Early in a phone conversation Kurt Dahlquist affects the kind of easygoing and bored nonchalance that young men tend to adopt, a tone that every parent recognizes, a tone that says, "Yeah, like, whatever."
But now, talking about his experiences while working as a student employee a few years ago in the Hutchinson WorkForce Center, the tone of his voice changes perceptibly. He can't quite stop the inflections of pride from creeping in.
"When I actually worked there, people would come to me directly. They'd actually look for me, and come to me to ask personally for assistance," he says. "I still have people who recognize me from working at the WorkForce Center, and they still come up to me in the street."
Kurt has spina bifida and uses braces and forearm crutches to help him get around. His initial referral to Vocational Rehabilitation Services came from the Pacer Center and occurred in 2005, just before his senior year at a charter school in Hutchinson. At first, he was a little reluctant to engage with VR.
"It just wasn't a big thing," he says. "All through high school I'd heard there was this agency that would be able to assist me in getting a job. But it wasn't a big thing until after high school."
Linda Larson became his VR counselor in 2007, a year after he graduated, and between them they set a course that included training in the computer support technician program at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson. "I'm kind of into computers and I found out I'm fairly good with them," he says.
In his second year at Ridgewater, Linda suggested that Kurt might want to consider getting a paying job while finishing his schooling. That's when the WorkForce Center job came up, and he worked there for a year with VRS and Central Minnesota Jobs and Training.
"It was going to be just something to put on a resume," says Kurt. "But it turned out to be a very good starting point for other things."
Kurt began working with Paulette Liestman, a VR placement coordinator, and began what would turn out to be a two-year job search. He had discontinued his training at Ridgewater College, but did enroll in the Elevate America Program at the WorkForce Center to build on his existing computer skills.
VR arranged for a nine-week, on-the-job training experience at the local library, where he was eventually hired into a permanent part-time position. In March 2011 Kurt was hired by Customer Elation, a call center, to work as a customer service representative.
That job lasted less than a month. But last December, Kurt found a job at Customer Elation that suited him much better: doing data entry and responding to customer email inquiries. He's working there full time, and still maintains his library job for a day or so each week.
"Now I'm on my own," says Kurt. "Now I have something to show for all the work. Now I have some experience. It's a job I like, doing IT tech support. And I do a lot of that in my spare time, too. Eventually, I'd like to get into it more professionally. For now, it's good."
Kurt Dahlquist received services at the Hutchinson office.