Assistant Director, John Michaels
Alumni Q&A with John Michaels ’08, Psychology Area of Concentration, Sociology Area of Concentration
John Michaels is a familiar face within the Western Maryland region and on ACM’s Cumberland campus. He serves as the Assistant Director of Resources for Independence, a nonprofit organization committed to helping individuals with disabilities thrive in Allegany, Garrett, and Washington counties. Education, outreach, and advocacy are integral to his work.
Despite a hectic work schedule, John regularly donates his time to ACM, sharing his experience as a quadriplegic with students in the college’s occupational therapy assistant and physical therapist assistant programs. It’s a profound experience for students and a genuine act of kindness on John’s part. “There’s no one better to learn from than someone that has experienced it. I appreciate the hands-on learning approach the programs have developed,” explained John when asked about visits.
Q: Why did you choose your major?
A: I chose ACM’s psychology and sociology transfer programs because I wanted to understand the emotional effects of a disability. I have a physical disability, but the more I worked at RFI, I was dealing with many more types of disabilities, such as psychological, visual, and hearing [disabilities], so I needed to expand my understanding.
Q: What advice would you give to students interested in your career path?
A: The rewards of helping others manage daily obstacles and challenges outweighs the amount of money you make.
Q: What was your overall experience at ACM?
A: My experience at ACM was great! I was a nontraditional student who never applied myself in high school. ACM helped me build great study habits – skills and techniques when I used when I transferred to Frostburg State University. [He earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from FSU in 2012, receiving departmental honors.]
What is your greatest achievement in your career?
It’s been advocating for individuals with disabilities so they can achieve goals they never thought were possible: furthering their education, finding employment, living independently, and driving an accessible vehicle.
My husband and I were doing just fine, getting by in Missouri where we were living in June 2020. We moved from there to try to make a life for us in Oregon. That did not work out as well as we hoped. I could not find work or school as a blind individual where we were located and especially during a pandemic. He was working but he didn’t know where or when and if he was working from day to day. We lived in our vehicle for several months before we gave up and made our way up to Washington state. Where again we found ourselves in the same situation. He was helping us get by with some gig work, on top of what I was getting in disability. We asked around and searched for the help to get us back on our feet in Washington and it was just a lost cause.
One day I broke down and gave my folks a call and begged for help to get out of the Northwest, and back to Maryland where I knew there was work and school and most likely help for us. I got tired of not having a place of my own and not eating as well as we should. Living in our car was just getting to be too much.
A couple of days before we were headed out of Washington to track back across the country to Maryland, our vehicle broke down. So my family did some calling around and a few friends, and the church that my family attends, and pulled together for us to get a rental car, the money for gas, lodging, and food for our trip back. That was the longest and worst couple days of my life.
When we got back to Maryland, we stayed with my parents. We sort of quickly got back on our feet. I was still stressed out trying to figure out how we were going to get our own place with me not working right away. He quickly found himself a part time job, where he still works today, and we got a used car. So we were sort of doing fine. I contacted Resources for Independence shortly after we had gotten back to Maryland to ask for assistance in getting us a place. Since the office was still closed it took some time for someone to get back with me. Which was fine, I understood because of the pandemic still going on.
During this time, we also found out that I was expecting, so the search for assistance was even more important. I reached out to Resources for Independence once more and told them my situation again and on top of that now that we are expecting. From that point on, they appointed Lauri Ward to our case. And I tell you what… that Woman has been our saving grace. From day 1, she has kept me up to date on what is going on, quickly helped us apply for housing, she helped me get going on WIC, and not a day went by that she did not text or call me to let me know that she has not forgotten about us and told us what all was said and or done with our applications. She helped us file for assistance in just about anything that a family who is expecting would need. She has been our rock through this time. She has even helped me get signed up for the community baby shower that I had no idea that they had such a thing. Laurie sometimes I think stayed up all night and day to get us into the place that we are living in now. She is such a great and wonderful person. My husband says that she needs a big bonus or big pay raise for all that she has done for us. She has been there for my good and bad days and she has been a wonderful help and always seemed to calm me down, and never lost faith in us or getting the housing. She is a true blessing.
We moved into a new place near the end of June, where she was with us every step of the way while filling out paper work, assisting us in filling out paper work and applications. She has gone above and beyond.
Again, thank you Laurie for everything you have done for me and my husband. We cannot thank you enough. We are very happy where we are and baby will be very happy as well. Thank you again for helping us put the worst year of our life behind us and helping us start a new chapter in our life.
