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Resident honored for vocational success

December 2, 2018

HUNTINGTON — A registered nurse for the Cabell County Health Department in Huntington was honored by the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services for exemplary vocational rehabilitation success at its annual Ability Works Recognition Ceremony on Oct. 18 at the state Culture Center in Charleston.

Sally Johnson was selected the 2018 Ability Works award winner from the Huntington District, which serves Cabell, Lincoln, Logan, McDowell, Mingo, Wayne and Wyoming counties. The awards are presented each October during National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Johnson says she used her own determination to persevere in starting over at the age of 55.

She grew up in Huntington and graduated from Huntington High School. She went on to Ohio University for pre-nursing courses and ultimately earned her nursing degree from Marshall University.

But, according to Johnson, “I was in addiction, we call it substance use disorder now, since I was 12 or 13. It started with drinking and smoking some weed. After that, it was something every day. My sobriety date is Dec. 3, 2010.”

Johnson says she was going through a recovery program at HER Place, an addiction recovery center for women in Huntington, and she was encouraged her to apply to the Division of Rehabilitation Services, or DRS. She was interested in becoming a recovery coach, and DRS helped her receive on-the-job training with HER Place. She worked through them as a recovery coach at Cabell Huntington Health Department. The on-the-job training was supposed to turn into a full-time job, but their funding fell short.

Johnson said she had a lot of past work experience as a registered nurse at several different hospitals, but she had lost her nursing license due to her substance use disorder. In 2011, she started working toward getting her license back when she wrote her first letter to the state licensing board.

“I found out that it was possible for me to get my license back,” she said, and DRS assisted her along the way.

Johnson had to complete training modules, including computer classes, because she had been away from the field for so long. She also had to seek services from an addictions counselor. She says DRS helped pay for both the training and counseling services.

She is still working on getting reinstated as a nurse and is under a three-year contract, which allows her to work in the field. Her experience as a recovery coach at the health department provided her with the opportunity to get to know the nurse supervisor and the other people who worked there. So, she said when a position became available, she was quick to apply, and they gave her the chance she was seeking.

“I enjoy the versatility of the job the most, getting to work in the department’s five different clinics, which include the areas of immunizations, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases, family planning and harm reduction,” she said.

Johnson says she believes trying to get her license reinstated has been her greatest employment challenge, and she credits Anne Moncer, her DRS rehabilitation counselor, with helping her learn the importance of structure, patience and listening to others.

“She taught me those things through preparing me and getting me ready for work, for employment,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t have done it without her. She was a very integral part of my recovery.”

Her biggest life challenge, though, is finding a way to balance everything that she needs and wants to do, including work, family, friends and her recovery.

“My recovery comes first because, if I don’t put my recovery first, I’m going to lose it. Then I’ll lose everything else that I’ve worked so hard to get and that’s been given back to me,” she explained.

Johnson says she believes prayer and a support group of good friends, who hold her accountable, to be her biggest motivation through difficult times. She said she is most proud of her sobriety and of her children and their accomplishments. She’s also grateful that everything she’s been through has taught her humility.

“Personally, I just want to continue learning and being the best person that I can be,” she said.

Professionally, her focus is on completing the nursing contract that will ultimately earn her the nursing license for which she’s been working so hard.

In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her two grandchildren, swimming and other outdoor activities, as well as helping other women with their recovery process.

DRS, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Commerce, is responsible for the federal vocational rehabilitation program in West Virginia. Each year, DRS helps thousands of West Virginians with disabilities meet their employment goals by providing individualized work-related counseling, training, job placement and other vocational rehabilitation services through its field offices across the state.

For more information about DRS and its programs, call 800-642-8207 or visit the division’s website at wvdrs.org. In the Huntington District, call 304-528-5585.

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