Disability does not discriminate; it can affect anyone at any time through illness or injury. Hilary Vail, a PRIDE Industries job coach, was left with a permanent physical disability due to an injury. Overcoming initial, everyday challenges was just the beginning of her life with disability.
Hilary’s life changed in the blink of an eye after taking a fall. Soon after, she was laid off from her job with a local nonprofit. “My life completely changed, and I could not believe it. It was a shock. I did not expect to fall down the stairs.”
As a single mother of two young boys, Caleb (12) and Nate (9), she knew her family was counting on her. Hilary sought vocational and physical rehabilitation to help her overcome the new challenges. While working with the California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), she decided to go back to school. Hilary enrolled in a health care training program to become a certified billing and coding specialist.
“As a single mom, I needed to provide for my kids,” says Hilary. “I needed to find something with stability and room to advance.” It was easier said than done. After graduation, Hilary found it nearly impossible to land a job in the field without a minimum of six months of hands-on experience. Hilary was devastated. “I kept applying; I even offered to volunteer – and nothing.”
In May 2014, Hilary began working with PRIDE Industries’ Employment Services including attending Job Club meetings. Job Club provides an opportunity for individuals to gain hands-on interviewing and job-seeking practice. Participants learn new skills and receive help in conducting a job search, along with other employment-related training. Hilary was also assigned a PRIDE job developer and job coach to help her in the search.
“After months and months of doing a job search and working with Debbie Tomlinson, a PRIDE job developer, and Brian Edwards, a PRIDE job coach, I began to get discouraged,” says Hilary.
Hilary has significant mobility and physical restrictions due to her disability. There is no surgical cure. Currently, treatment consists of painful cortisone shots and ongoing physical therapy.
Despite her physical limitations, Hilary aspires to lead a typical life and provide for her two boys.
In March 2015, an opportunity became available for Hilary at PRIDE: an internship in the Employment Services Department at PRIDE headquarters.
PRIDE Industries’ Employment Services Internship Program helps individuals with disabilities enter, or re-enter, the workforce. The Program offers up to 250 hours of paid work experience supported by generous donations and grants to PRIDE Industries Foundation. Through the internship, individuals gain resume-building experience while working in a supportive environment.
Hilary excelled in the internship; it was a perfect fit for her skills. Halfway through the Program; a permanent job coach position was offered. Hilary was ecstatic. Finally, this was the opportunity she needed. “I learned so many new skills,” says Hilary. “Meeting new and wonderful people; I could not be happier.”
She became a PRIDE Industries employee in April 2015. “Hilary has learned the skills of job coaching and assessments,” says Debbie. “Hilary is supporting our clients with employment preparation services – just as she did.”
As a job coach, Hilary works with community clients on her caseload. She provides employment support services and helps people with disabilities improve their skills on the job. Some of the individuals she supports were in Job Club with her. She finds that having an established relationship is an advantage in assisting them, however, for Hilary it feels natural. “I love being able to help,” says Hilary. “That is something that was in me all along, and I like it.” Currently, Hilary has six individuals on her caseload.
Hilary no longer relies on others for financial help. “My kids and I were able to get our own place. I get excited paying my rent,” says Hilary. “To me, it means freedom. I can do it all on my own.”
Stories like Hilary’s remind us that life can change in the blink of an eye. Importantly, we are reminded that we have the power to control our own destiny when provided with support and opportunity. We’re glad that Hilary found her place at PRIDE.