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BOURBON â€” Zak Hoffer, of Bourbon, is a fairly average 21-year-old. A fan of classic rock music, he enjoys playing his guitar, spending time with his family, and bowling. But what's not so average is Zak's past. When Zak was 10 years old, he was hit by a car while out riding his bike, landing him in the hospital for three months and causing permanent brain injuries.
"We didn't think that he would have a future," said Zak's mother, Patty Hoffer-Steele. "When we left the hospital the psychologist told us he would never have a normal conversation again."
Instead of giving up, however, Zak's family encouraged him to stay in school. With a lot of hard work, he was able to graduate from Triton High School with his class in 2008.
"After he graduated, we weren't sure what to do," remembered Hoffer-Steele. "I didn't want him sitting at home watching TV."
She remembered a interest of Zak's â€” welding â€” and thought that he might be able to get a job in that field.
Hoffer-Steele had previously worked in the HR department at Pi-Rod (now Valmont) in Plymouth. She said that when Zak and her other children were young, they used to come to work with her and Zak especially seemed interested in the welders.
"He grew up around the shop," said Hoffer-Steele. "I think he was fascinated by watching the guys work."
Zak began taking classes at Career Links, a division of Cardinal Services, in Warsaw. He was taught interviewing skills while also being trained in welding. After a few years, Zak was ready to apply for jobs. He eventually began working part-time as a welder for Par-Kan â€” a container manufacturer in Silver Lake.
Despite suffering from occasional headaches and short-memory loss, Zak has done very well in his position.
"He comes to work all the time, he does everything he is asked and everything he is supposed to do," said Zak's supervisor Tony Hough.
Zak was presented with a Personal Achievement Award from the Indiana APSE (Association for Persons in Supported Employment) on Dec. 8. The award is a significant honor, since only one is given in Indiana each year.
"He was very shocked and happy, he couldn't believe it," said Hoffer-Steele.
Now, Zak is in the running for the national ASPE award, which will be determined in June. In the meantime, he is enjoying his job while working toward one of his goals: getting more hours and moving out on his own.