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Tony Wilburn, 45, walks behind chairs propped upside down in preparation to close out the Rocky Adkins Dining Commons, also known as "The Rock," at Morehead State University. Tony works part-time cleaning tables and work stations throughout the cafeteria.

Moving toward independence

story by Sangsuk Sylvia Kang

Tony Wilburn, 45, likes bluegrass music, University of Kentucky basketball, Diet Pepsi, joking about giving other people sardines (which he hates), and reading the Handyman magazine cover to cover. He also likes Mustangs. "Woo-hoo!" he shouts when he spots one on the road. The staff at D&S Community Services Center in Morehead assists Tony throughout his daily life. His severe Type 2 diabetes requires constant monitoring. His hands often shake when he reaches for a cleaning cloth or tries to put his glasses back on. He has some cognitive challenges and a speech impediment, making communication difficult with those unaccustomed to understanding him. "Tony-speak" is what David Henderson, a direct support professional at D&S, calls it. "He often drops the first or last syllable, but if you understand the context, with time, you can understand him," David says. Tony lives with a roommate and house managers on rotation from D&S. His only family is his brother, who sometimes visits. Tony has been at the center for four years, working for three. "I remember the day he came here," says LeeAnn Creech, executive director of D&S. "Before he came, I don't think his life was very full. He didn't have a lot of people who cared about him." LeeAnn says the staff enjoys seeing Tony grow. Tony's best friends?  "All the staff," he says. Despite a medical condition that may prevent others from seeking work, Tony works part-time, cleaning tables and drink stations at Morehead State University's Rocky Adkins cafeteria. He works steadily, never resting or sitting down. Tony takes pride in his job and seldom misses his 3 to 9 p.m. shift. "I can't wait until Monday," he says on Fridays. "He's one of us," says Patty Thacker, Tony's supervisor.  "We've got him spoiled!" Through grants D&S staff worked on for several months, Tony received a service dog named Bertram who will help monitor his sugar levels. Tony bought play ropes and chew toys for Bertram, in anticipation of the dog's arrival. When Bertram made an unannounced appearance in Morehead before going to New York for training, Tony was ecstatic. He gave D&S staff Crystal Skeens a thank-you card he'd been carrying around in his bag. "This is why we do this," David says. "Moments like this makes it worth all that we go through in our jobs."


Employment specialists from D&S Community Services prepare to prick Tony's finger to check his sugar levels before his shift at "The Rock."


Tony is responsible for keeping the cafeteria's soft drink stations clean. His severe diabetes means his sugar levels need constant monitoring. Out of all the soft drinks offered, he can have only Diet Pepsi.


Tony Wilburn, 45, works a six-hour shift four days a week at the Rocky Adkins Dining Commons at Morehead State University. He gets frustrated when he has to miss work due to illness.


Tony receives an insulin shot from a D&S staffer after he ate lunch at a Wendy's. Tony's sugar levels, diet and medicine intake require constant monitoring.


The Halloween party at D&S Community Services Center features candy, party music including Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and dancing. "With Bluegrass music, I'll dance," Tony says.


Tony embraces his service dog Bertram for the last time before he is sent off to Buffalo, New York for training. The two won't see each other again until Christmas. Crystal Skeens, left, brought the dog for a surprise visit. Service animals such as Bertram help individuals with disability gain independence.


On their one afternoon together, Tony and Bertram visit Morehead Bark Park. Bertram, a Mountain Cur and Pitbull mix, will be trained to assist Tony in watching his sugar levels. When Bertram barks toward the right side of Tony's body, that will mean Wilburn's sugar levels are low, while a bark toward the left will indicate a high sugar level.


Natalie Weaver, a House Manager from D&S Community Services, holds Tony's hand after his work shift. Natalie is one of three managers who rotate residence in the home to support Tony and his roommate.


Tony is dressing as Daniel Boone for a Halloween party at D&S Community Services Center. He bought his hat at Fort Boonesborough Park.

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