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Disability doesn't stand in way of gainful employment

Editor's note: this is the second in a series of articles highlighting October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

by Gail Marsh

ASSISTANT CITY EDITOR

Jean McGary has always had her own motto.

"If I try something and I can't do it, I can't do it. But I will also try other ways to do it until I get the job done," she said.

McGary, a Nutter Fort resident, recently received a statewide award for personal achievement from the Association for People in Supported Employment. The award recognizes individuals who have improved their lifestyles through meaningful employment.

"I've learned a lot from Jean and from the progress she's made. She's an inspiring individual," said Brenda Hellwig, director of Job Squad, the non-profit organization that works to provide job opportunities for people with disabilities.

McGary was born with a mild case of cerebral palsy that has affected the right side of her body. She had an operation to lengthen her right leg when she was young and she used to attend the Crippled Children's Clinic, but said that her childhood was mostly normal.

"My mother was a little protective, but my dad would let me get out in the garden and work with him and do about everything. They were afraid to let me go off to camp, but I got to play and swing and ride bikes like the other kids," she said.

She worked at several jobs after high school, including baby-sitting, and at part-time jobs at Hills, Mountaineer Mart and Food Lion. She also married her husband, Carl, and raised two sons.

Though she was limited when it came to lifting heavy boxes, she found a way to do about everything she needed to do on the job, she said.

"At Food Lion, I had to move the items over a scanner using my right hand, but I wasn't able to do that. I managed to do it backwards, but I got it done just the same," she said.

A problem with her foot led her to the Division of Rehabilitation Services after her regular doctor could not help. The division sent her to a specialist who diagnosed the problem, treated her and fitted her with a shoe insert that solved the problem.

"Most of my adult life I've not had any medical insurance, so I've tried to take good care of myself, but my right side has been affected. The Department of Rehabilitation has paid for my medical care, which has been very valuable to me," she said.

While undergoing care, McGary's rehabilitation counselor, Janet Underwood, told her about an opening at Le Print Express, a non-profit print shop owned by Job Squad. She was hired as a copy assistant in 1997 and eventually became store manager.

"They furnished me with a left-handed keyboard and sent me back to get some therapy on my foot. They've given me a lot of help to be able to do my job well," McGary said.

Part of her job at Le Print involved teaching and training other employees with disabilities. When the business closed earlier this year, Job Squad was able to offer McGary work as a job coach for other Job Squad employees who work in janitorial and grounds-keeping at the FBI's local Criminal Justice Information Services Division. She's currently doing on-the-job training to be able to coach the other employees.

"Jean has special insight for people with disabilities and she really wants the best for them. That's one of the reasons she took the job," said Lisa Marsh, director of rehabilitation for Job Squad.

McGary agrees.

"It's very rewarding to be able to work along with someone and help them get their production up. At Le Print it used to thrill me to see an employee get all excited about what they were able to do," she said.

McGary is also active at her church, Freedom Baptist, where she helps with Sunday school, serves as assistant Sunday school secretary and edits the monthly newsletter. She credits her faith in God with giving her the strength to be able to do what she does.

"That's why I say if it's meant to be, God will help you to find a way to do it," she said.

Assistant city editor Gail Marsh can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at gmarsh@exponent-telegram.com.

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