FloridaTrend.com, the Website for Florida Business

Overcoming Challenges

If you face a health crisis or unplanned pregnancy ... If you dropped out of school and are not working ... If you're homeless or have a criminal record ... it may be more challenging for you to complete your education and training or to make it on your own financially.

Don't let challenges limit your potential. Understand that each challenge you overcome is one step closer to beating the statistics. Read on to learn how other young Floridians have overcome obstacles to complete their education/training and achieve independence.

Having a disability doesn't mean disabled

At 24 years old, Nate Quillen was at the top of his game. He was a pro golfer with nothing standing in his way until a vehicle crash left him with a major spinal cord injury and a doctor's prediction that he'd never walk again. Even with successful treatments and therapy, it was clear to Nate that his years of golfing professionally were over. He turned to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) for help. "I enrolled at the University of West Florida … VR provided my tuition and books and gave me a gasoline allowance."

After graduation, Nate's next challenge came when he didn't get accepted to med school. He turned back to VR, and with their support, he applied and was accepted to Marshall University in West Virginia as one of 12 students in the master's program for forensic sciences. In 2010, Nate completed his degree and began working as a toxicology analyst for Premier Tox in Kentucky. Despite dealing with a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatments later in 2010, Nate excelled in his position and was promoted to a team leader role in 2013.

Nate attributes his career success to VR's continued support. "I don't know where I'd be without that program. I had a void, and I'm fortunate VR helped me fill it."

Florida's Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program
is committed to helping people with disabilities become part of the workforce. VR has 80 offices across Florida, and in 2012 helped 6,523 Floridians with significant disabilities find or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call
1-800-451-4327 or visit Rehabworks.org


Two babies and two degrees. It can be done.

In 2010, Hannah Deese was a high school senior when she discovered she was pregnant. Her dream of having a traditional college experience was shattered, and Hannah struggled with disappointing her family. But she didn't allow herself to dwell on the negatives — Hannah is an overcomer.

With her Bright Futures eligibility, academic scholarships and a part-time job, Hannah was able to pay for college. During her junior year, she had a second child, but she's still on schedule to earn her degree in May 2014 from the College of Central Florida.

"I know I am extremely blessed to have supportive parents, and not everyone can say that," says Hannah, "but the bottom line is this: You have to be determined to get through it, not only for yourself but for your child as well. If you don't have a family network, look to a church or civic group for help. Don't be ashamed or afraid to ask ... just be willing to help someone else in return one day."

If you are a young, single parent without a support system like Hannah had, the Florida Department of Children and Families can provide some assistance with childcare so you can attend classes. Financial aid is available for students in need, and the college you choose to attend may have specific programs and assistance for your situation.

Training and volunteering provide a chance to overcome past mistakes.

Jonathan Kuefner made some poor choices at the age of 19 that led to his arrest. Adjudication was withheld, meaning the judge provided a second chance for him to overcome his mistake without an official conviction. It was still difficult for Jonathan to find a job.

Jonathan, now 23, enrolled in Phoenix Rising II Youth Build, a 16-week learning service program for older youth struggling with employment barriers.

Half of Jonathan's time was spent in the classroom earning his GED and working on employability skills. The remainder of the program involved building homes through Habitat for Humanity.

When he graduated from Phoenix Rising, Jonathan enrolled at the College of Central Florida (CF) to pursue an engineering degree. While attending college, he began volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and after four months was offered a paid position there. His job with Habitat enables him to hold down a full class load, including physics, as he works toward a degree in mechanical engineering. He never thought college was an option.

"This program was great, it's what got me working here and going to school … It was a real self-confidence booster," says Jonathan. "I thought the world looked down on me because of my background. They really helped me pull myself out of the hole I was in."

Many career centers offer Beyond Barriers workshops to get people of all ages started on the pathway to employment despite background issues.