From Carroll County to Alaska

Ben, sitting at a desk, wearing a suite and holding a pen. There is a red and white striped flag hanging behind him.

OCTOBER 2024 - October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). NDEAM celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. During NDEAM, DORS is sharing some consumer success stories.

In 2013, Ben was attending Hannah Moore School at Glyndon, in a program with other students on the Autism spectrum, when a school staff member connected him with DORS.

He soon met with his first DORS counselor, who arranged for some evaluations and helped him create his Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE).

In 2014, as he was approaching his high school graduation, his DORS counselor encouraged him to attend community college. Ben is most appreciative of the support he received from DORS while attending community college. “DORS helped set up reasonable accommodations for me...I was interested in biology and that led to an interest in microbiology, so I took a lot of science and math classes…and I had a lot of success.”

He graduated with an associate degree in arts and sciences and then transferred to the University of Maryland at College Park, where he majored in Russian language with a minor second language education.  Of this ambitious program, Ben says: “My main plan with these majors was to go overseas to teach English. I had to get a special license, so I lived in a motel in DC attending school to get this license. I graduated with all three in January 2020. A year before this, I was contacted by an international company to teach in Moscow, but [COVID-19] and then the war in Ukraine put an end to all of that.”

When Ben realized that overseas teaching was not going to be an option, he thought: “Where could I go and teach?” He realized that there were a lot of Russian-speaking people in Alaska, so he decided to move to Alaska.

To save up for the move, he lived with his parents, found a job working 12-hour overnight shifts at a warehouse, and started an online business teaching English to foreign students. It worked because, “I saved up a lot of money!”

He then moved to Alaska and tried to continue his online teaching business but found out that the Chinese government had banned online learning. Once again, Ben adapted: “I found another job working as a night auditor at a hotel. This taught me basic accounting skills.

He then learned that in Alaska, if you have any bachelor’s degree that includes 30 accounting credits, you can qualify for the CPA exam. So, he started attending the University of Alaska and plans to get a post-graduate degree in Accounting.

In the meantime, he applied for another job, and by late 2022 was working as a payroll specialist for a nonprofit that helps children with disabilities. In this position, he handled payroll for 130-180 Alaska-based employees.

When we touched base with Ben this fall, he told us that over the summer, “I actually moved on to a much more advanced position at a different company for a higher salary and better benefits. I now work as a Payroll Administrator [and] handle payroll for over 500 employees in multiple different states. On top of that, [my new employer] is sponsoring my continued education and eligibility to obtain a CPA license!”

He was excited to share his continuing success story, and about working with DORS he said: “DORS was directly responsible for enriching my life and helping me fulfill my dreams through a world-class education, [providing] support for my struggles with OCD and Autism and giving me guidance and a path to a stable and successful career as an adult.”

“The moral of my story is that my career and education path was unconventional, and I had to recover from some major setbacks, that I’m finally at a place with immense happiness and potential with growth, and DORs played an instrumental role in that.”

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