Picture of Michelle Schmitt

In August 2015, I was in an accident involving a side-by-side ATV which caused a spinal cord injury. It was a long journey from being on a ventilator for 7 weeks to learning to breathe, eat and speak on my own again. I spent 2 years in specialized intensive physical, occupational and speech therapy in Louisville, KY (7-8 hours per day, 5 days per week).

In December of 2015, I was not able to sit up on my own. By fall of 2017, I was able to take some steps with a walker. I even learned how to drive with hand controls. When I returned home in October 2017, it was time to think about getting back to work. Prior to my accident, I had a 17-year career in marketing in the plastics industry. The thought of going back to work in a wheelchair and dealing with the new physical challenges was mentally draining. I wasn’t sure if I could endure a full-time work schedule.

I reached out to Disability Outreach Specialist Ben Trockman regarding Old National Bank's Achieve Ability program. This 10-month mentorship program is an opportunity for aspiring professionals with disabilities to connect and interact with executive leaders at Old National. Ben introduced me to others at the bank, and we discussed my fears of going back to work and how I could overcome them. They helped me formulate a networking list with businesses around the community. I met with several of those contacts and discussed opportunities for obtaining part time positions to ease my way back into the workforce.

Eventually, Chief Administrative Officer Kendra Vanzo offered me a data entry position in Client Care at Old National. I still did not feel ready for a full-time position, and in April 2018, I started working 16 hours/week. Accessibility needs with the workstation, rest rooms, access to printers and break rooms were addressed. Client Care was very flexible with my work schedule based on my individual needs. Each week, I increased my hours and by June, I was able to work full time. In August 2018, I took a full-time position in Marketing and have now transitioned to Client Success.

When I was a member of the Achieve Ability class of 2019, Kendra was my mentor.  We met monthly to talk through challenges and next steps necessary to learn more about Old National. Because I was new to the banking industry, Kendra suggested that I meet with line of business leaders to gain industry knowledge and learn to navigate the bank.

Transitioning to a new role in a new industry takes time, and I tend to lack patience. Participating in various team projects has allowed me to develop an understanding of the key subject matter experts who can assist me. Taking on new assignments and increased responsibility has proved to be beneficial. The welcoming and inclusive atmosphere of ONB eased my anxiety of returning to work.

Every day presents new challenges whether in our personal or professional lives. In order to progress, we must get out of our comfort zone and face our fears. One of my friends told me that life is one big checklist…overcome the challenges one by one. Do not worry about the things I cannot control. Otherwise, I will be overwhelmed and not accomplish anything.

In the past couple of years, with continued physical therapy and strength training at the gym with my husband, I have made great strides. I have managed to walk 1,500 feet at once, stand independently for longer periods of time and recently took steps on stairs. I can stand for a few minutes to wash dishes, chop vegetables and get ready for work. Now, I make shopping trips to the grocery and mall by myself. These are all items on my list for greater independence. Always be thankful for what you have and never take anything for granted.

Bring Achieve Ability to your organization

Old National shares the Achieve Ability program with communities and employers that have a goal of being more inclusive in the states we serve. Visit our Achieve Ability page to request more information or schedule a presentation.

 Michelle Schmitt is currently a member of the Client Success team at Old National. She previously held positions in Client Care and Marketing. She was a member of the Achieve Ability class of 2019.