As the holidays approach, it can be a difficult time financially for many looking for work – especially those with disabilities. However, the number of success stories in Tennessee is growing. Brad Henson of Knoxville will celebrate his five-year anniversary of working as a peer-support specialist next spring, a job he landed with the help of the Benefits to Work program. “It gives me extreme self-confidence and higher levels of self-esteem,” he said, “It makes me feel like I’m part of society and I’m not on the fringe of society because I have a diagnosed mental illness.” Benefits to Work is a free service provided by the Tennessee Disability Coalition. For those who rely on regular health care, Henson said, the incentives for employment that have minimal impacts on benefits are key. “If they went to work not knowing about this service, when they went into their job they could lose their disability income,” he said, “and then say, for example, they got sick again or had a relapse, then they would not have their disability to fall back onto and it would be just a whole big mess.” While the program helps remove some of the obstacles, Henson said those who want to pursue their career goals need to be driven and focused. “I chose the profession that I chose to give back to society for the good help that I’ve gotten over the years years from the mental-health field for my own self treatment,” he said, “and I think that’s an important thing.” According to the Tennessee Disability Coalition, 1 million people in the state are coping with disabilities and, on average, they’re more likely to be unemployed and in poverty. More information on the Benefits to Work program is online at tndisability.org.