2022 Consumer of the Year

Two People Giving a Thumbs UpLarry Phillips came to the Moncks Corner SC Vocational Rehabilitation office (VR) in February 2019 with a new lease on life. Having recently obtained his GED, Larry was determined to develop a career that would help him provide for himself and his family. After extensive assessment, he expressed interest in welding. However, Larry Phillips is not your typical welder. What makes him so special? Larry has paraplegia and uses a wheelchair.

Larry was familiar with the trade but was hesitant to believe he could master such an intensely physical occupation. He stated, "I come from a family of welders you could say. My brother and cousin introduced me to the idea of becoming a welder. They recommended I learn the GTAW [gas tungsten arc welding] process for a good chance at a long-term career." Wendy May, VR Vocational Assessment and Career Exploration Specialist agreed. "With the right physical environment and Mr. Phillips' positive attitude and drive to succeed, there would be no stopping him. In all my interactions with Mr. Phillips, I have never seen him give less than 110% effort to whatever he does," she said. 

With resources from VR's Rehab Technology, Freedom Mobility, and a local technical training school, Larry began to see how his dream could become a reality. He enrolled in the 900 Hour Advanced Welding program at Arclabs Welding School and with support from VR and SC Works' WIOA program he successfully completed the program. Arclabs was able to accommodate a welding workstation at the appropriate height and VR's rehabilitation engineers were able to procure the protective apron, gloves, and helmet he needed along with fitting his wheelchair with flat-free tires that would keep his chair protected from the heat. Chuck Meek, lead instructor at Arclabs Welding School observed first-hand Larry's drive and desire for success. "You can try to hold him down, but you can't stop him," said Meek. "Once he figured out he could do this and overcame the fear of the tools and atmosphere, he did awesome. He excelled in GTAW, found his passion, and went for it," he added. 

Nearly a year after completing school, countless applications, and interviews, VR secured an Adult Internship with W International, an advanced metal fabricator that does work for the U.S. Navy. During the ten-week internship, Larry worked hands-on with Wayne Hahn, the onsite training instructor to Person Working at a Tableimprove his newly found skills to meet the level of quality expected by W International. This hard work and dedication paid off as he was officially hired as a welder with W International. Hahn shared about Mr. Phillips, "Larry has successfully passed his weld test and is working on other types of welding configurations. He continues to exceed expectations in his work and is very detailed. Larry has a very good attitude and willingness [to work]." Larry's determination, commitment to improvement and hard work have paid off. This is just the first step in what is sure to be a successful welding career.

Past Consumer of the Year Winners: