May 01, 2024

GVRA Provides Lifeline to UGA Grad

Bailey hugging service dog in front of fountain

“I wear my disabilities openly, like badges of honor that tell the story of my resilience,” said Bailey McNeir, a client of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) since 2012. Having been born prematurely, weighing only two pounds and nine ounces, Bailey faced many obstacles growing up. Her disabilities include a traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, and dyscalculia, all of which were diagnosed at birth. “I refer to them as my trio of disabilities.” 

Because of her “trio of disabilities”, Bailey struggled academically most of her life but with each passing year she made progress. She hoped to graduate from high school with her peers and was heartbroken when she learned from a school counselor that she had not met the requirements to walk across the stage with her fellow classmates. “My introduction to the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) seemed serendipitous during that particularly challenging time in my life,” Bailey recounted. “It was during that period of despair that my high school counselor took it upon herself to introduce me to GVRA.”

The staff at GVRA provided Bailey with a new direction and sense of hope when she needed it most. “The agency's intervention marked a significant turning point in my life,” Bailey noted. “GVRA offered resources and support that would shape my future successes.”

More than a counselor--- “My Guardian Angel.”

Tamara Armstrong, a Counselor II from the Marietta Office, has been Bailey’s biggest cheerleader. “Her belief in me has been a guiding light through some of my darkest moments,” Bailey recalled. “She is more than just a counselor to me—she's been my guardian angel, like a fairy godmother through it all. From the moment I met her, I felt like I had someone in my corner, rooting for me every step of the way. She saw potential in me when I couldn't see it in myself.” When asked about the ways in which Armstrong assisted her, Bailey replied, “Ms. Armstrong’s not there to check the boxes or to push paperwork around a desk. She’s there to listen, to encourage, and to uplift. Her presence in my life has been a constant source of strength and inspiration, and I can’t imagine where I’d be without her. Ms. Armstrong’s more than a counselor---she’s family.”

Armstrong said she thoroughly enjoyed working with Bailey and her family for approximately 10 years. “Bailey’s journey with GVRA is an example of how an individual with a disability can obtain a meaningful vocational goal and develop the independence to navigate pressures in today’s workforce. I am proud of Bailey’s accomplishments. Over the years, I have seen her blossom into a young woman full of confidence and determination,” she stated.

In October of 2012, Bailey enrolled in vocational rehabilitation and transition services that addressed the challenges her disabilities had caused. While the GVRA support Bailey received included career counseling and skills training, Armstrong also suggested that she consider a service dog. “Bailey and I discussed the possibility of a service animal in June of 2018, after an incident in which she had fallen while being transported at UGA. I indicated the dog would serve as a means of steadying her gait,” Armstrong explained.

Although Bailey’s case was closed in December of 2023, Armstrong keeps in touch with Bailey and her parents. “Bailey has become a role model in her workplace and in the community. I am proud to have been her vocational counselor,” she concluded.

Bailey confirmed the quality of services provided by GVRA was outstanding. “Every interaction, whether it was with administrative staff or specialized counselors, was conducted with professionalism and genuine care,” she said. “Staff members at the Marietta office were approachable and responsive. They stand ready to assist and they’re quick to resolve any issues that arise. Their dedication to the well-being of clients like me made a positive difference in my rehabilitation journey.”

In 2022, Bailey was able to graduate with her classmates. She proudly walked across the commencement stage at the University of Georgia, after having taken courses at multiple institutions. Prior to matriculating at UGA, Bailey attended Chattahoochee Technical College, Georgia Highlands College, and Kennesaw State University. At UGA, she earned a degree in Human Development and Family Sciences and completed a minor in sociology that emphasized medical sociology and disability studies. “Graduating from UGA was not only a personal victory, but it also laid the groundwork for a career in advocacy and support,” Bailey commented. “My college experience prepared me to champion the rights of those facing similar challenges.”

Employment with Jacob’s Ladder: A chance to give back.

