When Tan "Tommy" Huynh was 6 years old, he witnessed a horrific crime that resulted in the death of his mother, brother and sister. Years later, he was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him with a disability. Following a long recovery he started working aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola in 2015. He's part of a GCE team that serves approximately 9,000 meals a day to service members and military personnel, and with a big smile says, "This job is one of the best things that's ever happened to me."
You’d never know it by his infectious smile and positive attitude, but Tan “Tommy” Huynh survived two traumatic experiences. When he was only 6-years-old, he and his siblings watched from a hallway, while a man stabbed and killed their mother. His older sister was 8, a younger brother was 4 and their baby sister was 2.
The children hid until the attacker found them and strangled the two youngest children and stabbed the older sister, but she survived. Tommy said, “My room was last. He was yelling my name and looked under the bed straight at me. I cried, ‘Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me.’”
Suddenly, the man fled with money and the family car. Tommy crawled out from under his bed to find his older sister wounded, but calling 911. He saw his motionless brother on the bed, and then he went into the hallway bathroom.
“I saw my little sister on the floor,” Tommy said. “She picked up her head and looked at me then collapsed.”
Over the years Tommy found strength in God and was doing well until he turned 24 when tragedy struck again. Someone pulled out in front of him while he was riding his motorcycle. Initially his survival rate was near zero, but he came out of a coma and mostly recovered from severe injuries. He now has a metal rod in his leg and writes with his left hand. He lives with aphasia, a condition that impedes speech ability as the result of a brain injury.
“I was young and had the world in front of me.” Then a happy memory flashed through his mind and he smiled and said, “Working on cars was my hobby. I used to save my family a ton of money on car repairs.”
Today, one of the high points of Tommy’s life journey has been working at Global Connections to Employment (GCE) in the scullery (dishwashing area) at the Galley aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola. He’s a well-liked 31-year-old young man who jokes and exchanges fist bumps with supervisors and co-workers. “Working here gives me an opportunity to communicate with others, and I like to stay busy. When I got this job at GCE I was thankful.”
Tommy shared some advice for employers who might consider hiring someone with a disability:“Don’t judge a book by its cover until you’ve opened and read it. God is still working on me and he’s doing an awesome job.”
Meet Sebastian Ploszaj, a husband, father, IT quality assurance worker, and a U.S. Marine recipient of the Purple Heart. He experienced a service-connected traumatic brain injury and PTSD, but today he works for GCE under a contract with their EITS government contract in Virginia. He is an employed person with a disability.
Pamela Cox started out as a custodial worker with no formal education. Today she is an operational manager who’s working toward a master’s degree in management. Pamela works for GCE under a contract with the Armed Forces Retirement Home in D.C. She is an employed person with a disability.
GCE 2015 Employee of the Year
The 2015 SourceAmerica® William M. Usdane National Award winner
U.S. Marine recipient of the Purple Heart
Sebastian Ploszaj is a husband, father, IT quality assurance worker, dog lover, student, volunteer and a U.S. Marine recipient of the Purple Heart, given to him in 2007 for service in Iraq. On Sebastian’s third deployment he experienced a traumatic brain injury and thereafter, PTSD.
Initially, Sebastian suffered memory loss and had to relearn a lot of basic functions such as spelling. He had to work extra hard to comprehend information. He also had trouble sleeping. Not only did Sebastian sustain injuries, but he also lost his best friend in Iraq. His service dog, Dozer, has helped him through much of the ordeal.
It’s been a long and arduous journey, but in spite of it all, Sebastian is working full-time, earning a college degree in business, managing a family with his wife and volunteering on programs that can help his fellow veterans. He worked at it until he achieved an IT certificate and now works for GCE’s Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS) contract performing quality assurance functions.
The training programs he works on can help countless other veterans for whom he has a deep respect. “Good training and employment programs can help people who are already trying really hard,” said Sebastian. “Sometimes they want to give up, but they just need that extra boost.”
