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Success Story

Written by Brenda Criswell, Vocational Rehabilitation Employment Specialist, Iowa Department for the Blind

“My mission in life is to make a difference in someone’s life and use my experiences to help guide me,” says Gloria Graves, who at a young age in life already has many valuable experiences and lessons to share. Let’s take a journey back in time and meet this vibrant young woman who has a real purpose for living.

Early in life, Gloria was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive eye condition that results in blindness.  Gloria was 14 years old when she first came to the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB). She became involved in the Transition program designed for blind youth, and participated in their summer camps and weekend retreats. Through this program she was able to enhance the basic skills of cane travel, Braille, home economics, and money management, all of which inspired confidence-building.  When Gloria turned 19 she became a full-time student in the Adult Orientation and Adjustment Center, a residential training program at IDB. She continued to perfect her alternative skills of blindness and after eight months of training, she successfully completed the program.

Her involvement with the Department did not stop when she left the Orientation Center.  Gloria went on to work as staff of the Transition program she had originally attended as a student. She has many fond memories, one of which includes a trip to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, where she and the group went white water rafting, mountain climbing, and camping. She said it was a great experience and the chance to do something she had never done before.

Her journey then took her to Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), where she spent a year and a half taking courses to help plan for a career. The next two summers she once again served as a Staff Counselor in the Transition program. Gloria worked in a variety of capacities, as the Home Ec. teacher, house parent, and overnight staff. As a house parent, she was in charge of two girls and assisted with a variety of tasks including, teaching them how to iron, make beds, vacuum, clean, and do laundry, to name a few. She documented all of this through the use of her Braille Note and computer, skills she obtained in her training at the Orientation Center.

In January of 2010, Gloria decided to take another leap of faith and journey into new territory. She became a full-time student at Drake University. She decided to major in Psychology and Sociology. Her dedication was strong and her passion to work with people continued to grow. One of her greatest volunteer experiences was working for the Iowa Homeless Youth Center. This program enabled her to put her people skills to good use and she focused her efforts on the Aftercare program, which involved kids who had aged out of foster care. They ranged in age from 18 to 21 years old. Gloria was immersed in helping them with job readiness skills, obtaining housing, college planning, and public transportation, and ultimately getting a job. This was a life changing experience and one she will remember forever. She will graduate from Drake in December of 2012, and now plans to further her education by going to graduate school. She is hoping to attend the University of Iowa where she will major in rehabilitation or mental health counseling.

As if all of this isn’t enough to keep this 24 year old busy, she recently got married, and is very happy. Gloria says she married her best friend and married life is great! Her latest venture outside of school is starting a peer job club for not only blind persons, but other young people who are looking for work. She is the co-leader of this effort and their first meeting will be the spring of 2012. They are promoting it by advertising on their Facebook page. Plans are in the works for mock interviews, guest speakers, etc. as well as dinner meetings where people can relax and discuss the fruits of their labors. Gloria is excited about this new venue and feels the road ahead is looking very promising. A bright future for a bright young lady!