The Divine ‘Lady D ’turning disability into ability on the job

‘She’s been a blessing to me.’

With a constant eye on getting the job done – and done right, Darlene Jackson, dubbed “Lady D’,” sorts out clothing and places it on a rack at the Cajun Village Thrift Store. Having worked at the Luling store eight years, Darlene knows the place well.

“She’s been a blessing to me,” said Store Manager Paula Barnes as she finished folding clothing on the counter near the register.

“Instead of my helping her, she helps me.”

For Barnes and the Arc of St. Charles, which operates the store, Darlene is a success story.

She’s among the people with a disability earning her way there by working through the agency’s services aimed at job training. Barnes said she readily shows her passion to handle tasks, as well as help others with their tasks, too.

“She’s been a pleasure to work with and nothing is too complicated for Ms. Darlene to do,” Barnes said. “She likes learning new stuff. She comes in at 9 a.m. and asks, ‘Miss Paula, what are we doing today?’ Once I give her a new job, she loves coordinating things in the store.”

Darlene’s mother, Carolyn Jackson of Luling, said she’s been determined to keep her daughter active and learning.

“I did not want her to sit down at home and do nothing … only going to Arc,” she said. “That wasn’t in my plans for her.”

Jackson saw to it.

When Wal-Mart opened in Boutte, she got an application for Darlene that became a longtime job for her at the superstore. She started in the garden section and then moved to a job “inside the store” that she holds  to this day on Mondays and Fridays. She works Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Thrift Store.

“I’m satisfied with her life,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t push more than I felt she was capable of doing.”

To keep Darlene sharp, Carolyn practices information with her every day, such as the days of the week.

It’s important to Jackson that her daughter be able to take care of herself, although she’s appreciative that her brother and sister help care for her, too.

Darlene sustained a brain injury in childbirth that affected her memory.

“I think back at the time it was something I had to accept and began to live with and work with that,” she said. “That’s why I started with the Arc. I worked for the Arc for 28 years working with her and other kids.”

As a teacher there, Jackson helped establish the ceramics department. Students helped pour the clay, fire the kilns, paint the pieces and clean the work area.

Darlene worked there, too, as well as in other Arc programs and she just kept moving forward as she learned how to do more.

Arc Executive Director Victoria Bryant, who gave Darlene the name “Lady D,” has long known her.

“I was 27 years old when I began working at the Arc of St. Charles,” Bryant said. “Lady D was already in her 30s. I had to respect her on another level, as well as several others for the mere fact that they were years older than I was. They were my elders. Well, Lady D might not like the ‘old’ part since she was just a few years older.”

She has made her own choices with her activities with Arc.

“I simply treated her as I would anyone else,” Bryant said. “We spoke to each other from a woman-to-woman perspective. In the good old days, we used to hold weekly power meetings whereby everybody could sit around and discuss changes they wanted to make or suggestions of things they wanted to do. Lady D was one of the first to give her opinion about being an adult and being treated like an adult.”

Bryant praised Lady D’s work ethic that has translated into not missing work and taking responsibility for her actions.

“She is funny,” she added about her. “I was recently informed that she challenged her job coach by requesting that she not visit her while she was working. She felt that none of the other workers at the business had anyone checking on them. Nevertheless, that process has changed. Lady D will contact her job coach if she has any concerns.

“She represents many persons we support at the Arc – many are as independent and others become as independent once they are offered expectations and given options.”

At the Thrift Store, Barnes said she and Darlene work together to step up her skills and keep her learning, which is an important aspect of her day.

“She is striving for perfection,” she said. “She wants to know everything I know and then some.”


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