As for Sebastian, he’s so motivated and grateful for the help he’s received that he’s now focusing on even higher aspirations. “I may work on Capitol Hill one day as a veterans’ representative, lobbyist or congressman,” he said. For Sebastian, the sky is the limit.
In 2015 Sebastian was chosen from a pool of 44,000 individuals to achieve the SourceAmerica William M. Usdane National Award.
2015 RESPECT of Florida Employee of the Year for Services
In September of 2015, Donnell Haynes was honored as the 2015 RESPECT of Florida Employee of the Year for Services.
Donnell knows no limits. He is a born leader. He also is a man with a disability, but all that means to him is that he needs to tweak his action steps for achieving new goals. Working at Global Connections to Employment (GCE) through the RESPECT of Florida program, he is progressing towards independence and personal achievement, and he is serving as an inspiration to his peers and leaders.
In the past, Donnell worked as a project manager for a landscape company. He loved his work, but landscaping was physically demanding and required long hours. When he became disabled and needed dialysis several times a week, he had to find a job that could accommodate his disability. He embraced a positive attitude, learned to work with his disability rather than against it, and found the perfect job with GCE working on the floor crew.
He juggles work, public transportation schedules and treatment schedules without compromising any obligations. It’s difficult to adjust your mind and body to less freedom and more health responsibilities, but he has done so with strength and fortitude.
He proactively obtained a driver’s license so that he could drive to 10 sites to help manage the work load. Having a driver's license also has been one more step toward regaining his mobility and independence.
Donnell makes it a priority to know every staff member. He shadows, asks questions, follows up and investigates to learn every aspect of the jobs at each site. He takes on tasks that are not assigned to him. His attitude fosters an environment of acceptance and comradery with all of the employees.
During his off time, he enjoys evenings with his eight children and 14 grandchildren and he volunteers at his church. He participates in a support group at the dialysis center and empathetically shares tips with fellow patients. A dialysis treatment can last for four hours, so Donnell tells the other patients how they can pass that time. He also lets them know what physical positions are most comfortable in his experience.
Extraordinary efforts are an everyday occurrence for Donnell. He does so without seeking praise or commendation. He is hardworking, dependable and genuine. He is an outstanding contributing member of the Florida workforce and certainly to humanity.
GCE 2014 Employee of the Year
Richard “Scott” Powell is responsible for GCE’s custodial services at the Army Base in Fort Knox, Ky., which include but are not limited to removing trash, cleaning restrooms and performing floor service. Prior to working with GCE, Scott was riding his bike one day and was struck by a car. The accident left him with cognitive limitations, a metal rod in his leg and limited sight in both eyes. In an instant, his life changed.
Scott’s physical and mental limitations made it impossible for him to get a driver’s license. His mother passed away after his injury and he was on his own, but none of that stopped him. He learned to manage outbursts and social interactions, and he is practicing how to deal with and express his frustrations in a productive, professional and appropriate way in spite of the extra challenges life has presented to him.
Today, Scott lives alone and doesn’t drive, but has an outstanding work attendance record. If he can’t coordinate a ride to work with someone, he rides his bike five miles one way and is always on time. Scott goes above and beyond for his team by staying late, coming in early, and he’s even adjusted his vacation schedule to meet the needs of the company. He’s been with GCE for 10 years.
His infectious attitude is: “We can get this done!” He also volunteers at the local animal shelter.
Scott is great at his duties and is a valued member of the team. In fact, if you were to watch him while he’s working, you’d never know the challenges he overcomes each day.
Richard Scott Powell, Sebastian Plozaj and Pamela Cox have all taken time out of their schedules and gone to SourceAmerica’s Grass Roots Advocacy training in Washington DC. They each shared their personal struggles and accomplishments with congressional leaders so these leaders would understand the importance of creating jobs for persons with significant disabilities. Their stories were well-received by these national leaders.
Connections to Employment | 2001 North E Street | Pensacola, Florida 32501 | 850.595.1330 | 877.827.2372 (toll-free)