Mark Carstens, who has bipolar disorder and a learning disability, came to Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) with a dream and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Historic Preservation from Savannah College of Art and Design. He was a somewhat unusual customer given the fact that he knew exactly what he wanted to do for his job goal. Mark has a passion for restoring historic landmarks. He wanted to return historic buildings to what they were in their heyday by maintaining the authenticity and integrity of their original construction.
Mark had been networking with Florida’s historic preservation community, meeting people who understood his passion. He volunteered with various organizations, including the Enterprise Preservation Society. There, he helped with the restoration of a 1930’s school, which is now the Enterprise Heritage Center. He also attended historic preservation conventions in order to meet others in the field and gain valuable information.
Although Mark had no “hidden agenda,” just a great passion for historic preservation, some preservationists mistakenly interpreted his actions as being aggressive and pushy. He had unknowingly erected obstacles to his dream. That’s when he realized he needed VR’s assistance. He met with his VR Counselor, Jennilyn Green, who offered guidance and counseling along with mental health support. She paired him with Employment Specialist, Sandra Wilson, with Progressive Abilities Support Services, to help him find that elusive job.
When Sandra first met Mark, she asked him what he would like to do and what he had done so far to advocate for himself. She then asked him to explain what his vocational goals were. Mark told her about his goal to work in the historic preservation industry. Sandra worked with him on updating his resume and his interviewing skills so he would present himself better to others. Mark told Sandra that his dream job would be to work for local business owner, Jodi Rubin, a who’s who in Florida’s historic preservation community.
When Sandra first contacted Jodi about the possibility of Mark working for CCS Restoration, she was a bit uncomfortable with the idea. She knew exactly who Mark was, and he had not made the best impression on her the first time they met. Sandra explained to Jodi that she had been working with Mark, and that she would be there to assist in any way needed. Jodi agreed to meet with Sandra one on one to tour the building to see if it would be a good environment for Mark.
After seeing the workshop that specializes in door and window restoration, Sandra knew that this was the perfect place for Mark. She was confident that once Mark was hired, he would experience the satisfaction of being part of a bigger picture and would benefit being under the tutelage of a person he respected. Jodi, Sandra and Rob Register, the shop manager, finalized the accommodations, and Mark joined the crew CCS Restoration.
Since he began working for CCS Restoration in July 2014, Mark’s whole life has changed. He recently got married, and he continues to thrive at work. Jodi and Rob have only glowing remarks to share about Mark’s work ethic.
Despite their initial doubts, Jodi and Rob are now happy they gave Mark a chance. Mark is an asset to the company and every day he learns valuable skills, both personally and professionally, from his supervisors and co-workers. He has much work to do in order to learn and refine his skills, but he is well on his way to making his mark in the historic preservation field.
Jodi says, “When Mark came to us he lacked finesse. This is something we have taught him and a skill that he has gained. Thank you for bringing him to us.” Hopefully, Mark’s story will open the minds and hearts of other employers to hire persons with disabilities.