When Jan was concerned about how a return to work might affect her hard fought for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits she turned to Resources for Independence (RFI) after hearing that RFI offers benefits planning and work incentives counseling services. Meeting with the work incentives counselor, he and Jan were able to obtain her social security documentation from the local Social Security office. After a review of the social security documentation, Jan learned about the various work incentives Social Security offers to SSDI Beneficiaries and how using those work incentives could help her to return to work and become more financially stable.
During the Assessment time with the work incentives counselor, Jan disclosed that she wanted to also work to secure more affordable and stable housing so she was referred down the hall to an RFI Independent Living Advocate who was able to provide her with resource information and assistance with her housing need.
Jan was able to secure more affordable and stable housing and employment as well; however when the covid 19 pandemic struck, she, like millions of other Americans, found herself without an income due to the lockdown measures. Contacting the RFI work incentives counselor, Jan discussed unemployment benefits and whether those benefits might have an effect on her SSDI and learned that there would be no effect nor would there be an effect due to the stimulus payments designed to assist Americans through the economic downturn.
Recently Jan again contacted the work incentives counselor and reported that she had been able to purchase a new to her automobile and this was a great asset that gave her independent transportation and had also secured new employment and going through the available work incentives information discussed how to maximize her monthlyincome while keeping her SSDI in force in order to supplement her work earnings.
Jan has benefitted from the Independent Living Philosophy which establishes the core of RFI’s mission in providing independent living services to the communities we serve.
Carol was referred to Resources for Independence in 2014, by Allegany County Department of Social Services. Carol has several disabilities, the main one being epilepsy. Carol lived with her 90 year old mother who had many health problems. Carol was her mother’s financial, and health designee. Carol originally wanted assistance with cooking, cleaning, as well as learning to use the internet. Through working with the Independent Living Advocate (ILA), Carol was able to gain confidence in all of her goals. She then set new goals to complete a medical file book for both herself and her mother. The medical files have become quite important to Carol especially, since her mother was placed in a nursing facility in 2016. Carol saw the household income reduce by two-thirds when her mother was placed in a nursing facility. Carol worked with the ILA to apply for food assistance, and report the change to the Social Security Office. Carol was concerned about the financial state of her future. She worked with the ILA to devise a monthly budget. Carol has stated the budget has really helped her in realizing she can make the monthly bills.
By Robin Kerr, Allegany County Independent Advocate
Felicia contacted Resources for Independence, (RFI) in December 2015, she is visually impaired. Felicia was unsure as to what services might be available to assist her. RFI explained Community First Choice program to Felicia, and made the referral for Long Term Support and Services. Through the evaluation process, it was determined Felicia did qualify for these services. Long-Term Services and Supports provide assistance with activities of daily living (such as eating, bathing and dressing) and instrumental activities of daily living (such as preparing meals, managing medication, and housekeeping). Felicia has been able to remain independent in her home with her husband. Felicia continues to work with RFI as she said “The ILA is like family, and I appreciate everything she does.”
By Robin Kerr, Allegany County Independent Advocate
Dustin was referred to Resources for Independence (RFI) in May of 2016, by Service Coordination. Dustin has Osteogenesis Imperfecta, which causes his bones to be brittle, and break very easily. Dustin is a very independent, and is very active person. Dustin relies on a powerchair for his mobility, and this causes many issues on a daily bases. He is not able to get in or out of his home freely in the powerchair on his own, so he was looking for assistance with purchasing an automatic door open for his home. RFI has a grant with The Maryland Department of Rehabilitation Services, which allows RFI to do minor home/bathroom modifications, ramps, hearing aids and assistive technology for individuals with disabilities. With this funding, along with supports from RFI’s annual golf tournament fundraiser, RFI was able to have a new automatic door opener installed. Also, RFI was able to have a new aluminum ramp installed to replace the old rotted one.
From the services provided by the Assistive Technology/Independent Living Program, Dustin has increased his mobility in his own home. Dustin has been able to utilize more than one service at RFI, Dustin also received Benefits Counseling. Dustin graduated from Law Enforcement program at the Center for Career and Technical Education. He has set a goal to secure employment commensurate with the skills and competencies learned while in LE training, specifically as a Dispatcher either with the local police department or the county 911 system. Dustin was referred by the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) for participation in Benefits Counseling services. Dustin met with the RFI Community Work Incentives Coordinator and a review of his cash and medical benefits was conducted. Dustin was instructed with education and counseling concerning his benefits and the work incentives available to him and was able through participation to understand how much more in overall income he will have as a result of earnings. Dustin was surprised to learn how much he can earn from a community job and understand how his benefits adjust vs disappear as he works toward financial stability. Armed with the information provided by Benefits Counseling, Dustin is empowered to make his own life choices and is able to make an informed decision about the amount of hours he would like to work and the amount of earnings he would like to have each month.
