Disabilities Commission's Employee of the Year found purpose, focus at Wegmans

Just two years ago, Ana King's plight was a common one for 23-year-olds.

She lived at home with her parents and brother, relying on her family for transportation, and she lacked opportunities to meet new people.

Because of a handful of issues, including bouts with depression and anxiety, as well as attention deficit disorder, she struggled to find work that engaged her and utilized her skills, and sought help from Penn-Mar Human Services, an organization that offers support for individuals with varied developmental disabilities through educational and vocational programs.

Three words from a mentor at Penn-Mar Human Services — "What about Wegmans?" — put King on her way to both a job and relationship that would prove to be quite a match.

Last week, King, now 25, was given the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities' Employee of the Year award.

The award, given at the commission's annual luncheon on Oct. 17 at the Hunt Valley Inn, was in another personal triumph for King that, at one point, couldn't have seemed farther away.

According to the nomination form submitted by Penn-Mar, King worked in controlled settings with the organization, but the lack of challenging work didn't suit her interests, and led her to spend "a lot of time avoiding work and getting into mischief."

"On any given day, you could find me fussing with my job coaches or talking with staff around the building," King wrote in the nomination essay.

She was eventually given in-house office work at Penn-Mar, but the goal was always to get herself out in the community, and into a job that could help her support herself

King began working at Wegmans in Hunt Valley in October 2010 in the prepared foods department and, according to her supervisors, she has flourished in a role that involves being out on the floor and selling directly to customers.

Though Wegmans was not involved in the nomination process, both executive chef Jason Hancock and store manager Rita Gibney said the Employee of the Year honor was well deserved.

Hancock said King is "full of energy. She's dependable, she's a hard worker, and she loves people."

Gibney said her energy can be contagious.

"She enjoys every minute of it," she said. "When she focuses, she beams right in and works hard to get whatever she needs to get done. She just has so much energy and so much commitment to what she's doing. "

King's success at work has translated to other aspects of King's life as well. Once she got her job, King went for her learner's permit, and got her driver's license on Nov. 3, 2011. Her parents helped her buy a 2009 Chevy Aveo, and she eventually saved enough to move into her own apartment.

And as if accomplishing all of her goals — living in the community, getting her own place and driving — wasn't enough, King also met her fiancée, Joshua Magagna, at the store.

Magagna works in the bakery department, where King said she would stop in to buy bread for her grandmother. Magagna caught her eye and began talking to her when she'd stop by. In February, he proposed. The couple is engaged to be married next month.

In her nomination essay, King said she wanted to share her story to let people like herself "know that you can get out, have a normal life and achieve their goals."

"I've accomplished something really big in my life," she said.

Mentoring by the Book

Another local winner, Ed Book of Cockeysville, hasn't seen the same type of personal transformation as King.

Instead, he has fostered growth in another.

Book, a youth mentor at St. Vincent Villa in Timonium, received the 2012 Disability Advocate of the Year award for his work with a 13-year-old boy who has made the transition from St. Vincent Villa to a foster home in the community — a tough move, made more difficult by a set of extreme circumstances for the boy.

According to the nomination form submitted by Lauren Porter, director of the Therapeutic Mentoring Program at St. Vincent Villa, Book has worked closely with a treatment team, his schoolteachers, his foster parents, and any other people he thinks need to be in the loop in order to keep them abreast of the boy's thoughts and progress.

Book met twice a week with the boy from four to 10 hours each time while in residential treatment, a schedule that continued after he moved to foster care. Book helped bring about a smooth transition to the child's first foster home. Unfortunately, the woman who looked after him fell suddenly ill.

The child was moved to a second home for a period, only to be moved for a third time in a switch that changed his school bus route and after-school schedule.

"Throughout this tumultuous time, Mr. Book did everything possible to support and advocate for his mentee," the nomination form said.

On top of his behind-the-scenes work, Book said he relishes playing ball with the youngster, going to the movies or "any activities that I think he would enjoy."

"Part of it is just sharing my time with him and helping him enjoy the activities," he said. "The other part is basically being there to support him with emotional problems he may be having."

Porter said Book, one of 30 mentors at St. Vincent Villa, is a "trailblazer" in terms of his multifaceted commitment to ensuring the boy had a chance to succeed when moved into the community.

"He gives his mentee hope," Porter said. "He gives him a belief and a power in a brighter future."

Several other local organizations were honored at the luncheon last week as well. The Towson University Center for Adults with Autism won the Innovative Program award for its field-leading work with that underserved population.

Additionally, Carissa Mortenson and Julia Kardian of the Grace Fellowship Church in Timonium won the Family Support award for their programs that offer assistance to community members whose family members need assistance because of a disability.

This story has been updated.

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