Success Stories

May is Older Americans Month

May is Older Americans Month (OAM) celebrating the contributions of older workers and Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) has a specific focus on those with disabilities. 

It is a privilege to enjoy longer lives and careers but we also can experience the challenges of aging as it impacts our health and mobility. As member of our State Rehabilitation Council reminded us; all of us can experience disability at any point during our careers, sometimes temporary and sometimes not. 

It is part of the mission of Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) to help Iowans overcome the barriers they experience throughout their careers. Older workers can benefit from assistive technology to help with mobility, hearing, vision or other issues that can arise. This allows older workers to share their expertise and experience and provide a valuable resource in the workforce. It also allows older workers to participate and contribute to their communities and remain engaged and productive as they age.

IVRS has an Assistive Technology Specialist, Robert Hendrickson who is able to provide specific solutions for a variety of needs. Hendrickson also leads a state Assistive Technology (AT) cadre where staff have expertise in various areas of AT assessment.  Whether it is construction/building adaptations, transportation modifications or the latest technology with drones or software, IVRS AT is able to “make it work.”

Meet Mary

Driftless Journal Talks IVRS

See a story in the Decorah Public Opinion Driftless Journal about a truck modification that Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services Counselor Kayla Baxter assisted a job candidate with. Not only is this vehicle going to assist him in gaining employment, but it will help him become more independent in all areas of his life. The article is titled "Mandersfield is in the driver's seat" and can be found on the front page.

Read Driftless Journal Article

Mission: Employable with David Mitchell

Mission: Employable is a podcast about the workforce and opportunities within it. For their 14th episode, IVRS Administrator David Mitchell joined them to talk about the resources, programs, and services that IVRS provides to Iowans with disabilities. 

Listen to Mission: Employable Podcast

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Governor Kim Reynolds signs the proclamation for Disability Awareness Month and talks about the landmarks in vocational rehabilitation in Iowa.

Watch Signing of Proclamation

Seeking to make a 'positive difference'

See our Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services Dubuque Area Office Supervisor Jeanne Helling and staff featured in the October 2020 Dubuque Telegraph Herald Biz Times Magazine. See pages 11-16.

Read Seeking to make a 'positive difference'

Iowa Self-Employment Sparks Business Venture

fire starters next to a fireThis Iowa owned business is growing like wildfire.

JT FireStarters is a business started by an entrepreneur named Daniel, with help from Iowa Self-Employment (ISE), a program through Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services. During 2019 ISE helped 26 Iowa businesses achieve success! Cumulatively from 2015-2018, 125 businesses were successfully started, expanded or acquired with support from IVRS bringing new jobs to the Iowa Economy.

ISE Business Development Specialist Kochell Ricklefs said, “I have been involved with Daniel since the beginning. It is exciting to see this business still allowing him to do what he enjoys.”

JT Firestarters is located in Bellevue, Iowa where the firestarters are produced. JT Firestarters are a great way to light a fire in a fireplace, grill, wood stove, chiminea, home firepit or campfire!

Read Business Venture

IVRS Students in Ottumwa Interviews Tristan Wirfs

Many high school students dream of having a career as a professional athlete, and this year they had an opportunity to interview an Iowa athlete who was the 13th NFL draft pick to the Buccaneers in 2020 to learn what it is like!!

Students participating in Ottumwa Area Office Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) had the opportunity to have a “virtual” interview and meet Tristan Wirfs, who grew up in Mount Vernon, Iowa and played for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. In addition to his football roster of skills, Wirfs also has records in other sports and is a well-rounded athlete in multiple sports arenas.

Ottumwa Area Office Rehabilitation Counselor Patty Galván Ramos, said, “Our students were in awe and happy that Tristan took the time to answer their questions.”

The discussion focused on students identifying and working with their own personal team supports (could be a parent, family member, friend, mentor, teacher, VR staff - we all need help - find your support), finding their passion and working hard to persevere through the setbacks. Although we all don't become professional athletes and first round draft picks, we all have the opportunity through education and work to find our passion and work in an environment that engages and challenges us.

