I had been keeping my nose to the grindstone, plugging away and working, working, working when all of the sudden, I looked up and realized that I hadn’t told you any of my plans.
Like, I had somehow assumed that you knew where I was going with this blog.
I assumed you knew where I was headed with the move back to Hawaii, with the disability book/movie club, support groups I run on Facebook, with the disabled bloggers group, with ALL THE THINGS!!
When I realized that, I wrote out this post on the DANA Center.
My Work: Figuring Out What To Do
While my ultimate goal all along has been the DANA Center – or as I usually call it, “Dana’s Place”, I have needed to figure out how to get there. I have needed to figure out what is needed here , all the while supporting my kids.
Supporting my kids isn’t just financial: it’s time.
I feel like the kids are almost always on break from school, what with super short school days and loads of school holidays. Added to that, after-care here leaves a lot to be desired, and there is no way I can afford childcare right now.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I applied to be a substitute teacher. I have subbed in the past, and it can be a great, flexible way to make extra money and keep with the kid’s school schedule.
For a Hawaii State Substitute credential, regardless of what you are certified to do in other states (because I’m certified to sub in California), you need to work your way through a full-time course that is only offered at night. Without childcare, that was not an option for me. So I waited 5 months until the course was offered online.
In order to take the course at all, you need to go through a sponsoring process with a local school – be interviewed by them, apply to work for them, and then, with their approval, you can take the course that will lead to the test that will certify you to sub.
It’s all so ridiculous that it doesn’t even feel real.
In between applying to the school, being accepted (- 4 months), waiting for the online course (5 months), taking the online course (2 months), sitting for the exam and waiting for the results (- 1 month), filing paperwork with the school, having the school lose the paperwork then realize they lost it, then re-file it (5 months), wait for the one person who worked at DOE to have me come in to get fingerprinted with them (-3 months) and receive the results (2 months), it has taken me close to TWO YEARS to be qualified to be a substitute teacher for this state.
(and they wonder why there is a shortage?!)
Meanwhile, I got on the board for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Rehabilitation Council here in Hawaii.
I had been on the State Council (cross-disability) in California and loved it. I mean, my idea of a good time definitely includes sitting with other people across the disability spectrum and talking about how we can make things better in employment!
I also got a little more involved with the Deaf Ohana on the Big Island.
On the heels of that, I started to reach out to the cross-disability groups to see what was happening, and visited each group that serves people with ID/DD to get a better sense of everyone.
With nothing going on my island for parent support, I also started the Big Island Disability Resource Network with two other moms that I met at the Special Parent Information Network conference.
This is the thing: Dana leaving changed everything for me.
I don’t have a lot of money – I live primarily on what this blog makes, some SSDI and a dash of child support . My driving need beyond making sure my kids are thriving is to do something that’s useful with the rest of my life. Have my existence make meaning, bring something to the world that is needed.
As long as my kids are thriving, and there is a roof over our heads and food on the table, I figured I could take time to understand all of this and let is sit and see what rose to the top.
This blog was part of that – this blog rose to the top, because even if I didn’t write for months, I consistently had traffic in the tens of thousands.
That told me that maybe I should be spending more time with this.
Another thing that rose to the top was career counseling.
With all of my interactions with the deaf community here (through the council or the club), and my interactions with the larger disability community, I came to see that the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation here really needs help.
I care deeply about Vocational Rehabilitation.
When I first moved back to San Francisco from Tokyo – when my deafness hit me full on – they were the ones that helped me.
Later, I started the WorkAbility IV program at UC Berkeley in Department of Rehabilitation-backed sponsored project. I just thought that was such a cool thing, that they went out and formed these types of programs in alliances with local universities and colleges.
I was bummed that Vocational Rehabilitation in Hawaii was so stagnant, and went to them with a list of all the things that I saw, questions that I had, and ways that I thought I might be able to help.
Right there and then, they invited me to come and work for them!
The idea was that I’d come on board with them as a temporary emergency hire, sit for the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor exam, and then apply to work with them as a regular hire.
This made so much sense to me, as I would dearly love to help them build up their office, reach out through them to the university and community college, help get career development and employment structures off the ground.
In terms of my long term goal of starting Dana’s Place, working with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation made a lot of sense too: it would help me understand local employers and potential channels better. I could work with case management, and all the intricacies of SSI/SSDI, PASS Plans, Ticket to Work and all other incentive programs, but from within the system.
When I came back from traveling this summer though, THE RULES HAD CHANGED!!
In order for me to come on board with them (even as an emergency hire), I would need to have be a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.
Certified Rehabilitation Counseling Credential (CRC)
I found out that in order to sit for the CRC exam, I would need to take 7 rehabilitation-specific classes.
My experience would count as a counseling internship, my existing Master’s degree would count as a…. something? But I would definitely need to take those 7 classes before I could even sit for the exam (which is only offered a couple of times a year).
So I reached out to the University
It turned out that they were starting classes the FOLLOWING WEEK, and that there was still time for me to register as an unclassified graduate student for one of the 7 classes.
My mom very generously offered to pay for that class (- since there was no way to apply for financial aid as an unclassified graduate student), I finished the paperwork, signed up and started.
Back at School
Once I started school again, I kind of wondered if maybe getting a full, licensed degree in Counseling wouldn’t be a better option for my long-term plans with Dana’s Place?
And what about adding certification for Grief Counseling? Sitting for the CRC too, – I love that disability employment stuff – but what about just going back to school? If I did this, I could open the way to being absolutely certified to have my own counseling business, I could work towards starting Dana’s Place through building the Big Island Disability Support Network.
Besides, with the Big Island Disability Support Network, I’d be able to use my skill sets both as a person with disabilities, and as a parent of children with disabilities (other than my own).
The Role of Money
I’ve been really, really lucky in all of this.
My mom has been there for me in a pinch – I know I couldn’t have had the wherewithal to breathe as easily as I do, or been able to stretch into the realm of possibility without her creative and steadfast belief in health, healing, and the value of giving and learning.
Thank you, Mom
Also: I’m really lucky in that I am able to tap into SSDI, and also that so many of you come to read at my blog, and help support these endeavors of mine through Patreon. I’m lucky that Mikey pays child support.
I’m lucky to have such good friends. I’m so very lucky to have my kids to care for.
All of these tally up and give me room to be still and follow guidance from the universe.
It’s coming, and it’s exciting to see each piece unfold and become clear.
You Can Buy My Photos
You Can Buy My Photos
I sell many of my photos on my photography website, Meriah Snaps (or Meriahs Naps! haha)
You can also order things like canvas and metal prints, phone cases, and cool stuff like that. Just click the link below to go to my photo website.
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Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.