By ANGIE CARNATHAN
Marie Portera, facility manager of AbilityWorks Inc. in Starkville, said she works with a lot of people who touch her heart and inspire her, and one of those people is Lori Gillis.
Portera said Gillis grew up in Starkville where she is active in her church and enjoys family activities. She has two older sisters who have moved from the home, which leaves Gillis in the care of her parents.
“Although they are supportive, the family is also very protective of Lori since she is legally blind with a degenerative nerve disease,” Portera said. “For 11 years, Lori attended the Mississippi School for the Blind, beginning in the second grade. She was four credits short for a high school diploma, so she obtained a special certificate of completion.”
Portera said Gillis hopes to utilize the assistive technology (AT) equipment Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services purchased for her — a closed circuit TV with video magnifier — to obtain her GED.
“She (Gillis) became an MDRS client in 2009; and, although her parents were hesitant for her to work, Lori insisted on obtaining a part-time job,” Portera said. “She participated in the AbilityWorks program and in August 2010 began work at Aramark, Mississippi State University’s food service company.”
Portera said with the assistance of a supported employment job coach, Lori was trained to be a lobby hostess.
“Because of her good attitude, people skills and work ethic, she was recently given a 2 percent raise,” Portera said. “As her vocational evaluator, I encouraged Lori to achieve her goal of employment. Lori is a very tender-hearted, compassionate person with an awesome faith in God. She has a significant speech impediment, making it difficult to understand her at times, so Lori is often asked to repeat herself. Instead of getting irritated, she responds in a very calm, patient manner. She is an amazing woman.”
One of Gillis’ talents is photography. Because of her limited vision, Gillis takes photos of people so she can get a clearer image of them. These photos are kept in a special album to help her remember people important to her.
“I was given a camera for Christmas while attending Mississippi School for the Blind and realized while taking pictures, I could actually see fine details that previously I was not able to see,” Gillis said. “From that point on, I developed my photography skills and today, I love taking pictures. I have a collections of thousands of pictures.”
Gillis said her family loves and supports her and encourages her to do everything for herself. She hopes her story will help others who might also have obstacles in their lives.
“I want to be an inspiration to other people with disabilities, to encourage them to keep the faith,” Gillis said. “I firmly believe God put me here for a reason.”
Gillis attributes her upbeat attitude to her faith in God and the love and prayers from her family and friends.
Gillis’ counselor, Cynthia Cross said she is very proud of Gillis and all she has accomplished.
“Lori has worked very hard to achieve her goals and she is truly an inspiration to me, her co-workers and the entire MDRS staff,” Cross said. “Because of her determination, she was selected to be featured in the MDRS Annual Report as a person who has achieved her goals of successful employment.”
March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. For more information, please visit http://www.mdrs.ms.gov  or call Ability Works Inc. in Starkville at 662-324-9617.