An employee of Mercer County Opportunity Industries, Princeton, was honored recently by the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services for exemplary vocational rehabilitation success.
Fritz Zacher, 26, is the 2013 Ability Works award winner from the Beckley District, which serves Braxton, Fayette, Greenbrier, Mercer, Monroe, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Raleigh, Summers and Webster counties. The awards are presented each October during National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Medical professionals may describe this extremely bright and artistically talented young man as having Asperger’s syndrome, but Zacher describes himself as the gatekeeper of his own destiny.
According to Nancy Harris, DRS rehabilitation counselor, Zacher has a slightly different perspective than most people, which made things difficult for him socially and vocationally.
From the time he was very young, Zacher demonstrated strong artistic abilities. He created several comic book characters; he draws them and writes the script. His parents encouraged his artistic talents, but wanted him to find a job that would support him.
Teachers at James Monroe High School referred Zacher to DRS for vocational assistance to help him prepare for his future.
“It was our goal to provide opportunities for Fritz to grow. So, we provided opportunities for him to develop his skills and abilities and build confidence and a sense of competence,” said Harris.
With assistance from DRS, Zacher started a subsidized, on-the-job training program with Monroe County Schools, where he learned the skills to be a substitute custodian. This training experience provided Zacher with extra job coaching to learn the necessary job tasks and reimbursed the employer’s wages paid during the training. Ultimately, the experience was a success and Monroe County Schools ended up with a well-trained employee.
While this training experience translated into a real job, it was only part-time and the work was sporadic. An intensive search began to help Zacher find a second job to complement his part-time employment or a full-time job that suited his abilities.
A contact at Mercer County Opportunity Industries in Princeton paid off. MCOI was looking for someone to work as an assistant in its print shop, where they make plaques, banners, signs and T-shirts. They needed a detail-oriented person with an artistic eye, who was capable of doing exacting, tedious and repetitious work.
After high school, Zacher took graphic arts classes at Mercer County Technical Education Center, where he became proficient in sophisticated graphic arts programs, including Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. His designs won him awards at both state and national competitions.
Keith Frey, MCOI print and sign shop manager, describes Zacher as very coordinated and very task oriented. “If you show him something once, he’s good to go,” said Frey. “Those skills really make him a great fit in the print shop.”
Presently, Zacher is working two part-time jobs. Frey is flexible and works around Fritz’s part-time custodian job, where he can be called into work with very little notice.
“Fritz is really very amazing, being able to balance two jobs,” said Harris. “And MCOI has been especially helpful because they’ve allowed him to, at any time, work his custodial job whenever he is called and make up his time at MCOI on other days.”
According to Zacher, “I still have goals for my future that I want to set, ladders to climb, figuratively speaking.”
“Like the old saying goes, you only live once,” Fritz explains. “So, I simply do my best to live life to the fullest, independently, making as many friends as I can and having as much fun whenever possible.”
DRS, a division of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, is the state agency responsible for the federal vocational rehabilitation program in West Virginia. Each year, DRS helps thousands of West Virginians with disabilities meet their employment goals by providing individualized work-related counseling, training, job placement and other vocational rehabilitation services through 31 field offices across the state.
For more information about DRS and its programs, call 1-800-642-8207 or visit the division’s website at wvdrs.org. In the Beckley District, call 304-256-6900.