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Rehabilitation Council of Texas 2014 Annual Report

Success Stories

Stephen Ellis


A Success Story

Stephen Ellis


Stephen Ellis of Lewisville, now 21, was diagnosed with epilepsy and encephalopathy as a young child. When Stephen began his last year of high school, he came to the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) and met with Kelly Holloway, a Division for Rehabilitation Services (DRS) vocational rehabilitation counselor (VRC) to receive assistance in finding employment after graduation. Stephen did not have any technical skills and wanted to find an internship to help him build confidence and become employable.

Stephen believed he found the right fit when he learned about the DARS Project SEARCH, a unique program that provides real-life work experiences to help youth with significant disabilities make successful transitions from school to adult life. This collaborative effort between DARS, businesses, high schools, and state VR services lets students spend their last year of high school in on-the-job training with a host business. The experience allows student interns to work alongside employees and obtain marketable skills for the real world.

“Stephen was a joy to work with and assist throughout the VR process,” VRC Holloway said. “He received ongoing support and reached his goal of finding employment through his work with the DARS DRS, Quest Employment, and Lewisville Independent School District. Although we had some challenges along the way, Stephen was able to overcome obstacles related to his disability and enter the workforce successfully.”

Before he participated in Project SEARCH, Stephen had no work experience. During the program, DARS provided him with job assessment, counseling and guidance, job coaching, job placement, and transportation assistance. Stephen started an internship with the Medical Center of Lewisville. His outstanding work led to full-time employment after his high school graduation.

“Stephen showed tremendous growth throughout his rotations as a Project SEARCH intern,” Scott Miller, Stephen’s job coach, said. “He excelled during his rotation in environmental services. The hospital management and staff quickly acknowledged his drive and determination to perform his tasks professionally.”

Stephen is thankful for the support he received from DARS, DRS, his VRC, and his job coaches at Project SEARCH. He remarked, “Just work hard and have fun doing it!”


Chauncy Cobos


A Success Story

Chauncy Cobos


Chauncy Cobos of McAllen was 21 years old when he became a chef ’s assistant, an important step toward his life-long dream of becoming an executive chef.

The road to his goal didn’t always go smoothly. He began taking classes at South Texas College in pursuit of a culinary arts certificate, but he quickly felt ill-equipped to be a successful college student due to his disability.

Chauncy’s parents wanted to see their son succeed, so they turned to the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS). His DARS Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, Gabriela Martinez, knew Chauncy could do better in college with a more extensive support system and referred him to Project HIRE (Helping Individuals Reach Employment) in Hidalgo County.

Project HIRE helps students with developmental disabilities, between the ages 18-25, to complete a certificate-level degree at South Texas College and find employment. The program is a $1.25 million five-year grant awarded to DARS by the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities.

Once Chauncy was accepted into Project HIRE, he began participating in a seven- week summer bridge program to prepare him for college and employment. He became part of a support group of peers facing similar issues, and he excelled in the program. Once his college classes started, the program gave Chauncy one-on-one support from educational and job coaches, assistive technology, and mentoring from business volunteers to help him identify and achieve his employment goals.

Chauncy’s hard work at South Texas College and with Project HIRE paid off. He made friends and good grades, something his parents feared might never happen. Through the assistance he received from Project Hire, Chauncy made tremendous progress as he increased his independence, determination, and advocacy skills.

In May 2014, he graduated from South Texas College with a certificate in culinary arts. After the ceremony, Chauncy, his family, and the entire Project HIRE team were invited to take pictures with Dr. Shirley Reed, president of South Texas College. It was an emotional moment for all who were involved in Chauncy’s success.

Following Chauncy’s graduation, he worked with the Project HIRE team members to get a job in the culinary field. He began working as a chef ’s assistant for Sodexo in Edinburg, a big step toward his dream of becoming an executive chef. Chauncy is happy about his success and about the changes that DARS and Project HIRE brought to his life, stating, “If it weren’t for Project HIRE, I’m not sure I would be where I am today, and I am very grateful.”


Jessica Naert


A Success Story

Jessica Naert


Jessica Naert of Denton, now 25, was diagnosed with Retinitis pigmentosa as an eighth grader. She lost over half of her peripheral
vision, but she was determined that her disability would not hinder her ability to fulfill her life-long dream of helping others.

Jessica eventually moved to Oklahoma to attend the University of Tulsa
to become a deaf education teacher; however, her struggle with vision started to affect her studies, which made her reconsider her career.

Jessica needed help with her visual impairment, and one of her professors referred her to vocational rehabilitation (VR) services in her home state of Texas. She met with a Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Division for Blind Services (DBS) VR counselor (VRC) to receive orientation and mobility (O&M) training to help her in college. However, after Jessica returned to the University of Tulsa, she quickly discovered that her vision loss was a huge obstacle. She decided her true calling was to help people with disabilities transition into independent citizens. After moving back to Texas, Jessica began working with VRC Aurora Hernandez. She had already received O&M training and felt comfortable using a cane part of the time but not all the time. Her O&M instructor was patient and understanding and made Jessica realize the she was capable of managing without a cane in certain situations.

Jessica was inspired by the energy and passion VRC Hernandez put into her job. She started to think that a job as a VRC might be the perfect career. “I loved working with Aurora, and with her assistance, I transferred to the University of North Texas (UNT). I had always been passionate about working with people with disabilities and decided to change my major,” recalled Jessica.

Jessica, who was accepted into the rehabilitation studies program at UNT and eventually became president of the North Texas Rehabilitation Association, said, “I realized then that this was the field I was meant to be in and decided to obtain my master’s degree as a certified rehabilitation counselor.” Because of her O&M training, Jessica was able to get a guide dog to help her increase her independence. DARS also provided her with assistive technology to help get through her academics.

After graduation, Jessica began working as a transition VRC at the DARS Division for Rehabilitation Services (DRS) Denton field office. “I get to work with individuals with disabilities and help them find work,” Jessica said. “I have a sense of fulfillment from doing what I love and from supporting myself.”

“Without the support of DARS and my VRC, I wouldn’t have been able to reach this point and really, I wouldn’t have even known it existed,” Jessica said. “I am so grateful. I am fulfilled and in love with my job.”