Watch Students Interview

Pre-ETS Programming Leads to Employment

Brenna working at the Vinton Lutheran Home's kitchen

Brenna working at the Vinton
Lutheran Home's kitchen

Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) had the opportunity to work with Brenna, a student from Benton County. She was referred by her vice principal in her junior year. Her VR counselor Paula Hill Pizano, MS in the Cedar Rapids Area Office worked with her individually and in small groups to complete Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) to enhance her job skills during the summer program.

When she graduated last year, Paula worked with the local Benton County Transportation to teach Brenna how to use the public transportation services to get to the Cedar Rapid VR summer Pre-ETS programming at the downtown Cedar Rapids Library. She was engaged and prospered in the program, and through assessments discovered her interest in cooking would make her a good fit for the health care on-site training (OST) program through Goodwill. She loved the dietary portion and earned her certificate last fall.

Paula and Brenna worked on her resume, reference sheet and interviewing skills. Her parents were engaged every step of the way and provided transportation to her interview with Vinton Lutheran Home.

Because of Brenna’s preparation and training process, the interview was a success and she began working part-time in the kitchen. She has done so well over the past four months, she was given more hours. Brenna enjoys her position and she even volunteered to come in for an extra shift for one of her co-workers (and earned an award).

Brenna’s counselor and parents are pleased with the employment success Brenna was able to achieve through IVRS and the Pre-ETS summer programming.

Community Connection: Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services


Students Learn Job Skills at Food Pantry

The IVRS Burlington Area Office was featured in the Community Action of Southeast Iowa Newsletter. Area high schools students who are learning job skills to prepare for the workforce attended the summer transition program and helped clean and organize the food pantry at the Burlington Neighborhood Center.

Read Community Action Newsletter

Bridget's Journey

James Smith, our Rehabilitation Counselor Transition Specialist has worked with Bridget since she was in high school. Bridget enrolled in a Careers and Transition program where she began participating in work experience while on an IEP (Individual Employment Plan). Her favorite work experience was at Home 2 Suites in Coralville, Iowa. 
She was hired through her work experience as a part-time laundry aide. IVRS coordinated Goodwill involvement to provide onsite job coaching to stabilize the job and improve work performance. This required close consultation with her IEP/Careers teacher, Goodwill, her Supervisor and Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS). Through this process, Bridget showed remarkable growth in taking ownership of her job and has become their Lead Laundry Aide. With guidance from Goodwill staff, Bridget was able to approach her employer to request a review and a raise – which was approved! 

Sioux City Area Office Counselor earns Work Incentive Coordinator Certification

Angela Young, IVRS CounselorAngela Young, Counselor in the Sioux City Area Office, has successfully completed the Community Partner Certification Process!

Angela is officially certified as a Community Partner Work Incentive Coordinator (CPWIC)!

She has put in a great deal of hard work and time to become certified and we are very lucky to have her expertise!  

Pre-Employment Transition Services in our Iowa City Area Office

Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) has an emphasis on providing Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) to high school students with disabilities to prepare them for future employment. This encompasses a number of activities in partnership with Iowa high schools.

Raequel Lewis, the Transition Rehabilitation Associate at the Iowa City Area Office, works with a variety of schools to provide Pre-ETS.​

Read Iowa City Pre-ETS Story

State Rehabilitation Council Hosts Legislative Reception at State Capitol

Lt. Governor Adam Gregg and Alex Watters at the 2020 Legislative ReceptionThe State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) held its annual Legislative Reception at the Iowa State Capitol Building on March 4, 2020.

The SRC provides an advisory role to Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) on policy and outreach. Members of the council are appointed by the Governor to serve a 3 year term. Annually the SRC hosts a Legislative Reception to share information on the return on investment of the State’s appropriation for Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) as well as offer a thank you to legislators for their support.

The Outreach Committee plays a key part in organizing and hosting the legislative reception to highlight the work that is taking place at IVRS.

