Gainesville resident Jimmy DeFoor received the Legacy Award from the Georgia Rehabilitation Association in August to honor him for a lifetime of service for individuals with disabilities.
“I was extremely honored,” said the longtime advocate of vocational rehabilitation programs. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of wonderful people, and for them to recognize me with that is an honor that is hard to explain.”
The Vocational Rehabilitation Programs is designed to help people with disabilities develop skills and obtain jobs. The roots of the program can be traced back to the years after World War I when Congress began providing counseling, training, prostheses and placement services to disabled people following a large influx of injured veterans.
DeFoor knew he wanted to be a counselor since before college. In 1969, he was offered a counseling internship with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Program’s Gainesville office, which oversaw a large portion of Northeast Georgia. At the time he had no idea this would be the beginning of a lifelong career.
“I liked the feeling of being able to help somebody,” DeFoor said. “I got to see how people with disabilities can strive and accomplish significant things with a little guidance and help. That was very gratifying and that kept me in it for a long time.”
DeFoor was promoted to a full-fledged counseling position after two years and obtained his Masters of Education degree from the University of Georgia. He continued to move up over the course of his career. He worked as a counselor, supervisor, district director, VR program director, deputy agency director and assistant commissioner of Rehabilitation Services for the Department of Labor.
DeFoor retired in 2002 after 33 years of service in various VR programs.
“One of my fondest memories is of a young man from Gainesville that I worked with about 30 years ago,” he said. “I run into him every now and then, and he always comes up and thanks me for helping him get a job that he has had for the past 30 years.
“He was the one who accomplished it, but knowing that I had a small part in it is wonderful. It was a very rewarding career for all my years in rehabilitation.”
In July 2012, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed DeFoor to serve on the initial service board of the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, which was formed to transition the VR program into a standalone agency for the first time in Georgia. Fellow board members immediately selected DeFoor as their first chairman and subsequently re-elected him the following year.
GVRA has six rehabilitation programs: the Business Enterprise Program, which provides licensed blind vendors across the state; Disability Adjudication Services, which makes Social Security disability determinations; Georgia Industries for the Blind, which provides employment opportunities for the blind; the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute, a rehabilitation center; the VR program; and the Cave Spring Rehabilitation Center.