After graduation, Bailey began applying for jobs in disability advocacy. She applied for, and accepted, a position with Jacob’s Ladder in Atlanta. Jacob's Ladder is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting individuals with disabilities, along with their families. The non-profit’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for each person served. “Jacob’s Ladder provides tailored neurodevelopmental services, therapeutic support, and resources for families, all centered around the individual's strengths and goals,” Bailey explained. “Collaborating with other organizations is key to our approach, which ensures comprehensive care for our clients. Our programs help foster an inclusive community.”

Looking back on her employment journey, Bailey said accepting the Neurodevelopmental Provider position wasn’t just about finding a job—it was about finding purpose. “After pouring my heart and soul into the search for a role that would align my academic background with my passion for disability advocacy, I stumbled upon this listing on Indeed. It was as if the stars aligned and the universe conspired to lead me to this moment. With every fiber of my being, I knew that Jacob’s Ladder was where I was meant to be.”

Bailey expounded upon her role at Jacob’s Ladder. “In this organization I can use my skills and experiences to impact the lives of others. In this role I am not just a provider. I am a catalyst for change---a resource for those navigating the complexities of developmental challenges,” she explained. “Every day, I have the privilege of walking alongside my clients, encouraging them to unlock their full potential, to embrace their unique abilities, and to live life on their own terms.”

Working at Jacob's Ladder is a rewarding position that enables Bailey to combine her personal experiences with her professional skillset to effect change in the lives of her clients. As a Neurodevelopmental Provider, she is not only a teacher but also a role model for the families she serves. “Witnessing the resilience and determination of our clients as they overcome obstacles and unlock their full potential is nothing short of inspiring. It's a constant reminder of the impact that perseverance and dedicated support can have on one's journey towards growth and fulfillment,” Bailey observed. “Each Jacob’s Ladder success story is a testament to the transformative power of compassion and empathy. Each story affirms my belief in the inherent strength of the human spirit. It's more than just a job—it's a mission that fills my heart with purpose. It’s a source of endless gratitude to be a part of something meaningful since I am a person with disabilities myself.”

From service dog to faithful companion.

In her leisure time, Bailey enjoys playing video games and watching movies. “Perhaps the most cherished aspect of my life outside of work is the companionship of my beloved Apollo---my faithful Belgian Malinois service dog. Together, we've ventured into the exhilarating realm of dog sports, not for the spotlight, but for the sheer joy of shared experiences,” Bailey exclaimed. “Our journey has taken us to national competitions, including appearances on the American Kennel Club’s Fastest Dogs USA in 2022 and the prestigious FastCAT Invitational hosted by the Royal Canin Dog Show in Orlando, Florida, in 2023.”

Apollo is Bailey’s companion not only in the dog sports community, but in other aspects of life as well. “In Orlando, we were awarded the Top Ten Pure Speed Division and Best Of Breed for Belgian Malinois,” she said. “Ms. Armstrong, my GVRA counselor, suggested I get a service dog. Thanks to her guidance, I've discovered the sense of belonging that comes from being embraced by the dog sports community and the disabled community.”

When asked to reflect on the progress she has made from the time she began receiving GVRA services, Bailey declared, “Against the odds, I emerged as a testament to the power of the human spirit, refusing to be defined by limitations. Instead, I embraced each challenge as an opportunity to showcase my strength, my determination, and my belief that anything is possible through perseverance. Without hesitation, I would encourage anyone who is eligible for GVRA's services to embrace this wonderful opportunity.”

In retrospect, Bailey said she believes GVRA is much more than a social services agency. For her, GVRA has been a beacon of hope during adversity. “Beyond equipping me with the practical tools necessary to navigate life with a disability, GVRA has given me something far more precious---emotional and psychological support,” she mused. “In my moments of doubt and despair, the staff members have been my allies. They offer guidance, encouragement, and a shoulder on which to lean. GVRA isn't just a resource—it's a lifeline.”

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