Myrick passes the torch to Jenkins
For more than 40 years, Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services Assistant Commissioner James Myrick has tried to instill service from the heart in his daily life and the lives of those he supervised.
At the beginning of October, Myrick, who was a record-setting track star at Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, will passed the baton as assistant commissioner to Karen Jenkins and closed the door on his career in rehabilitation.
Myrick said he is extremely proud to have impacted the lives of staff members and consumers through his work in the field and leadership.
“The thing that gave me the most joy in this whole journey is the fact that I had an opportunity to come in contact with thousands and thousands and thousands of people over the last 40 years, and in every capacity that I served in was able to do some wonderful things within this agency to better the lives of people,” he said. “Along with that is all the many, many, many, many relationships I established with people all along the journey. That includes people I worked side-by-side with, people I had the opportunity to hire and supervise – people from all walks of life to either bring them into the agency or help them advance their career within the agency.”
There was a time when Myrick’s journey appeared more destined for the Olympics than ADRS. As a high school senior in 1974, Myrick had his eye on a college track career and the 1976 games.
An injury ended those dreams and forced him to take a different path, which led him to Troy University, a degree in rehabilitation, and a position at the Southeast Rehabilitation Center in Dothan as a dorm director soon after his graduation in 1979.
“I was living there 24 hours a day,” he said. “There were counselors from throughout the state who sent consumers to live there while they participated in rehab programs.”
Myrick remained in Dothan for eight years before accepting a similar position in Montgomery. It was there that he met Lamona Lucas and started the path to an ADRS career.
A second meeting with Lucas at a conference made it clear that he was on her radar.
“She saw me, remembered me, and said, ‘I want you to come and work for me,’ ” he said. “That’s all it took. The rest is history.”
Myrick was recruited as a rehab counselor in 1990. Three years later, he became an employment development coordinator. A little more than a year later, he was promoted to facilities specialist, a position he held for five years. During this time, he became a member of the Field Leadership Team and later was promoted to field supervisor of the Opelika office.
Myrick served in this capacity for more than eight years before coming to the state office as a specialist and eventually assistant commissioner over the general VR division, a position he held for the final five years of his ADRS career.
Through the years, Myrick hired hundreds of new employees and had the opportunity to help many advance. He said it was a blessing to serve thousands of consumers within the state.
Myrick said he has mixed emotions about retirement, but he is ready to begin the next phase of his life. He said he is not sure what that might be, but he added the Lord is in control and knows his future.
“I know that he has a plan for me, and I’m going to sit back patiently and let that work out in my life,” he said.
Myrick said he will always be mindful of what the agency has done for him, how it shaped his life, and how it helped him get where he is today. He looks forward to seeing ADRS continue to help Alabama’s children and adults achieve their maximum potential.
Like Myrick, Jenkins had not planned on a career with ADRS. She originally had hopes of becoming an occupational therapist, but after a summer job at the Fayette/Lamar ARC, she reconsidered her career path. Through the job, she learned about the Rehabilitation Services program at Auburn University and was on her way.
When the time came to sign up for the practicum slots, Jenkins headed to Opelika High School, where she met a transition teacher named Wendy Baker.
“I remember telling my mom, ‘Ugh… I have to go to a high school,’ ” she said. “But I got there and Wendy was a fantastic teacher to learn transition from, and guess what? I loved it! I enjoyed every minute I was there. I learned a lot there too.”
Baker also set Jenkins up on a blind date with her nephew Seth, with whom Jenkins recently celebrated her 21st wedding anniversary.
During her senior year at Auburn, Jenkins interned with ADRS in the Opelika VR office with a counselor named Glennie Melton.
“I learned so much about VR, the services we provide, and – most importantly – our mission,” she said. “And, I knew then that I wanted to work for ADRS.”
Jenkins earned her bachelor of science in education, rehabilitation services in August 1997 and was hired in October 1997 as a jointly-funded job coach to work with students at Robert E. Lee High School.
Because she knew that her ultimate goal was to work for ADRS, she returned to school while still working at Lee after a year on the job and earned her master of education in rehabilitation counseling in 2000.
On Jan. 1, 2001, she began working as a counselor in the Troy VR office with a transition caseload in Crenshaw County and a transition/general caseload in Butler County.
She transferred to Montgomery in 2002 and had a total transition caseload for Robert E. Lee and Sidney Lanier high schools.
In 2003, Jenkins was asked to take over the transition caseload for Elmore County, where she served Tallassee City, Wetumpka, Stanhope Elmore , Elmore County, and Holtville high schools.
While in Montgomery, she became very involved with the Alabama Rehabilitation Association, Alabama Rehabilitation Counselors and Educators Association, and the Montgomery Area Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. She served as ARCEA president in 2010 and 2012 and ARA president 2015.
In 2011, Jenkins moved to the state office as a rehabilitation specialist, where she began working with the Youth Leadership Forum, the self-employment program, and poster/journalism program.
By 2014, she was promoted to Rehabilitation Specialist III and became the Statewide Transition Coordinator, which gave her the opportunity to serve on the Alabama Council on Developmental Disabilities, Special Education Advisory Panel, State Interagency Coordinating Committee, and to work with Auburn University to develop Transition Unlimited. This program has been recognized by NTACT as a Resource for Implementation of the Five Pre-ETS Priority Areas.
Many programs have had a lasting effect on her life, Jenkins said, but YLF is especially close to her heart.
“I don’t know if I can ever put into words the impact that YLF has had on my life personally and professionally,” she said. “I will honestly say I will truly miss being a part of the week. When I accepted the role as assistant commissioner, it was one of the first things that I thought about and wondered if I could still pull off coordinating the week. It is one of the coolest things our agency does.”
Jenkins was quick to share the credit for the massive success YLF has seen through the years with the steering committee and staff.
The role of assistant commissioner was somewhat intimidating at first, but Jenkins said she realized she repeatedly tells her son and consumers that they can do anything, they just have to step out there.
She decided to take her own advice, apply for the position, and has made a seamless transition into her new role.
Jenkins said she is honored to have been given the opportunity to serve in this capacity. She said she has had great examples of leaders at ADRS and she will seek their advice.
Her first priority, she said, is to make VR the first agency individuals with disabilities think of when they need employment assistance.
“I want them to know that they can easily connect to a counselor, and when that person leaves the building, they leave with resources, a plan, and – most importantly – hope,” she said. “I want us to continue to develop meaningful programs and opportunities for our consumers to prepare them for higher wages and long-term employment.”