“The Outreach committee for the SRC focuses on amplifying the great work that Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation is doing. Part of that communication and education is talking with State and Federal delegation about the work that IVRS is doing to employ people with disabilities into competitive integrated employment,” SRC Chair Alex Watters said.​

Read Full SRC Reception Article

Meet IVRS Counselor Kensie Channon

With a focus on deaf/hard of hearing, joining IVRS on September 16, 2019 as a Rehabilitation Counselor in the Des Moines Area Office was Kensie Channon. Kensie is a native Deaf Iowan from the Des Moines Area and a Vocational Rehabilitation recipient. Active in her community, Kensie is a member of a number of organizations outreaching to the Deaf Community in Des Moines and across Iowa.   
Kensie grew up in Des Moines with hearing parents and her deaf brother – ‘her biggest blessing.’ VR services began for Kensie while in high school and followed her through as she continued to achieve her educational goals, obtaining her Master of Arts in Social Work from Gallaudet University. While a VR Recipient she had a counselor who was Deaf and a counselor who was Hard of Hearing and she described this as the best part of her IVRS services. Kensie shared, “To have the connection, it takes more than just getting it. Similar backgrounds with language and culture will make the journey more effective.” After graduation, with guidance, Kensie found herself with the opportunity to provide the same services she received from IVRS, by becoming a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor serving individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing.​

Employment Tour Includes Iowa School for the Deaf Students

Students touring different employment opportunitiesShayla Stater, Rehabilitation Counselor in the Council Bluffs area office did an employment tour with Lewis Central High School and Iowa School for the Deaf. The group from both schools explored a variety of health care occupations during their time at CHI Health Center in Council Bluffs. Areas explored were sterile processing, food and nutrition, environmental services, emergency room and central supply. Each came away with a new awareness of what these STEM occupations involve.

The students were involved, engaged and asked questions about the careers CHI Health Center.​

Assistive Technology Puts Iowa Falls Man Back into Business

Mike Nissly (center) hosting an open house
for his business.

When Mike Nissly of Nissly and Nissly in Iowa Falls had a bicycle accident that left him paralyzed, assistive technology allowed him to return to his business. Vienna Hoang and IVRS Counselor Melissa Keen partnered with Easter Seals Rural Solutions to provide the equipment he needed. Mike has an agriculture business and a drone controlled by his phone allows him to get a close look at crops. An entrance ramp to the business and modified vehicle allows him to drive and the ATV gives him additional mobility in the field.

At an open house on August 19, Nissly demonstrated his assistive technology and ways he uses it for his business. Iowa Senator Annette Sweeney took the opportunity to learn more about the assistive technology by attending the open house.

Watch Nissly & Nissly, ES Rural Solutions & IVRS Video

Project Search Program

WHO TV covered a story about Project Search, a year-long program for students leaving high school and beginning their working careers. The segment features IVRS Counselor Travis Taylor from our Des Moines Area Office.

Read WHOtv Article

Iowa Hunting Products and Assistive Technology

Low Unemployment Opens Opportunities for Under-Represented Groups to Hire

IVRS Counselor Patty Galvan-Ramos made a television appearance on KYOU News in Ottumwa and served as a speaker at the Inclusion Drives Innovation event on April 25 and discussed how low unemployment opens opportunities for under-represented groups to be hired.

Read KYOU News Article


The Master Plan - Going for the Goal with Help from the Team

An Individual Plan for Employment (IPE) combines a person’s interests and abilities to help create a path to successful employment. All IVRS job candidates develop an IPE to help guide the services they receive. Sometimes there is a period of research to find those goals.

However Master Bush had a very solid idea of what he wanted to do. Master was very active in athletics and wanted to continue playing sports, and then to pursue a career in coaching. 

It was fortunate he was assigned to Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services Counselor, Steve Neuharth, who understood his passion for sports. Neuharth has his own background in sports and coaching. Neuharth said that provided a lot of common ground. 

Read The Master Plan

Transition to Community Employment

From left to right: Amanda Dunnick, Mid-Iowa
Workshops Job Coach; Rhonda Draisey, IVRS
Counselor-Marshalltown; Tammy McAnulty,
DHS Case Manager, employee Julie Propp,
and Keisha, Kwik Star Manager-Store #706.

IVRS has placed 20 individuals with significant disabilities in Iowa in modified "retail helper" jobs. Kwik Star sees a need for these modified jobs; it allows necessary work to be completed while freeing up time for guest services staff to focus on customers. Kwik Star/ Trip is known for, and takes pride in, their responsiveness to guests - the retail helper position makes this happen.

VR counselor Rhonda Draisey, in our Marshalltown service unit worked with Julie to gain employment.

"Prior to obtaining this job as a retail helper, our job candidate was working in a sheltered workshop, and had been for a number of years. She is 57 years old and had NEVER worked in competitive community employment," Draisey said.

