Vicki is the executive director at Business Resource Network (BRN) in South Dakota and works to build relationships with local businesses about the benefits of employing people with disabilities, whether physical, intellectual, or emotional. On any given day, she might be delivering a presentation about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, attending committee meetings for different awareness groups, or introducing herself to new businesses.
But when she was a kid, she didn’t know that this is where she would end up. Some of the work she did before her job at BRN included working in the disability ministry of the local catholic diocese, a chaplaincy role in a hospital, and supporting people’s understanding of their disability benefits. The common thread that connects all of Vicki’s jobs is the desire to help people and to create an inclusive community.
In 1998, she participated in Ms. Wheelchair America representing South Dakota, and during this experience, she got to know lots of wheelchair users living active, fulfilling lives. This experience helped her to build confidence and self-reliance skills. Part of her experience as Ms. Wheelchair South Dakota was to fundraise her way to the national competition, an undertaking that did not go unnoticed. Through these fundraising efforts, Vicki was asked to take a job as development director of an independent living center. Many of the roles she has held over the years have come to her because she is an active member of her community.
As a disability awareness advocate, fighting stereotypes can be difficult. Some businesses still do not make inclusivity a priority. One of the best parts of Vicki’s job is the “lightbulb moment” that happens when a company realizes that a person with a disability can offer a lot to their business. One of the ways that BRN tries to promote inclusive employment is through their disability-friendly awards. These disability-friendly awards provide companies an opportunity to celebrate their diverse workforce and hopefully create a basis to maintain a relationship with BRN.
Growing up, Vicki was the only wheelchair user in her school. Despite this, she could do most of the same things as her classmates. She was a very social person and involved in lots of activities such as Future Homemakers of America, band, and serving as senior class president! While Vicki was in school, she considered a future teaching elementary school, maybe special education. But she wasn’t sure.
As a freshman at Augustana University, Vicki did a practicum in elementary education at her former elementary school. Even though she learned a lot, this confirmed for her that she didn’t really want to become a teacher, and throughout college, she changed her major several times. Vicki ultimately received her bachelor’s degree in religious studies with a minor in psychology. She enjoyed these classes and felt they taught her to think critically and to question the role that disability played in her life. As a Catholic, she knew she wasn’t going to become a pastor but took advantage of many different opportunities that lead her to where she is now.
Vicki’s advice to young girls considering possible careers is to be open to new opportunities. Don’t be afraid of change. It is easy to get set in your ways, comfortable in a job, or locked into a specific career trajectory. In spite of this, it is important to take risks to expand your horizons. When thinking about taking her current position at BRN, she researched the organization and learned the nonprofit is grant-funded (which means there might be less job security than some other companies) but decided that the risk was worth taking after some more research showed that the organization has been around for several years and looked pretty stable.
She also advises that whatever you would like to do, give it a try. Volunteering is a great way to try different industries or get a feel for different types of jobs even if you ultimately decide they aren’t right for you. By volunteering, Vicki ruled out several potential career paths; she decided she didn’t want to be a teacher and didn’t want to work in a hospital, all because she gave it a try!
Interviewed and Written by: Danielle Prostrollo