Justin Carlson describes himself as a huge sports guy. He plays softball and coaches his church softball team. He plays basketball and golf. He likes working out, and often takes his puppy, Kobi, to the field to fetch.
He pays close attention to the Twins, Vikings and Timberwolves, and travels to the Twin Cities when he can to watch his favorite teams play. "I like making people laugh," he says. A lot of people still call him "JC," which is how he was known at Duluth Central High School, but he says now, at age 26, he prefers to use his given name.
Justin was born in Korea and adopted by a Duluth family when he was an infant. He had recently completed his liberal arts studies at Lake Superior College in Duluth when he was referred to Vocational Rehabilitation Services.
He has some physical disability, related to cerebral palsy, along with a mild speech impediment and learning disabilities.
For two years Justin had worked as a part-time janitor at the college, and then as a part-time, work-study employee at the college bookstore. Now he was in danger of losing his job because he was no longer a student, and therefore no longer eligible for the work-study program.
Margaret Stanwood, a VR counselor in the Duluth office, discovered that bookstore managers were willing to keep Justin as a full-time staff person, especially if he received some additional training.
Justin was very eager to continue full-time at the bookstore, so together Margaret and Justin developed a plan to receive special skills training, using funds from the federal stimulus program to pay for an internship.
A Duluth community rehabilitation program called Trillium Works stepped in as the employer of record, and Justin completed his internship with a new set of transferrable skills that would apply not just to a bookstore job, but also to other jobs in the community.
During this period, VRS also enlisted the help of Access North Independent Living Services to address some of Justin's independent living concerns.
When the internship ended, Lake Superior College was in the midst of a budgetary crisis and eliminating a number of staff positions. Justin's job was one of the casualties. In the meantime, however, Justin had started a part-time job, with very limited hours, as a dietary aide at the Chris Jensen Health and Rehabilitation Center in Duluth.
With the confidence and skills he had developed during the internship, Justin felt comfortable discussing expanded long-term employment options at the nursing home. With financial assistance from VRS, he received training to become a certified nursing assistant he now works at Chris Jensen full time, with benefits, earning enough money to move out of his parents' home and into his first apartment.
Justin says, "It was all amazing. Everyone did an amazing job helping me to fulfill my future." He's living independently and earning a regular paycheck and beginning to think about his long-term plans. He figures he'll to go back to school some day and maybe study to become a nurse, or maybe something else. He's not totally sure. But he's definitely hopeful about his future. That much, he says, is certain.
Justin Carlson received services at the Duluth office.