By John Michaels, Assistant Director & Robert Cannon, Community work incentives coordinator
Heather was referred from The Western Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) in 2016, she is visually impaired. Heather was looking for funds to help with purchasing a digital handheld magnifier. Resources for Independences (RFI) was able to provide Heather with a demonstration of a few handheld magnifier, from The Assistive Technology Toolkit Grant (ATTK). RFI and The State DORS Office, has a small grant that has allowed RFI to show, and demonstrate some assistive technology devices provided by the ATTK grant. Heather was able to come in the office, and try two magnifying devices. She was able to choose a handheld device that will help her with her daily activities. RFI was able purchase the magnifying device with DORS AT/IL Fund, and with funds from RFI’s annual golf tournament fundraiser.
By John Michaels, Assistant Director
I had received a call from Garrett County health department about someone in there office needing help. Alma had been very upset because she had lost her job due to her illness. Alma had no idea where to turn or who to turn to. I just happened to available at the time Maria called from The Health Department. Her and her husband had come to my office and she was in tears. She had worked all of her life and had no idea how they were going to survive with only one income. I had guided her through the social security process and help with filling out papers that she had received from Social Security. She had trouble understanding the mail that she was receiving from Social Security. So, when I was able to help her get her Social Security back. I had helped her with applying for her insurance and getting assistance for paying for her premiums and her drug plan. Her medications are very costly and I had helped her get assistance with her drug plan.
By Kristen Ayers, Garrett County Independent Living Advocate
Josh had come to the office with no clue on where to turn. He has a mental disorder along with a deteriorating disk and hip that limits his ability to do the things he used to do in the past. He had come to me for help to navigate the system and to get his social security claim started. I had helped him with getting food stamps and temporary cash assistance. I have helped him with housing applications. He feels more secure in knowing that there is help out there and that he is able to find it on his own. He feels more comfortable knowing that he can do more things on his own and that he is capable of doing these things.
By Kristen Ayers, Garrett County Independent Living Advocate
Deb has been with RFI since March 2015. Deb is 62 and is blind. One of Deb’s goals was to get a magnifier which would allow her to be able to read. She had an old CCV machine and wanted something hand-held. I started the process in early 2016 to look for something that would meet her needs. A company called Atlantic Low-Vision out of Virginia that had a 4.5 inch color Pebble for $595. That price was over budget for what we could spend since our budget was $500. I spoke with Philip Linz the co-owner of the company in June and he told me that he would let me know when it would go on sale. In August, Philip emailed saying that the Pebble was on sale for $495 so I went to Deb and asked her if she would still be interested in receiving the Pebble. She said yes, so I was able to contact Philip and place an order for the Pebble at the beginning of September 2016. Deb had her Pebble from Atlantic Low Vision by the middle of November and Philip Lintz met with Deb and I at her home and trained Deb on how to use the Pebble.
By Sandy Coffman, Washington County Independent Living Advocate
I have been working with Coreen Ketchum since April 2015. She is 67 years old and her primary disability is heart disease and diabetes. When I started working with Coreen she mentioned that she would like to get dentures. Coreen has had no teeth for ten years. In May 2016, we started looking and found one dental establishment in Hagerstown. The quoted price for a full set of dentures and mini implants was close to $8000. We both knew that this was not a feasible option since she lives in subsidized housing in Washington County. We continued to look at other denture places in Hagerstown and the surrounding areas and get quotes. In January 2017, Coreen chose a dental office near Hagerstown that quoted her $2735 for a full set of dentures and 4 mini implants. They accepted Care Credit as payment from Coreen after the initial consultation. Washington County Commission on Aging agreed to give us $500 from their Aging in Place fund.
Coreen has been back 4 times and has had impressions done for her teeth and a fitting for her dentures. They had to go back and do another impression because the dentist did not like how the dentures fit inside her mouth. She is getting her dentures this week. A full set for the top will require poligrip, but the full set for the bottom will have 4 mini implants. These implants will require a soft reline for two weeks. This is where the caps will go on permanently . In two weeks she will go back and they will replace the soft reline on the bottom with the permanent screw caps and her bottom teeth will never need the poligrip adhesive that most people associate with dentures. It’s been a long journey for Coreen and she said the first thing she is going to do is to eat an apple so she can hear the crunch. Then she wants to have maple walnut ice cream. There will be no more gumming food and cutting her food into very small pieces for Coreen in the future.
By Sandy Coffman, Washington County Independent Living Advocate
- Monday-Saturday: 9:00am - 4:30pm
- Sundays: Closed
Services are provided to those residing in Allegany, Garrett, and Washington Counties in Maryland.