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Success Stories

Cutting hair and building a sense of community: Mason City man opens barber shop through IVRS self-employment program

Making a positive impact one hai

September 06, 2023
Cassii opening the door of his businessMaking a positive impact one haircut at a time is what motivates Cassii Calaway, owner of Kutz by KZ, a barber shop in Mason City. Cassii opened his own shop with the help of the Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) Self-Employment program.Cassii began barbering in 2014 right in Mason City. After discovering he wanted to learn more about men’s and ethnic hair textures, Cassii enrolled at the American College of Hairstyling in Des Moines. IVRS provided assistance throughout Cassi’s time in Des Moines and when he moved back to Mason City after graduating in 2015.“When I moved down to Des Moines, their team of staff helped me out a lot,” said Cassii. “But IVRS helped me the most when I moved back up to Mason City. Sue’s great.”IVRS Rehabilitation Counselor, Susan Faber, helped Cassii with his goal to complete cosmetology school once he returned to the Mason City area. Faber provided clerical support in paperwork, computer operations, and some tuition assistance to Cassii. Once Cassii completed his certifications, it was time to decide what was next.Taking Cassii’s entrepreneurial spirit into consideration, Faber introduced Cassii to the Iowa Self-Employment program.“We were both thinking, ‘Now what?’, and the self-employment program interested Cassii,” said Faber.Faber and Cassii began working on paperwork, getting proper licenses, and making sure Cassii met the requirements to open up Kuts by KZ. Faber commended Cassii for his willingness to ask for help when needed and follow through with suggestions she gave.“He had his own accountant and attorney. It was a really smooth process.”Kuts by KZ specializes in men’s and children’s haircuts. Referring to himself as a traditional barber, Cassii likes beard work and “nice clean lines.” Each year, Cassii offers free haircuts for back-to-school and visits older individuals for in-home services. He will attend Mason City’s annual back-to-school block party and provide haircuts as well.Since attending barber school, Cassii has loved teaching his peers different hair-cutting techniques. One of his goals has always been to operate a barber school. Luckily, Cassii found just the right person to teach: his brother.“I was really excited about my brother wanting to learn from me. I like the idea of having a family business,” Cassii said. “I always put family first. You have to respect where you come from; it makes you who you are.”Cassii working on a client's facial hairCassi’s core values guide his business plan. Along with a family-friendly approach, Cassii believes in the act of perseverance through all of life’s battles.“There are always people who will doubt you in the process of starting a business. Don’t listen to them,” Cassii said. “Failure is part of success. With determination, you can achieve almost anything.”Cassii is passionate about his business and always strives to make his customers smile. The IVRS self-employment program helped him achieve his goal of finding a job he loves. He can now make people smile while making a living.“Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation is a great organization, they’re willing to help people. Everyone needs help, whether you want to ask for it or not,” Cassii said.Watch Success Story VideoLearn More About Self-Employment
From batter to bliss: Isaac’s path to becoming a baker

