Frontline Initiative Diversity
Happily Employed With Help from DSPs
Hello, my name is Milena Petrocek and I was born the day after Christmas in 1958, in Tuzla, Bosnia. Fifteen days after my birth, I developed a very high fever. The illness went undiagnosed and its cause was undetermined until three years later when a doctor diagnosed me with meningitis. At this point, some permanent damage had already been done, which requires me to use a wheelchair and limits my ability to use my hands.
Growing up in Bosnia, I was surrounded by a loving family and many caring friends. I felt entirely included in my community. To me, it was a beautiful life and usually I didn’t feel handicapped at all. I went to school in a hospital and was helped with school work by my mother, a teacher. Because of this continuing support, I was able to succeed in high school. However, after I graduated from high school, my life became somewhat boring as I stayed at home while everyone else in the family went to work. There were no programs in place that would offer transportation or employment opportunities to people with disabilities. Often my daily routine did not require me to even change out of my pajamas.
When the Bosnian war began, my parents and I happened to be in the United States visiting my brother. We decided to stay away from the violence and begin a new life here. Immediately, I started missing all of my friends left behind in Bosnia. I couldn’t speak English at all and felt very isolated due to my disability. I wanted to work and do something that would take my mind off the people that used to be in my life. Because of my experience in Bosnia, where people with disabilities are not typically employed, I didn’t really believe that I would get a job. But Owobopte, a company that specializes in finding employment for people with disabilities in Eagan, Minnesota, thought otherwise.
I first went to Owobopte in October of 1994. The company evaluated my work abilities and direct support professionals trained me to develop job skills. Shortly after that, I served in a five-day-a-week position at Owobopte as an on-site production assembly worker. I was elated, and the happiness showed in my upbeat attitudes and strong work ethic. For me, the job took away much of my loneliness and gave me new strength to reach even higher. I was already learning English through watching TV, and I took English classes in the evening for two years. As my job skills and spoken English improved, my new goal was to work in the community, which Owobopte immediately supported. The help from Owobopte and my perseverance paid off when I got a job at Best Buy as a Media Supply Specialist. I was ecstatic when my interviewer said “Welcome aboard!” The direct support professionals at Owobopte then gave me several days of one-on-one job coaching to help me get comfortable with my new position. My supervisor at Best Buy now tells me that I am doing a great job.
I love to work. I love contributing to my community and enjoy the things that a job gives me. Still, I would like to find another job in the community that would bring me up to 40 hours of work per week or even a little more. Although I always miss Bosnia and the people I left behind, I could never go back now. I could not work in Bosnia! While I love Bosnia, I would not give up my jobs and a whole new life here in the U.S.