You’ll often hear this saying from Business Manager Victoria Warren and the entire team at PRIDE Industries’ Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB-MDL) customer. And it’s no wonder why. Every day, Service Order Dispatcher Cathi Talbot brings a positive attitude and views her role as so much more than an occupation.
“I feel honored to work at a military base because it’s a way for me to thank our service members,” Cathi said. “They sacrifice so much to keep us safe. My dad and my brother served in the U.S. Marine Corps, so it means a lot to me to be able to support military personnel and show that I appreciate their work.”
Building New Skills After a Disability
Cathi’s job also provides a chance for her to learn new skills after unexpectedly acquiring a disability. In 2004, her 20-year career as a court stenographer was cut short when she experienced a stroke during surgery and fell into a coma. She woke up after a week, but her long recovery had just begun. Cathi went on to complete seven years of intense rehabilitation in a residential brain injury program.
“I had major problems with my short-term memory and lost my recollection of up to 15 years of my life,” Cathi said. “Through my faith in God, and thanks to my wonderful rehabilitation therapists, I was able to get most of my memory back—a big step since, when I began therapy, there were times I couldn’t remember if someone had just been in the room with me.”
With hard work, Cathi made so much progress that, in 2010, she decided to rejoin the workforce. After filling out many job applications, she turned to the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for job assistance. In 2011, her counselor there matched her to PRIDE Industries. And when a service order dispatcher position opened at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Cathi turned out to be a perfect fit.
Gaining Independence Through a Career
“Joining PRIDE Industries was like coming home,” said Cathi. “I love this company so much. After I started, I knew everything was going to be different.”
“Since this was a new job for me, I needed training,” she said. “However, verbal instructions were not as effective due to my short-term memory issues. I needed written step-by-step procedures. My rehabilitation counselor, Samantha Gralla, and my supervisor created those for me—always making sure to add new procedures as required.”
“Now, with these simple accommodations, I’m an expert at my job,” said Cathi. “It’s been different since I have been working from home during the pandemic, but I love saying a socially distanced ‘hello’ to everyone when I’m on-site.”
In addition to providing excellent service to our customer at JB-MDL, Cathi has also taken the time to directly support PRIDE Industries’ mission.
“Being able to regain my independence and build a career felt incredibly freeing,” said Cathi. “One of my proudest moments was when I earned the opportunity to go with PRIDE Industries to Capitol Hill. I met with 16 congresspeople to talk about the importance of job opportunities for people with disabilities.”
“For me, it’s significant to show what disability can look like. On the outside, mine is invisible. It’s important for others to not ‘judge a book by its cover.’”
Cathi always makes herself available to give support to others with disabilities, especially those who feel stigmatized.
“I wear mine like a badge. I have a disability but am not incapable,” she said. “I had to relearn many daily tasks at age 42, so I share my story to show others their potential. When I look back now, I cannot imagine doing the last 18 years any other way.”
Cathi’s outreach work earned her an award from the SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference in 2013. She continues to be an outstanding employee of PRIDE Industries and recently celebrated her 12th work anniversary. We thank Cathi for her excellent work and her important advocacy for people with disabilities.