Johnny smilingWhen her granddaughter died, Johnny's grief and clinical depression prevented her from working. She began receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and after more than a decade of focusing on recovery, Johnny sought the help of Ticket to Work in reclaiming her life. Find out how Ticket to Work helped Johnny achieve her goals and work towards financial independence.

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Johnny's Stepping Stone

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Confidence Restored

Published in 2020

Johnny smiling at cameraThe journey to employment often includes detours and setbacks. Financial independence can take a long time to achieve and every step closer to this goal deserves recognition. Ticket to Work Stepping Stones features celebrate those intermediate achievements. This is Johnny's story.

All of Johnny's energy went into loving and caring for her 8 grandchildren. She felt especially protective of a 12-year-old granddaughter born with a developmental disability. When this child died in 2005, Johnny was devastated, and her grief triggered severe mental health symptoms.

Clinical depression caused fatigue, body aches, sleep disturbance, weight gain and feelings of emptiness. "… due to the guilt and pain I felt after her death, I stopped functioning..." she says.

Johnny left her part-time job and struggled financially. "It was a very…dark period," she recalls.

She set out to find help and in 2006, began receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

It took more than a decade to find the right combination of interventions. But with improved health and a renewed sense of hope, Johnny decided to go back to school and prepare to re-enter the workforce. She earned a certification in Business Empowerment from Concord Career Institute and found part-time work at a warehouse. This tentative re-entry helped restore Johnny's confidence and informed her future decisions about employment.

By 2013, she had a better outlook and decided to work toward a more ambitious goal: home ownership. With help from the Rise Foundation and the Memphis Housing Authority (MHA), Johnny improved her financial literacy, paid off debt and increased her credit score.

She felt ready to pursue a career, but needed help. When MHA connected Johnny to America Works of Tennessee, a service provider that helps adults with disabilities find success in the workforce, she learned she would have the assistance she needed with Social Security's Ticket to Work (Ticket) program.

Ticket to Work is a free and voluntary program that supports career development for people with disabilities who are ready for employment. Adults ages 18 - 64 who receive SSI or SSDI qualify. Through the Ticket program, service providers like America Works, known as Employment Networks (EN), offer a range of free services to help people prepare for, find, or maintain employment. America Works helped Johnny with career counseling, a new resume, interview skills and job leads.

“Being back at work has been an important part of my recovery,” she reflects. “It's restoring my self-confidence… and has made it possible to buy a home. I [purchased] the light-colored house I always wanted with the tall fence. The only thing I'm missing is a German Shepherd and a Cadillac!”

They also educated her about Social Security rules and programs known as Work Incentives. Work Incentives allow people who receive Social Security disability benefits to focus on acclimating to employment without having to worry about immediately losing SSI/SSDI, Medicare, and/or Medicaid coverage. They protect eligibility for these benefits until participants achieve self-supporting employment. Johnny learned she would not lose her Medicare coverage or her SSDI benefit as soon as she returned to work. She had time to determine how employment would work for her.

There are many Work Incentives designed to ease the transition to work. These rules are helpful, but they are also complex. Because each person's circumstances are different, Social Security encourages job seekers to connect with a Benefits Counselor, a trained professional who can explain how working will affect their disability benefits.

In 2019, the new year brought Johnny a new job working full-time as a security guard.

"This employer could see that Johnny is energetic, conscientious and self-starting," says a job developer with America Works. "She has a passion for performance that comes through in everything she takes on."

Johnny feels like she is back in the driver's seat. "I'm reclaiming everything that was once lost," she says. With help through Ticket to Work and MHA, Johnny re-entered the workforce, improved her credit score, re-connected with people in her community, and improved her well-being.

"Being back at work has been an important part of my recovery," she reflects. "It's restoring my self-confidence… and has made it possible [for me] to buy… the house I always wanted!"

Reflecting on Johnny's resilience, her job developer observes, "Instead of being defeated by past challenges, Johnny created strength from them and gained empowerment in the process."

Johnny feels confident she is on a path to financial independence. With the right supports and opportunities, she will get there. You can too. For guidance, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) or visit choosework.ssa.gov.

Johnny feels confident she is on a path to financial independence. With the right supports and opportunities, she will get there. You can too. For guidance, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) or visit choosework.ssa.gov.