09/03/07 — His dream was just to work

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His dream was just to work

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 3, 2007 1:46 PM

Labor Day, a holiday devoted to the recognition of working people's contribution to society, holds special meaning for Silas Czeiner.

The 23-year-old has spent the bulk of his life overcoming obstacles and dismissing his own limitations.

He was born with a disability, but he doesn't consider himself disabled.

At birth, his hands were curled up tightly beneath his chin and he had little use of his arms.

At age 2, a series of surgeries began that would allow him to better move them, even though they would never keep pace with the growth of his other limbs.

But his outlook was never dim.

"I wouldn't let anything stop me," he says now. "When I was born, I didn't have much function. ... As a child, at first it was real hard. I had physical therapy and they brought things out for me to squeeze and to do other things with."

He was "club handed," he said, describing the appearance of his hands as being "turned like a golf club." A corrective procedure in his late teens straightened out his hands and wrist bones.

He enjoys bowling -- averaging a 250 game -- as well as fishing, basketball and soccer. In 2000, he was named "Student Athlete of the Year" for Special Olympics Wayne County.

He also keeps active looking after his three younger siblings, ages 3, 5 and 6.

"My sisters keep me on my toes because I'm always chasing them around," he laughed.

But Silas also wanted to be a productive contributor.

Jackie Tetterton, a counselor with Vocational Rehabilitation, has worked with him since he was in ninth grade, helping him prepare for competitive employment. After receiving some training, he was referred to Community Partnership Inc., which has offices in Goldsboro, Raleigh, Fayetteville and Durham.

Ms. Tetterton has witnessed some of Silas' challenges.

"Due to the nature of his disability, he had a lot of doors slammed in his face," she said. "That's why it took a collective effort for us to work with Silas."

Calling him "one of the most patient, positive, upbeat individuals that I have worked with," Ms. Tetterton said, "He did not let his disability prevent him from doing anything."

His goal was to work, Ms. Tetterton said, and he pressed forward, doing anything he was asked to do to make that dream come true.

After graduating from Southern Wayne High School in 2002, he helped out his parents -- Gordon and Patricia Fralick of Grantham -- by doing masonry and brick work.

When the opportunity came for other employment, Silas jumped at it.

"I got tired of sitting home a lot," he said.

Ms. Tetterton and S.J. Parker, an employment specialist for Community Partnership, assisted him in filling out applications and matching him up with an employer.

"I got to tell them what I like, told them what I could do," he explained.

In October, he was hired to work at Key Foods on Wayne Memorial Drive.

"I'm a bagger and sometimes they have me stock (shelves)," he said. "My favorite thing to do is to get the buggies in, pushing the buggies in, because the people say, 'We don't know how you do that.' It makes me feel good."

Assistant manager Perry Kornegay said if anything, he has had to hold Silas back.

"I don't know what it is about bringing in the carts, but he'll want to bring in eight or 10 carts at once and I'll say, 'Four or five at once is fine,'" he said.

"If anybody needs an inspiration, he is it."

He might only work a few hours a day, but often works five or six days a week. The comments he hears makes the job worthwhile.

"They come up and pat me on the back and say, 'You're a blessing,' or 'We're glad you're here and thank you for doing such a good job,'" he said.

It's a stark contrast to some of the things he heard growing up.

"It got to me a lot, what people said about me, but now I look at it as, it'll be all right," he says.

Silas' positive attitude can be linked to the solid support he received at home.

"My dad, he doesn't cut me any slack," he said. His family, which also includes two older brothers, ages 32 and 30, "didn't really see me as handicapped. They pushed me harder and now it's gotten so I don't lay back. I do it myself."

The grandfather for whom he was named was also an inspiration.

"When I was little, he pushed me. When he passed away (when Silas was 5), everyone forgot about it, but I didn't. I kept pushing myself. ... I look at something and find the best way to do it and go for it."

Silas also has a talent for art.

"He can draw -- unbelievable -- and it really surprised me at the detail and how he's able to just look at something and go and draw it," Ms. Tetterton said.

He mostly enjoys drawing "tribal designs," which he likens to tattoos that people might get. Once upon a time, he even thought he might have a future as an artist.

"I would like to go to college," he said. "I got a letter from Miami University for art but I didn't get to go."

For now that's on the back burner.

"A lot of doors have opened up," he said. "I like bagging groceries and keeping drawing to myself because I can say that separates me from all the other artists. I do it different from people that do other pictures."

Having the chance to work supersedes anything else, he says. Likewise, those who helped him line up a job are appreciative he has been given the opportunity.

Silas' own ambition is not to be overlooked.

"You have got people out there that are like me but they don't want to do anything," he said. "I'm happy that Vocational Rehabilitation and Community Partnership gave me an opportunity and looked into my effort, so I can be what I am instead of what people see."