Annual Breakfast Celebrates Success Stories of People with Disabilities

Jesse Sykes shares her story at the C. Odell Tyndall Legislative Breakfast.

Jesse Sykes shares her story at the C. Odell Tyndall Legislative Breakfast.

April 11, 2019 – Born three months premature, Jesse Sykes was not expected to live longer than 24 hours. At age 2, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy related to her premature birth. Doctors recommended she be put into a wheelchair, but her mother disagreed.

“My mother said if you put me in a wheelchair, I’ll never learn to walk because I was never given the chance to do otherwise,” Sykes said.

Thanks to her mother’s belief in her and the assistance from DHHS’ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Sykes went on to earn a degree in psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as a master’s degree in clinical rehabilitation and mental health. Jesse now works at Wilson Community College as a special populations coordinator.

Sykes’ story was one of many shared at the recent 24th annual C. Odell Tyndall Legislative Breakfast hosted by the National Rehabilitation Association’s North Carolina chapter. The breakfast brings together legislators to witness the work of rehabilitation professionals in advancing the personal and economic independence of people with disabilities. The event also features employers discussing the value of an inclusive workforce and what employees with disabilities have brought to their businesses.

“The work we do is about employment, and so much more,” said Chris Egan, senior director of Employment Services at DHHS. “Employment has a wide impact including the opportunity to get a paycheck, and resources means having more choices. When an individual with a disability is competitively employed, this will often have a very positive impact on others’ attitudes and can also strengthen a sense of self-worth. I want to thank those we serve for their tenacity and effort to overcome barriers to achieving employment.” 

Legislators also heard stories of other speakers, including a woman whose setbacks due to vision loss were addressed through the assistance of DHHS’ Division of Services for the Blind, and a man recently released from prison. 

Dorothy Frye said she went on disability soon after experiencing vision loss in 2006. It was devastating for someone who’d worked since she was 16. She was referred to a Division of Services for the Blind Mini-Center, where she learned skills that helped with mobility and socialization. Frye said she enjoyed working with the staff so much, she spent six years working with the North Carolina Statewide Independent Living Council. 

Arnold Booth was released from prison in July 2018. Upon release, he reached out to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services for help. Booth had been a barber, but needed a new line of work. The division enrolled Booth in the North Carolina Trucking Academy.

“That was the best thing I could’ve done,” Booth said. “I wish I’d have done it 20, 25 years ago.”

Arnold regrets the life events he missed while in prison but is thankful the division gave him a second chance. 

“It only takes one split second to change your whole life,” Arnold said.

Ryan Hill