Sept. 6, 2005
By Erin Roberts
WOUB/PersonnelPlus employee Holly Kasler recently received a national award for personal achievement from the Association for Persons in Supported Employment (APSE). The award, one of three presented nationally, was presented this summer in Mobile, Ala., during APSE's annual conference.
Kasler, a resident of The Plains, was born Feb. 16, 1981, with spina bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down. According to Kasler, doctors informed her parents that she had a 50 percent chance at survival. Today, at 24 and after eight surgeries, she works at WOUB in the public information office as an office assistant. This was made possible in part by Personnel Plus, a division of ATCO, a sheltered workshop in Athens.
"Twenty-four years ago, I had a 50/50 chance of life or death," Kasler said. "To come this far, to have a job and get this award means a lot."
Personnel Plus Plan Coordinator Steve Koch says Kasler has definitely come a long way in just a couple of years.
"I believe Holly has grown in such a way that she has become a person that truly makes decisions about where she wants to go in her life," Koch said. "She takes the initiative to call me to tell me about what she wants in a way that shapes her future. I think she has matured a lot."
APSE was formed in 1988 to improve and expand integrated employment opportunities, services and outcomes for persons experiencing disabilities. According to its Web site, supported employment enables people with disabilities who have not been successfully employed to work and contribute to society.
Kasler was named a national recipient of the APSE award after becoming the state winner in May. She attended the national conference in July with Jessica Street, OULN operations supervisor. Kasler received state grant money to offset the cost of the trip to Alabama and employees from WOUB donated money as well.
Not only did the trip represent the first time Kasler had been on a plane, it also was the first time she traveled without a family member, the first time she rode a roller coaster and the first time she danced. For Street, Kasler's designated personal care assistant, the trip was a testament to the kindness of strangers.
"Ultimately, this trip revived my faith in humanity," Street said. "There are so many people out there who are willing to help others at the drop of a hat. From the point Holly was originally nominated for the state-level award to the time that I dropped her off from our trip to Alabama, people were lending a hand in any way possible."
According to Koch, Street and other WOUB employees are the very people who have catapulted Kasler into the spotlight.
"The Telecommunications Center deserves recognition for making it such a supportive working environment," he said. "In our field, when we look at the situation, we are always looking for natural supports, people who are not paid to come on to the scene and make the situation supportive. I couldn't be more pleased with WOUB."
Carolyn Bailey Lewis, director of the Telecommunications Center, says Kasler has been a welcome addition to her staff.
"All of us at WOUB are pleased that Personnel Plus sent Holly to us," Lewis said. "We are extremely proud of her accomplishments on the state and the national levels and delighted to be a part of her progress. Holly fully exemplifies what one can achieve in spite of the daily challenges."
Koch says Kasler was an obvious choice for this year's nomination for the supported employment award.
"I think it's fantastic that Holly won the national award," he said. "We always make an effort to nominate someone in each category. Holly was hands down our choice. We feel she is very deserving."
Kasler's national recognition may have finally convinced her of her ability to make a difference in the workplace.
"In your mind, you don't think you've done this good of job," she mused. "But an award like this shows that you have."
Indeed, Kasler has had an impact on many of her co-workers in the past three years.
"Holly didn't understand why I thanked her for the experience, but it made perfect sense to me," said Street. "Watching her give her acceptance speech was the most moving encounter I have had in years. At home, in the office, and simply as a person, Holly has demonstrated that no matter what we've done in the past, we can always improve ourselves."
To learn more about APSE, please visit www.apse.org.
Erin Roberts is external relations coordinator for the College of Communication.