Baking treats

August 03, 2023
Isaac Ruow scooping batter onto cookie sheetsBaking treats for people is what Isaac Rouw enjoys most about his job at Cup of Joe in Cedar Falls. His journey as a baker started when he worked with the Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) team to attain the counseling needed for his job. He participated in the work experience program through River Hills School, which is a program that helps high school students with disabilities learn new skills, become familiar with the workforce, and build post-secondary educational goals through local opportunities.Isaac joined Cup of Joe in Cedar Falls for his work experience program during his senior year. Cup of Joe is an espresso bar that features coffee beverages, pastries, and weekly music and game night events. When Isaac’s work experience with Cup of Joe ended after he graduated, they offered him a position in May 2022.  IVRS rehabilitation counselor Lewis Litzel assisted Isaac with his transition from the work experience program to official employment with Cup of Joe. IVRS provided Isaac with shirts and aprons for work and connected him with a temporary job coach from Inclusion Connection to ensure support was available if needed.Isaac has autism and is primarily nonverbal, but he finds other ways to communicate. He brings a communication device to work and he has learned to navigate the work environment through speaking one or two words at a time to his coworkers.During his work experience at Cup of Joe, Isaac primarily washed dishes as he assisted with tasks at the bakery. Once he was hired as a baker, he started baking cookies every day. One year later, Isaac is thriving at Cup of Joe and is an essential part of the Cup of Joe team.“He has been an absolute joy to work with and he is always in a good mood. Isaac is very proud of his work and makes others better. He is always focused on his work and he keeps others on task. Isaac is great at checking on supplies and letting us know if something is running low,” explained Leah Franck, the manager of Cup of Joe.Isaac’s dedication to his work at Cup of Joe has helped him grow. Dawn Wilson, the owner of Cup of Joe, has known Isaac since he was young and observed his baking skills over time, recognized his potential, and advocated for his employment at Cup of Joe. Through his work at Cup of Joe, Isaac has not only proven his passion for baking, but has positively impacted the work process and business as a whole.“I just think Isaac is such an amazing gentleman and that I am the one who has the privilege to be able to work with him and have him work at Cup of Joe. Isaac has made our business a better place, and I hope he’s with us forever,” said Dawn.  Isaac and Tyaan RuowIsaac’s story goes beyond his individual achievements. It highlights the importance of a supportive network, demonstrated by his family. Tyann Rouw, Isaac’s mother, played a crucial role in nurturing his passion for baking and cultivating his skills in the kitchen. The support provided by Tyann, her husband Chris, and Isaac’s siblings has been instrumental in his career journey.“Anytime I did anything in the kitchen, he was interested. He started out by doing things like stirring and putting batter in the pan. As he got older, he started learning ownership skills by being in charge of the timer. That morphed into him taking the cookies off of the cookie sheet and continuing to progress from there. He really liked to take ownership and control of things in the kitchen. He also likes loading and running the dishwasher, really all of the components related to working in the kitchen,” explained Tyann.Isaac’s dedication and the inclusive environment at Cup of Joe have contributed to his personal growth and job satisfaction. His consistent enthusiasm for work is evident in his eagerness to come in every day and highlights the importance of meaningful employment. Isaac’s contributions to the team extend beyond his baking skills; he has become part of the Cup of Joe family, appreciated by coworkers and customers alike.“I am proud that he holds a job, is super independent at work, and is happy to go. He never has to be woken up or encouraged to go to work. He's always ready. The people at Cup of Joe have been so welcoming: Dawn and her staff, the customers, and especially the regulars. He's valued as part of the team. When I pick him up, people will say, ‘you’re Isaac’s mom!’ and that’s cool. When I ask Isaac if he likes working or if he loves it, he always says, ‘love’. Most people don’t really love their jobs, but he does,” explained Tyann.Isaac’s journey demonstrates the great potential that individuals with disabilities bring to the workplace when given the opportunities they deserve.
Reaching a lifelong goal: Humbolt woman gets ordained with help from IVRS