Julie decided she would like to work at Kwik Star and approached the staff there herself. Once her employment goal stated, Rhonda worked with Julie and the staff at Kwik Star to make sure that Julie would be successful in her new position.

Read Transition to Community Employment

Narrowing the Gap

Connecting Food Industry Employers and Iowans with Disabilities

Emily and Christine Ha

Emily (left) and Christine
Ha (right)

November 14 at Des Moines Area Community College - co-sponsored by IVRS

Christine Ha came to Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) to talk about her experience of being a blind individual and winning in season three of Food Network's MasterChef, with Gordon Ramsay. Christine spoke to employers of hiring people with disabilities in the food service industry. She also recognized individuals who have not only gone above and beyond in this field, but who wish to continue exploring opportunities for additional training in food services.

Emily was honored at this event for her hard work and dedication in the classroom and vocational experiences. Emily went above and beyond in the food service industry by taking part in a summer long internship opportunity with Sodexo. At the end of this opportunity, she had so impressed Sodexo that she was offered paid employment, all because they did not want to lose Emily's expertise!

Emily now plans to finish her academic credits and enroll in Culinary school at DMACC.

Getting Information for the Transition

Michelle Neihaus wrote an article in The Hawk Eye about Sarah going to the Regional Transitional Resource Fair on November 28th and what her plans are after she graduates high school.

Read The Hawk Eye Article

A New Start with a New Career

Beatrice standing in front of the Prudential logo

Beatrice in front of the
Prudential logo

Beatrice is overjoyed to be working again at her new position at Prudential.

"I would have never considered applying there or going to work there after being off so long due to my disabilities," she said.

As a single mother of three who has been off work since 2011 because of her disability, IVRS Counselor Jason Rubel arranged and accompanied Beatrice to a Networking Event at Prudential.

Beatrice was provided with clothing assistance and participated in mock interviews and resume work. She did her homework - studying interview questions and proper responses and did some online research about Prudential to better prepare herself.

Read A New Start with a New Career

Brothers Market/ IVRS Business Partnership

IVRS Helping to Train Top Educators for Iowa Students

This story was written by the job candidate herself.



My name is Angela, and I was born with Cerebral Palsy. I began working with Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS) and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Youth Program during high school. These programs were able to assist me with college exploration, financial planning for school, and provide tools to be a successful student.

Shortly after enrolling in classes at Iowa Central Community College, I transitioned from the WIOA Youth Program into the WIOA Adult Program and continued my enrollment in IVRS. In collaboration, these programs were able to help me with some of the costs of my education and provided extra support during my time as a student. After graduating from Iowa Central Community College with my Associate's Degree, I transferred to Buena Vista University's Fort Dodge campus to pursue a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education. Through it all, WIOA and IVRS were still there to cheer me on.

Today, I have successfully earned a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education, as well as a teaching license with endorsements in reading and special education. I am currently a substitute teacher for the Fort Dodge Community School District, and am hoping to secure a full time teach position in the near future.

None of this would have been possible for me to accomplish without the help of these wonderful programs. Over the years, they've been able to assist me with tuition, books, transportation, clothes for an interview, and emotional support to encourage me to keep going. I truly can't thank them enough for what they have done for me!

A Lift Makes Career Dreams Possible

Jake in his van, demonstrating his lift

Jake in his van, demonstrating his lift

Jake was born with a congenital condition which left him without legs and only about one-third of his arms. But don't tell Jake that he has a disability, because he either doesn't know it, or wouldn't believe you if you told him!

IVRS began working with Jake in 2010, when he was a junior in high school. At that time Jake was interested in exploring careers in areas such as accounting, sports news casting, and teaching something in the sciences.

When Jake graduated, he decided to attend the University of Dubuque to become a high school science teacher. His rehabilitation counselor connected him with the IVRS Assistive Technology Specialist, Warren Larson, and with ICATER, which is the Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research.

IVRS assisted Jake with an IPad and made recommendations for apps and technology such as Dragon Dictate, Notability, and a Smart Pen. Jake excelled in college, and by the end of his freshman year was expressing an interest in wanting to increase his independence by learning to drive.

Read A Lift Makes Career Dreams Possible

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Printed from the website on June 23, 2021 at 7:27pm.