AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)– Easterseals of East Georgia helps families of adults with disability long-term old reasons like recovery from a traumatic injury, identify skill sets and find meaningful employment. Lynn Smith is the CEO of Easterseals, East Georgia. She’s been with us many times.

Jennie: “And Lynn, through you I have come to understand how important it is to accomplish those goals and meaningful work from the stories you shared about your brother.”

Lynn: “Certainly, you know, as you’ve mentioned, he’s kind of the impetus for all that I do. But he had a disability, was developmentally delayed, had autism. Growing up in the 50s and 60s and observing the things that needed to be done for him as far as preparing him for life, made me realize that I needed to work for an organization that helps people with disabilities become independent and seek independence in their lives. So it’s a process for us, but we see it work as a very important feature of that development. And if someone has an outside work activity or vocational pursuit, that’s going to lift them up and make them feel more valued and give them a sense of belonging in the society. So that’s kind of what we work for everyday, to build that independence and build that drive to be part of society.”

Jennie: “That is so important. It’s such a great mission. And the way that I sort of think of it to myself, and this again is just from what I’ve learned from you over these years. I look at it as the school systems that address special needs and that work with children all the way through their school years. But then what happens after graduation? What is the safety net or the next step? And I feel like maybe for young adults, Easterseals can come next.”

Lynn: “When my brother was coming along, my parents were told that he probably should be institutionalized because they didn’t feel there were the supports in the society available. But luckily over time, education systems evolved, recognized what kind of supports they had to provide. And then organizations like Easterseals stepped in and analyzed the situations of these individuals and realized all the different kinds of supports that might be necessary to work and to function in their community. So then you’re absolutely right. We do a lot of work with young adults who we call transitioning from high school into job, life, college, technical school, whatever that is because those gaps need to be bridged. The schools do a great job in preparing but there’s some areas that you kind of just have to do in order to understand how these processes work. I sometimes describe it for some families and for some students, they get wonderful preparation up to a point. And then they kind of sorta feel like they fall off a cliff or sometimes I call it fall into the couch because they’re not exactly sure how to handle that next step. And that’s where we come into play. We do assessments, we provide training, we provide job coaching, we provide access to community partners that will hire young people and other adults with other types of disabilities to give them a chance.”

Jennie: “You’re going to be going to make sure they’re going to do the work that they can manage. And then the training has to do so much for confidence and giving people the confidence that they can hold a job.”

Lynn: “Absolutely. We try to be very careful in those situations because you don’t want to set people up for failure. A lot of individuals that have disabilities kind of carry with them some sadness. I don’t want to use the term baggage but sort of that is an appropriate term. Because they’ve dealt with bullying sometimes. They’ve dealt with failure sometimes because they don’t have all the skills necessary. And what we try to do is create a kind of a safe environment to learn where success is most important, is paramount. And we try to match people accurately with different types of jobs that we know they can handle. So they can do just, as you said build that confidence and then blossom really ’cause that’s what we see a lot happening. Once that success kicks in, then the willingness to try new things and explore new things is launched, and that’s very important.”

Jennie: “I think that it’s important too, that, you know, you don’t have to be born with this disability. That can happen in life through different injuries, like a TBI or an amputation. And you’re there for that as well.”

Lynn: “I think sometimes people don’t realize the breadth of what disabilities are. You know, that can be anything from a learning challenge to a mental health issue, alcoholism, loss of vision, loss of hearing, the significant effects of diabetes and accident, like you mentioned a TBI. There are many many things that can happen to a person as they develop in life that can create a situation where they do indeed have a disability or an inability to do a daily life activity. And we kind of come in and assess those situations. A lot of times we work with people that have to shift from one type of a job because they simply cannot do all the aspects of that job anymore. And they may have to have the job augmented which is something we can help with, or they may need to switch to a completely different type of work activity. And we can make recommendations about training and the things necessary. Technology is a wonderful device in this process. Some things we never had 10, 15, 20 years ago that we can use in the workplace to help individuals perform tasks that they might not have been able to do before. So we have to be on top of the technology piece as well and include that in our assessments of how we can help people move forward.”

Jennie: “And goodness knows in this pandemic year, technology has certainly helped all of us learn to keep doing our jobs. We’ve learned a new respect for technology in a lot of ways, haven’t we?”

Lynn: “You know, I’ve gone up and down with my love affair with Zoom and all these things, but you know, in the end it’s been a wonderful tool. You know, I’m one of these people I like to make lemonade out of lemons. I really do. So, you know, this whole experience has made us expand our thinking, think outside the box. We started out just like everybody else with some difficulties connecting with clients, but we kind of did adaptations like Easterseals does all the time. That’s one of the things we are. We can be a chameleon. We can adapt with our environments very well. And we’ve tried to do that over the years. And especially this year, it has been challenging but we’ve also learned some pretty wonderful things about what we can do. We can reach out much better to our rural communities now because we’ve become much more adept with Zoom and the virtual contact. So we’re very excited about that ’cause we were hoping to really connect with people on a broader basis through the virtual platforms.”