June 20, 2024

Inclusive Post-Secondary Education (IPSE) Graduate Lands Dream Job at University of Georgia

Pearson smiling near player entrance in stadium

At birth, Jesse Pearson was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, both of which have contributed to his mild intellectual disability.

“My disorders result in an assessment indicating Mild Intellectually Disabled/Impaired (MID/I),” Jesse said. “This means that I am challenged with cognitive delay. I have trouble understanding what you are saying, showing, and describing to me.” Although his case is now closed, Jesse has received pre-Employment Transition Services, vocational guidance, and counseling through GVRA.

As a senior at East Jackson Comprehensive High School, Jesse was introduced to GVRA services. Jesse loves sports, so he told his family and his counselor he would like to become a post-secondary coach. After meeting with Debbie Miller, a certified rehabilitation counselor in the Athens office, Jesse accepted he most likely would not be able to pursue a degree program that would propel him into coaching positions. Not one to be deterred by the word “no,” Jesse was determined to earn a post-secondary credential.

He enrolled in Destination Dawgs, a certificate program offered by the University of Georgia to students with intellectual disabilities (ages 18-25) who want to gain skills for independent living. The two-year program is comprised of academic courses, work-based (experiential) learning, campus activities, and independent living initiatives. The purpose of IPSE programs is to allow students with disabilities to attend classes alongside peers without disabilities. At the University of Georgia, the Destination Dawgs program is housed in the Institute for Human Development and Disabilities.

In 2023, Jesse graduated from Destination Dawgs with a certificate in College and Career Readiness. Miller, Jesse’s GVRA counselor, met with Jesse around the time he was graduating from the Destination Dawgs program.

“Jesse was well-liked at Destination Dawgs, and his mentors were proud of his accomplishments during his two years in the program,” she stated. “Jesse wanted to work at the UGA athletic department as a recreational/hospitality attendant. After I spoke with Jesse and his family, together we decided that Jesse would benefit from a job coach to support him in that endeavor.”

Supported employment: a seamless transition from UGA student to UGA employee

Jesse felt he needed extra support to connect to the job he was pursuing, so he began working with Progressive Abilities Support Services in July 2023. He secured an ambassador position with Georgia Athletic Hospitality (GAH) in August 2023. In that role, Jesse directs guests and ensures policies are being enforced during University of Georgia home games at Stegeman Coliseum and Sanford Stadium. He also serves as a liaison between guests and GAH management. GAH is known as the “premium seating” division of the Georgia Bulldog Club and the UGA Athletic Association.

Jesse describes the guidance he receives from Progressive Abilities Support Services as being helpful to him while he’s on the job. “Miss Debbie, my GVRA counselor, paired me with Miss Gina Jones at Progressive Abilities Support Services. My counselors have been caring and professional during their interactions with me. They have taken the time to explain things to me in a clear way,” said Jesse.

“Miss Gina, I believe, went above and beyond during my initial ambassador training. She traveled to Athens to attend the training sessions alongside me,” Jesse explained. “Then, when my actual on-the-job tasks began, Miss Gina accompanied me to be certain I understood my assignments. I also received assistance with understanding my superiors.”

Jesse’s enthusiasm for his role at UGA: “I bleed red and black”

When asked how he likes his job thus far, Jesse declared, “I bleed red and black, and I love it. What I like about my job is that I get to be around Georgia Bulldogs and their devoted fans. GOOOOO Dawgs, Sick-Em, Woof, Woof, Woof. I interact with many interesting people who have a common love for the Bulldogs. In this job, I am directly supporting my Dawgs!”

Jesse mentioned he has always liked sports. “I fell in love with sports when my dad adopted me at six years old,” he noted. “My dad signed me up for tee ball, baseball, basketball, flag football, and eventually high school football. But I realized playing football was not for me. I didn’t like hitting people, and football is a contact sport.”

“Jesse’s insight into his disability helped me become a better certified rehabilitation counselor,” stated Miller. “In a meeting with Jesse early on, he acknowledged his disability made him different from other people and his own mind was standing in his way. He wanted more than anything to work with sports players and their fans,” she observed.

“Initially, he was sad because he realized he would not be able to earn the credentials that are required to become a post-secondary coach,” she continued. “But Jesse’s will to push through adversity to find his place in his vocation has inspired me to find more creative ways to help other GVRA clients succeed. He is an amazing young man who has overcome many challenges in the last few years.”

When he is not at work, Jesse enjoys hunting deer, participating in church activities, and playing basketball with friends. His career aspirations extend beyond game day. When asked about his future, Jesse indicated he would someday like to assume a leadership role with Georgia Athletic Hospitality at the University of Georgia.

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