The transition from high school to employment without an advanced degree can be daunting for any young adult, especially individuals with disabilities. Kristopher Arneson, 22, has a disability and successfully transitioned to PRIDE Industries four years ago.
Kris connected to PRIDE as a WorkAbility program participant. WorkAbility is a Department of Rehabilitation program administered through organizations like PRIDE, adult schools, and colleges. The goal is to help students develop skills that lead to gainful employment including direct work experience that ultimately leads to job placement. At the same time, the program works with employers to help them recognize the valuable contributions that individuals with disabilities can make in the workforce and their communities.
As a young child, Kris was diagnosed with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “When I was young, the ADHD was so severe, I was unable to speak,” says Kris. “I had speech therapy until high school.” His challenges include processing and retaining information. He refers to these as “glitches” in his processing system. “In school I could not solve problems or equations in my head because it either took too long – or the processing just erased.” His confidence suffered, and he was bullied enduring physical and verbal assaults. “All I knew was hatred towards my disability,” says Kris. “I never thought there was a place that accepted people like me.”
At 18, Kris began working in PRIDE’s manufacturing division doing packaging, assembly, and order fulfillment projects. Unfortunately, just a few months after he began work, Kris began having medical issues. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – a chronic condition that affects the lining of the digestive tract. People with Crohn’s can experience incapacitating symptoms often treated with medication or surgery; there is no known cure. Kris was hospitalized for several months after surgery while proper medication and treatment options were tested.
Once his condition improved, he returned to work at PRIDE. While working on the manufacturing floor, he recalls seeing the electronics manufacturing staff in their blue smocks. “I wanted to wear a blue smock with my name on it,” says Kris. “That was my goal. I wanted to get in there to work.” With his confidence still bruised from his high school experiences and his hospital stay, he doubted his own abilities. “What I am supposed to do in my life?” he wondered. “No one was willing to give me a chance. My teacher would always put me down and made feel like I would never achieve anything, so that was my mindset.”
At PRIDE Industries, Kris was given that chance. “My first job in electronics was manipulating metal,” says Kris. “You have to shape the metal for the desired design so that it goes on the computer boards correctly.” Kris excelled at his new work. “Since I began working with Kris, he stood out as someone who wanted to work at a higher level,” says Steve Hackett, Production Manager. “Kris has surpassed my expectations and continues to look for new challenges.”
Recently, Steve Hackett joined with case managers and electronics supervisors to create a mentoring program for individuals with disabilities within the Electronics department. Kris was the first person to participate in the program. “I couldn’t believe it,” says Kris. “This manager has confidence in me. That is something I never felt before.” Through the program, Kris has developed technical, planning and leadership skills, and is now monitoring the work of others in his area. Kris works one-on-one with his supervisor, Sornpit Khamsa, a PRIDE manufacturing technician.”Sornpit was the very first person who gave me a chance to grow. He’s really given me hope.”
As time passed, Kris began to notice a change in himself. “I started to realize that I felt safe at PRIDE. I did not have to be cautious anymore. Wherever I was, I was accepted.”
At PRIDE, Kris was given an opportunity to grow and develop skills to help him achieve his dreams. “The people I work with are just like me; the staff – they treat me with respect. They treat me like a human being not a person with disabilities,” says Kris. “When I am here, I am safe. I feel accepted.”
Kris’ goal is to become an electronics manufacturing lead and mentor other individuals with disabilities working at PRIDE. “I was in their shoes – and look at me now. I want to help others get to where I am,” says Kris. “I want to show them that they are accepted here and that there is no reason to be afraid. You are not going to get hurt here, and you are not going to be judged. You are going to be accepted.”
For 49 years, PRIDE has been creating meaningful opportunities for individuals with obstacles to employment. The opportunity we create through employment allows people too often excluded from the workforce to accomplish their personal goals and more; it changes lives.
When asked what advice he would give his 18-year-old self, looking back in time, Kris replied; “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and if you push yourself and surpass expectations, you can achieve anything.”