Anthony Green loved computers and technology. He spent all of his time learning about it. He even taught himself how to fix phones. He had a job that paid well. Now, he won’t even update his cellphone.
Green shared the story of his struggle “to find his place in the world” with attendees at the first AbilityOne Appreciation Day, which was designed to celebrate employees who have overcome their disabilities to contribute products and services to the federal government.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Redstone has about 450 employees with disabilities providing services that range from administrative support, custodial services, mailroom services, grounds maintenance and staffing the base supply store. That makes it one of the largest employers of people with disabilities in the nation and the largest in the state.
“In my line of work I’ve seen heroes accomplish amazing things in the worst of circumstances, all while defending our country,” Garrison Commander Col. Kelsey Smith said. “I believe that makes me qualified to tell you today, that in my opinion, every person with a disability who is powering through their daily obstacles to do their job – not just do it, but to do it well and greatly – is a hero here on Redstone.”
If anyone ever had to power through obstacles, it was Anthony Green.
“I was born in Philadelphia to a single mother who raised five children on her own,” Green said. “She laid the groundwork for the man I would eventually become. Every day she showed in words and by example her credo: responsibility, respect towards others and hard work are the keys to growing up right.”
After high school, Green joined the Navy and wanted to be a data systems tech and work with computers. But, when he was diagnosed as being colorblind, his superiors told him he couldn’t.
“I find that happens a lot in life, too. People telling you what they think you can’t do instead of what you can do,” he said.
Instead, Green became a data processing tech, which still allowed him to work with computers. He took additional classes and soaked up all the knowledge he could about the tech he loved.
“Eventually, I proved I was as capable as anyone else and I didn’t give up,” Green said. “I am not a person who gives up when things get hard.”
He left the service and worked several jobs. He answered calls at an IT help desk, did some administrative work and then taught himself how to fix phones.
Green said life was going well. Then things would get hard.
“One day I felt so overwhelmed I didn’t feel like going to work,” he said. “The next day I felt even worse and the next day I called in sick again.
“Finally, I told my boss that I needed some time off. But I never really recovered, and depression really set in.”
Green’s depression would turn his life upside down. The depression would worsen. He would unplug his phone, binge-spend on things he didn’t need like expensive football jerseys and eventually stop paying his bills.
“I felt less-than in every way,” he said.
Green turned to Veterans Affairs for help. At first, the doctors thought his depression was being caused by stress. They worked on a treatment plan and Green’s depression slightly improved. Instead of continuing to get better, he said eventually his depression came back and it was worse.
The doctors would try many treatments before diagnosing him with bipolar depression.
“After six or eight months of trying different medications with serious side effects, I was able to finally get the right dosage and I started to feel better.”
Despite the improvement, he would never work with computers or phones again. He said he felt like there was something with that work environment that contributed to his depression.
He needed a new start. So, he moved to Charleston, South Carolina.
The move didn’t work out as he planned. Soon after starting over in a new city, Green was homeless.
“A large part of me knew that this transition was only temporary,” he said. “I somehow knew I would pick myself up by my bootstraps, as my mother always said, and never give up.”
Green said he made two important choices that made all the difference. First, he made sure to stay on his medications. Second, he sought help from the VA’s Comprehensive Work Therapy Program.
Help didn’t come immediately. There was a two-month waiting list for the program, which meant he would have to stay in a homeless shelter until a bed opened up.
“The place smelled of alcohol and there was a lot of drug use in the shelter,” he said.
Nevertheless, Green would wait hours in line each day to get a mat and a spot on the floor, so he’d have a place to sleep.
Then he caught a break.
A call center was hiring. He applied and got the job.
“I got up every morning, dressed and took the bus to work only to return to my spot at night,” he said. “I paid a guy $10 a week to get my mat and save my spot.
“It was hard sleeping at night while guarding my belongings.”
He wouldn’t have to do that much longer. Eventually, a bed opened up in the Comprehensive Work Therapy Program.
It was a six-month program that came with a new job, a bed to sleep in and something Green wasn’t expecting.
“Taking this six-month VA CWT assignment was a good decision for a million reasons,” he said. “But the best reason, I’m happy to say, is that I met my wife there.”
Life continued to improve for Green, thanks to his hard work.
In about four years he went from homeless to being a first-time homebuyer, and he’s a project manager with Goodwill in Charleston, South Carolina. He credits the AbilityOne Program in playing a major role in his success.
“Why should companies consider doing business with SourceAmerica and AbilityOne?” he asked. “… Because it’s going to provide employment opportunities for thousands of amazing individuals with all types of abilities who are willing to answer the call, provide quality service with a smile and become contributing members of their communities.”
Representatives from SourceAmerica, National Industries for the Blind, Alabama Industries for the Blind, Phoenix and CW Resources also spoke during the program. Each one sharing stories like Green’s of how these organizations have a positive impact on people’s lives and provides opportunities for success for people with disabilities.