnaflo down an unexpected path to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and Counselor Patricia Harrison. That slip broke his elbow, and in an instant, took away his ability to use his hand and arm freely. He couldn’t comb his hair, he couldn’t put on a jacket, and he went into a depression for two years. “It’s just the small things that you take for granted,” says William. “It’s amazing how not having stable footing can change your life in an instant.”

Fortunately for William, a friend of the family knew about VR and sent him searching for help. “As someone who had all of my abilities up until five years ago, I hadn’t heard about VR.” But after a few phone calls, he was assigned to VR Counselor Patricia Harrison, who immediately saw that William could benefit from the VR program. “When William came to us, there were a lot of things he couldn’t do,” says Patricia. “But he told me that if you’ll just get my elbow straight, I’ll do whatever you ask me to do because I really, really want to work. And the great thing about William is that’s exactly what he did. Whatever I asked him to do, he did it, and he worked hard on his rehabilitation.”

William returns the complement saying, “Patricia was a dream counselor. She went above and beyond in dealing with the doctors and the paperwork and making sure everything went smoothly for me. She was perfect, and she made it possible. She really went to bat for me.”

It wasn’t easy for William to find a job once his rehabilitation was complete, given today’s economy. He moved home to Orlando, thinking the opportunities would be better in a larger city, but what he found were more people applying for the same few jobs. He moved back to Dunnellon, determined not to stop looking until he found a job, walked into the Two Rivers Inn and, literally, was hired on the spot.

He is now the Resident Manager of the small, restored hotel where he lives on the property, and his job is to make sure his customers have an exemplary stay. William likes to think of himself as an ambassador for Dunnellon each time he gives visitors suggestions for what to do and where to go while  in town. He has turned the hotel around and helped make it the number one-rated hotel in Dunnellon.

When asked how VR changed his life, William is quick to respond, “It gave it back. I sat for two years without a purpose, but now I make a difference every day. To have something that you take for granted every single day taken away and then to get it back, it’s priceless. It was my privilege to have the opportunity to do these things for myself. It changed my life.”

William’s goal is to move up in the hotel business, and his five-year plan is to one day own the Two Rivers Hotel. He says that there is nothing set in stone just yet, but he and the current owners have been discussing it. “There’s something to be said for living the American Dream and having the opportunity,” he says.

In that vein, William would also like to give back to VR and help spread the word about the great work it does for people with disabilities. “I take each day as an opportunity and when you have the go-get-it approach, the outcome is what you make of it.”

William also wants to convince more business owners to give people with disabilities a chance. He plans to participate in VR’s On-the-Job Training program, a program where VR reimburses employers for the trainee’s salary, training costs, and any accommodations needed. It’s a win-win situation for both the business owner and the employee. He would like to give someone else the same opportunity he was given, when he has the chance.

Throughout her career, Patricia has worked in jobs that involve helping people, and she has worked for VR for five years. She says that it is very gratifying to have someone like William come up to you and say, “Thank you for what you did for me.” It makes coming to work each day very satisfying, and she feels that she has a purpose.

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 111 offices across Florida, and last year helped 5,018 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.