MCALESTER, Okla. -- Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines inspiration as something that makes someone want to do something; a force or influence that inspires someone. The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services defines inspiration as Alex Pippins, former client of the visual services division.
Pippins entered the vocational rehabilitation program because of his diabetes and desire to go to work. He left the program because he is now successfully employed with McAlester Regional Health Center as a Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC/R) Tech in the plant operations department.
While attending the HVAC program at Kiamichi Technical Center, Pippins discovered he wanted to further his education at OSU-Okmulgee and get his degree. To do this he needed DRS’ help.
“When Alex first came to us, he had already decided what he wanted to do. He already had a plan in his mind. He just wanted to know what we could do for him,” Gayle Lee, vocational rehabilitation specialist IV at DRS, said.
Pippins made Lee’s job easy by keeping in contact and giving her feedback on his courses and the plan.
“He was a little worried about a couple of classes in the beginning. He was more worried about how his grades were going to turn out than he needed to be. He did great. He was definitely a dedicated student,” Lee said.
While working with Lee on his case, he found her to be an inspiration to model his actions after. She is not only his vocational rehabilitation counselor, she is blind.
“When I met get Miss Gayle, I sat across from her desk and she was super polite.” Pippins said. “She just firmly told me ‘Just because I'm blind, don't think that you can pull the wool over my eyes. Don’t think you can take advantage of me because of my disability.’ Now, I don’t see her with a disability. She's inspired me to do better at what I do.”
Lee told him that he was required to maintain a 3.0 grade point average, which he did by graduating with a 3.879 GPA. To assist Pippins achieve his goals, DRS provided him with tuition and books, glasses, a computer, gas money for transportation to classes, and tools for his internship. Pippins was required to do an internship in the heat and air job field.
“At OSU-Okmulgee, they inspire you to go and get an internship yourself. They give you a list of all the employers. There were several companies I could have gone to work with, but with my mother here, I needed to be close. I found the internship at McAlester Regional Health Center,” Pippins said.
During Pippins internship where he was supposed to be gaining work experience and skills, he also gained permanent employment.
“We knew what we had in Alex from the time that he did his internship here. He was someone we wanted to pursue and that's what we did,” David Parish, plant operations supervisor at McAlester Regional Health Center, said.
“We worked around Alex's college schedule obviously. Alex worked nights, weekends, days he was off from school. We just basically waited till he got out of school and then we brought him on board.”
Parish states the reason they hired him was because Pippins had experience in plumbing, electrical and general maintenance. He was getting his journeyman’s license and HVAC certification. He had a good work ethic and got along with all the employees in the department.
Pippins graduated with associate degree in applied science.
“We almost had a party when he graduated and came on. We kept waiting, we would say ‘Alex will be here,’ or ‘only two more weeks and Alex is here’. Yeah, Alex has been a wonderful asset to our department and we really appreciate him,” Parish said.
Parish wasn’t concerned or worried that Pippins had a disability. Being the father of a son with cerebral palsy, he knows that people with disabilities can be an asset to any organization.
“You look at the person. It’s what's inside that counts. That’s why you need to have a process of interviews and get to know someone. It's about hiring the right person for the right job and that's what we do here at MRHC,” Parish said. “We don’t see the person with a disability any different.”
Parish and Pippins’ dedication to the job goes beyond the paycheck.
“We get paid obviously, but there is also some satisfaction that we help people. We’re here to help our community. What greater reward is that, when you make a difference in your community?” Parish said.
Pippins added “When we have a patient room down, I drop what I am doing and we go straight there. I don’t care what I am doing, our main priority is patients. We want them satisfied and comfortable as possible.”
Pippins' job with MRHC has also affected his private life.
“The job has helped me to be with my mother, my son and that brings me closer to a family life. I see in my future being here, retiring. I dedicate myself to the job I take. I don't jump, jump, jump. I plant my roots and I stay,” Pippins said.
“This job has also allowed me to cut back on working on the side or working late hours. I'm able to go home and actually sit down and watch a movie with my son,” Pippins said. “I'm able to take him to movies.
“On Father’s Day, we were able to ride down to the dam and I was able to spend time with him. I told him after I got out of school that I would belong more to him.”
Pippins also wants to give back and help others with the skills and experience he has acquired through DRS and his job with MRHC.
“I'm building a house right now. I got approved for Habitat for Humanity. I installed the air conditioner. I framed it. I did everything. When I get my contractors license, I plan to give back to Habitat for Humanity and install air conditioners for them as a volunteer.”
Pippins refuses to let his diabetes hinder him or get in the way of what he wants. He’s experienced in overcoming disability issues.
“I got my hand crushed. I had seven surgeries over four years. They said I'd never be able to use my right arm. Most people don't even know I'm missing a finger because I do not let hinder me. I tell people the only thing that can hinder me is myself.”
Pippins moved his mom, Deloris Hardin, in with him from Florida and he’s raising his 11-year-old-son, Payton. It’s also these responsibilities that push him and make him determined to succeed.
He wants people who have disabilities and are afraid that no one will hire them to know that’s not true.
For more information about vocational rehabilitation programs at DRS, call (800) 847-4042 or visit www.okdrs.gov.