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From Heavy Lifting to Human Resources

In Featured, Stories, Ticket to Work Articles by Priscilla Matthews

After working nearly 9 years at Land o’Lakes, Lori tore her rotator cuff lifting a heavy bag while working. She was in her 50s and had always worked physically demanding jobs, often lifting heavy bags for 12 hours a day. After her work injury and surgery she wasn’t sure what she’d be able to do. Unable to do the physically demanding work she’d done all her life, Lori began working with the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to explore other career options. DVR provides services to people with disabilities to help them achieve their career goals. While working with DVR, Lori applied for and began receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

It Was a Real Challenge

“I was in my 50s and didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was a real challenge,” Lori says. She worked closely with her DVR Counselor before deciding to go back to school to become a human resources professional.

For two years Lori commuted from her home in Black River Falls to Eau Claire, where she attended Chippewa Valley Technical College. During this time she did a lot of soul searching. She loved school and learning new things. She had to learn how to use technology, something her younger classmates seemed naturally good at. But she had awesome study buddies and found she actually liked using technology and learning how it could help her to do her job better.

Some of the Best Years of Her Life

Lori looks back on her years in school as being some of the best in her life. She says, “I loved school. I like learning. If I can go back to school and start a new career in my 50s, just about anyone can do it.”

Ticket to Work: Increasing Financial Independence

After finishing school and establishing a stable career in Human Resources, her DVR Counselor suggested that she participate in the Ticket to Work (TTW) program. TTW is a program designed to help people who receive SSI or SSDI and who want to work off receiving their cash benefits. Her Counselor gave her information about several TTW service providers, and Lori chose to work with Employment Resources, Inc. (ERI).

Sarah Geller, ERI’s Ticket to Work Program Manager, began working with Lori to increase her financial independence. Sarah provided Lori with benefits counseling services and set up voluntary tax withholdings from her SSDI payment. Two years later, Sarah continues to serve as a resource to Lori when she has questions about her benefits and says, “It’s a pleasure working with people like Lori who are determined to reach their employment goals. Having access to accurate benefits information and services provided by the Ticket to Work program can provide just the right amount of support in helping someone like Lori increase their income, move off of benefits, and achieve their work goals.”

Perseverance Pays Off

Lori is a very positive person who loves learning and helping others see that change can be a good thing. But her journey hasn’t always been easy. Immediately after school she found a job in human resources but had to commute 2 ½ hours each day. She also grieved the death of a loved one.

Lori persevered, and eventually was able to find a human resources job just 10 minutes from her home. “What you plan for isn’t always what you’re going to get done,” she says, “and you can’t always get everything done in one day.” Lori is learning new things every day, and loves her job.

Words of Advice: “Change Can Be a Very Good Thing”

On a day off you might find Lori in a canoe on a lake, fishing, or sitting with a cup of coffee just enjoying a sunny day. After many years of unexpected changes and challenging situations, she enjoys her life and looks forward to more opportunities to learn and grow. When asked what advice she would give to someone else thinking about making a career change, she says with a smile in her voice, “Yes, you can do it. Change can be a very good thing.”