Balancing Big Dreams and Financial Security



Balancing Big Dreams And Financial Security. Dream Big, Set Goals and Take Action.



Everyone, at some point in their career, asks themselves if they should stay in their job or look for something else. I sometimes ask myself those questions. I am a young professional based in Washington, D.C. Growing up, my mom used to say, “You have a disability. You have challenges. But a job is important. There are resources for that. You can’t just shrug them off.”  


As a person with cerebral palsy, some days, my joints ache more than usual. The thought of getting up and going to work is sometimes challenging. However, I know that it is important to show up, so I always get myself up and take the bus to my job at the U.S. Department of Education. 

A picture of Vander Cherry.
Vander Cherry


I got my current job through a program called Project SEARCH. I learned about it in high school, and my occupational therapist helped me apply for the program. Project SEARCH gave me a mixture of classroom and internship experiences. One of my internships led to my current job, which I’ve had for about 12 years—since I was 19. I have a wonderful supervisor who knows how to accommodate my disabilities and keep me challenged and learning. My supervisor believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. My supervisor knows how to assign me work that not only helps the office, but also helps me grow as a professional. I am grateful for their patience and willingness to use my skills, while adapting to my needs and the needs of the office.


I love working at the Department of Education, but like everyone, sometimes I wonder if I should be looking for a next step. My current job as a Clerk in the Office of the Ombudsman, Office of Federal Student Aid has taught me about education policy, computer skills and how to dress and act in the workplace. I also want to explore other opportunities, including public speaking, advocacy, game testing and music. 


As my mom said, there are resources available. I just learned about a valuable one called Secure Your Financial Future: A Toolkit for Individuals with Disabilities. As I consider the possibility of future jobs, I will use the financial toolkit’s changing jobs resources to ensure that I continue to have a good income and benefits. I like that the financial toolkit covers a wide variety of topics, like protecting my health care and retirement, collecting a final paycheck and coping with stress. I hope to use these resources as I make decisions about possibly changing jobs. 


The CareerOneStop website also has a number of tools to assist career explorers in changing jobs, such as the Switch Careers how-to guide, the mySkills myFuture career-matching tool and a skills self-assessment. These tools will help me understand what jobs might be a good fit and could help me build a LinkedIn profile. 


I have big career dreams and am thankful that Project SEARCH supported me in evolving from a student to a young professional. From here, I can use the financial toolkit and the CareerOneStop resources to help me make decisions so that I continue to grow in my current career or a future one. 


Vander Cherry is a Clerk in the Office of the Ombudsman, Office of Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education.