Brian Denny didn’t think he could go back to work after he sustained a high level spinal cord injury (C3-C4).
Unable to move his upper or lower body, Brian uses a power wheelchair that he manipulates by blowing into a straw-like device called a sip and puff. It takes patience and determination, something that Brian has in great supply.
“Brian was hurt on the job while he was working at a building supply company,” recalls Niki Ostrander, his counselor when Brian came to VR to apply for services.
“Brian was very anxious to get started with the program,” she says. “He was unsure what he would be able to do but he knew that he could do more than he was.”
The struggle to make employers understand what he was capable of, however, wasn’t easy.
“I had not worked since the accident but had been applying to lots of companies,” says Brian. “I always got turned down at the interview because the company thought I wouldn’t be able to do the job duties.”
Ostrander encouraged Brian to let VR work with him.
“I told Niki that she probably wouldn’t be able to help me, and how discouraged I had become trying to do it on my own.”
Brian kept thinking “if I could just get someone to give me a chance, I know I could do it.”
He remembers Ostrander simply saying, “That’s why we’re here.”
During this time, Charley Weston, founder and president of Guardian Fence Suppliers, realized the housing market was growing again and needed to add staff to grow with it.
Weston is a member of Business Networking International (BNI), a professional networking group with a chapter in Columbia. At a BNI meeting Weston met Joe Burns, president of Joe Burns Heating and Air and a long time friend of Brian Denny.
“Joe told me about Brian and encouraged me to contact him,” says Weston. “I thought about it over the next few weeks, but it honestly scared me.”
Weston didn’t want to meet Brian and then have to say no, or hire him and have it not work out.
A short time later, Weston was at a Home Builders Association meeting where he met Reggie Murphy, manager of the Business and Employer Services Team of the Midlands Workforce Development Board.
“I started talking to Reggie about my conversation with Joe,” says Weston. “I told him I was thinking about hiring this guy that Joe had recommended, and told him a little about the guy.
“Reggie immediately said ‘Brian Denny,’ and I said, ‘how did you know?’”
Murphy, who also knew Brian, encouraged Weston to get in touch with Brian. This time Weston made the call.
“Brian and I met over the next few weeks, and came up with a plan that we both thought would help Brian ease back into the workplace at a comfortable pace.”
Based on Brian’s previous experience in construction and sales, Weston decided to hire Brian as a sales representative. The position would require both data entry and phone work, so Ostrander called Stephen Marshall, Business Development Specialist for the Midlands, to help set up a Skilled Workforce Apprenticeship Training (SWAT) for Brian.
The SWAT allowed Brian to learn the position and gave Weston the opportunity to see if Brian could really do the job, and to see if Brian would be happy doing the job.
Meanwhile, Murphy, who is familiar with VR services, had also contacted Marshall to discuss types of assistance that Weston might need, such as rehabilitation technology or disability awareness training.
“The Midlands Workforce Development Board has a strong collaboration between partners, and members work together and make referrals to each other based on each individual agency’s mission,” says Marshall. “Reggie gave me Charley Weston’s contact info and I immediately scheduled an appointment with him and Brian to discuss how rehabilitation technology could help.”
Joe Anthony, a member of VR’s Rehabilitation Technology team, met with Brian and together they came up with a list of tools Brian would need to succeed, including an adjustable height desk, phone system, adjustable laptop riser, and a mouth stick mounted to his desk which Brian uses with an iPad to control the laptop and phone.
During the second half of Brian’s apprenticeship, Weston decided to bring in a customer relationship management (CRM) software package called Zoho.
“I didn’t know how to use it myself, but I immediately recognized its potential to increase our business,” he explains. “Brian ate it up.”
Weston realized that Brian knew the software better than anybody. “So I asked him to be my ‘Zoho Czar.’”
This opportunity led to Brian’s promotion to a sales management position at Guardian. “Now I’m training the staff how to use the program.”
Brian is also getting ready to start a program where he will make sales calls to customers that have not been active, generating new business, explains Weston.
“None of this happened by accident,” says Weston. “I had to make it a point to get over my fears and take a chance on Brian.” VR’s SWAT and Rehabilitation Technology gave Weston the chance to see what Brian could do and alleviated his fears about hiring Brian.
“I encourage other business owners to give someone like Brian a chance,” he says, “because it turns out I had nothing to be afraid of.”
Weston once asked Brian, “Why did you want this job?”
Brian answered without hesitation, “I want to contribute. I want to do something, build something.”
That desire is just one of the many things that Brian Denny and Charley Weston have in common.