Until the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services entered
the picture, 29-year-old John Martin was working on a farm in
Calhoun County and living in a makeshift home, a two-room shack
with no bathroom and a sheet of plastic as a back door. The
television and heater were plugged into an extension cord that
was strung from the main house.
“I liked working at the farm and I liked the people there,”
he said. But his landlady believed life had much more to offer, even for a man with a mental disability. She contacted Keith Dear, a counselor in the Anniston VRS office. Dear knew John’s situation was far from his “maximum potential,” and learned that he was interested in moving into town and finding another job. Dear enlisted the involvement of the Opportunity Center and the ARC – long-time ADRS community partners in Anniston – and together they developed a plan to change John’s life.
The ARC located an apartment John could call home and began teaching him skills he would need to live on his own, such as doing his laundry, grocery shopping and managing his money. Meanwhile, Opportunity Center caseworker Roy Roberts enrolled John in classes that would train him for a new job. He then approached Fred’s, a local store, about hiring John. “It was a perfect match,” said Roberts. “John really wanted to work and the folks at Fred’s were willing to give him a chance.” At the beginning, it was just one day a week, with Roberts working alongside John as he learned his routine as store custodian. “We tried John a little bit at a time and found out he could handle the work,” said Fred’s manager Kay Allevato. “He did so well we gave him more hours and more duties.”
It’s been a year now, and John still relies on ADRS, the Opportunity Center and ARC for support from time to time.
“We consider ourselves John’s extended family,” said Roberts, “advising him on health, family and money issues. But he is on his way to independence and I’m real proud of him.”
When he’s not cheering on the Alabama football team or watching movies at home, John spends his free time taking part in Anniston Parks and Recreation programs. They have introduced him to activities like bowling and volleyball and have taken him to destinations like Stone Mountain in Georgia.
For John Martin, it’s all part of a trip that began as a short ride from the farm to the city, from life in a shack to a new world of possibilities.