Helping others has always inspired

July 14, 2023
Denise LindemannHelping others has always inspired Denise Lindemann, who found her calling as a chaplain at St. Croix Hospice. Lindemann, a Humboldt resident, was able to finish seminary and get ordained with the support and resources from Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS).Denise’s favorite aspect of her job is spending time with patients. Her main responsibilities include driving to see patients around the various hospice locations, playing music for them, and just addressing whatever concerns they may have in a difficult transitional period.“There really is a power of presence,” said Denise.Prior to contacting IVRS, Denise served as a pastor for a small congregation in North Iowa. Although she enjoyed this job, she worried about her job stability. In order to evolve in her current career and maintain stable employment, she needed to get ordained.Denise decided she would finish seminary, a feat she struggled with in the past due to a reading disability. Denise applied for services and soon received support to reach her goals. IVRS Supervisor, Brian Warner, began working alongside Denise when she first began receiving services in 2018. He assisted Denise in searching for schools to attend. Notably, Warner used assistive technology and helped Denise convert seminary books into audiobook format to best accommodate her situation.Seminary books aren’t easy to come by, so they are harder to get on tape. “The big thing was getting the books on the computer so I could listen as well as read. I just found it very helpful,” said Denise.Sarah Dokken, Mason City rehabilitation associate also worked closely with Denise. They met virtually throughout 2020 and 2021 but eventually had the chance to meet in person. Denise also participated in the Older Workers Employment Program (OWEP), working closely with Marsha Harmonson. OWEP is a division of the Elderbridge Agency on Aging, which provides resources and employment support to older Iowans seeking to join the workforce past the traditional retirement age. Services include vocational assessments, job-seeking skills, job orientations, and more.IVRS also helped Denise relocate to Humboldt upon getting hired, providing a U-haul truck and other necessary moving services. Warner praised Denise for her willingness to persevere regardless of any setbacks she may have encountered. After seminary, the placement process can take a few years to complete. Ordination is a long process and requires various steps, but in December 2022, Denise finally found her perfect fit at St. Croix Hospice.“Denise has the perfect temperament for a clergy setting,” said Warner.“It made me smile knowing we could help her achieve this goal to help better herself.She got to this place where she was finally happy and just knowing I could be even a small part of that makes me happy,” said Dokken.“IVRS gave me support and encouragement. They walked with me through this journey,” said Denise.

Featured Story

From job candidate to vocational counselor, meet Doug
August 03, 2023

At Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS), we are pleased to share a variety of stories and the journey of our job candidates in finding meaningful employment. We have assisted numerous Iowans with securing jobs in which they have been able to flourish–as carpenters, information specialists, entrepreneurs, and more. However, it is something special when we are able to place those who use our services with our own agency.

Douglas has been a vocational counselor out of our Des Moines Area Office since December of 2019, but his history with Vocational Rehabilitation goes much…

Doug working at his computerAt Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS), we are pleased to share a variety of stories and the journey of our job candidates in finding meaningful employment. We have assisted numerous Iowans with securing jobs in which they have been able to flourish–as carpenters, information specialists, entrepreneurs, and more. However, it is something special when we are able to place those who use our services with our own agency.Douglas has been a vocational counselor out of our Des Moines Area Office since December of 2019, but his history with Vocational Rehabilitation goes much further back. After earning his GED, Doug owned an antique store and ran a bed and breakfast on Lake Superior. Once he sought out Vocational Rehabilitation services, Doug was sent to Northern Iowa Vocational Center (NIVC) for training.Soon enough, he was hired onto NIVC’s team and worked there for over 10 years while he completed his education. Where Doug had once struggled to complete a high-school assessment, he earned his associates degree in psychology from Mason City Community College, his bachelor’s degree from Buena Vista University in psychology, human services, and organizational management, as well as his master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Drake University–all with exemplary grades.“Voc rehab helped me through the whole thing. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” says Doug.Doug is a phenomenal example of how much of a difference using our services can make in one’s life. But although IVRS was able to provide accommodations and services for Doug, the true defining factor of his success was his motivation to take control of his career and his life.“When I meet with a job candidate, I like to let them know that I was sitting right where they were sitting, that I have disabilities, I have anxiety, but I make myself do it anyway. It's just how bad do I want it?” says Doug.Doug is dedicated to IVRS’s mission and believes in the success of each individual job candidate that he has the pleasure of working with. He continues to be a great asset to the team and we are grateful for his sustained efforts.Through working at IVRS and being a person with disabilities, Doug aspires to help destigmatize disability services and encourage job candidates to advocate for themselves."If I’m humiliated and won’t share, how can I expect my candidates to learn how to ask for accommodations, to learn how to go out in the community and advocate for themselves?” says Doug.

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Iowa Vocational
Rehabilitation Services

510 East 12th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319

Phone: 1-800-532-1486

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