Marissa D. Hernandez of Van Buren, who is visually impaired, has been named the area’s outstanding consumer of the year by the Department of Human Services Division of Services for the Blind.

Hernandez is a registered nurse with Valley Behavioral Health in Barling.

"She enjoys her work and puts extra effort to give the proper care to her patients," said DSB Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Tina Shores, who nominated her for the award because of her determination to overcome adversity and succeed at work. Hernandez was promoted recently to evening charge nurse, supervising the 3-to-11 shift.

Hernandez is one of only 13 people in Arkansas who will receive an area award and was selected from an area that includes Sebastian, Montgomery, Scott, Logan, Johnson, Yell, Crawford, and Franklin counties.

The award presentation was made at the noon meeting of the Van Buren Lions Club at Western Sizzlin restaurant Wednesday. Her employer, Valley Behavioral Health, was recognized as an outstanding business partner for its commitment to promoting the employment of persons with vision impairment.

"Marissa was very successful in college," Shores said. "She completed her training with a 3.75 GPA, was named to the top 10 of her class, and was inducted into the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith Nursing Honor Society."

While Marissa carried a full class load at the UAFS, she worked part-time at the non-profit United Cerebral Palsy in Fort Smith for four years. United Cerebral Palsy provides support, learning opportunities, and therapy services for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Hernandez graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 2013 and was hired immediately by Valley Behavioral Health.

"This job has afforded her the ability to purchase her own home at the young age of 23," said Shores.

Hernandez said when she was about 9 years old, she was diagnosed with optic neuropathy, a progressive, genetic condition that affects blood flow to the optic nerve. She said genetics tests found that she was the first of her family to carry the gene. She also was diagnosed with myopic astigmatism, the irregular curvature of the cornea or lens which prevents the projection of clear images on the retina.

Her high school teacher connected her with DSB services after she noticed Hernandez moving closer and closer to the board at the front of the classroom. Hernandez said she now "wears special gas permeable hard contact lenses that allow me to do my job and to drive."

Hernandez has been a client of DSB for the past seven years and expressed her appreciation, saying DSB paid for a computer printer, books and other college expenses not covered by her scholarships. When she did her nursing clinicals at the hospital, DSB paid for new scrubs (uniforms) and a stethoscope that she still uses.

However, Hernandez said the most important thing she got from DSB was "a lot of emotional support. It was hard, because I always had to work harder than everyone else to do things. Tina (her counselor) was always there for me, so it was real comforting."

This is the eighth year that DSB has given consumer of the year awards to recognize individuals who have managed their rehabilitation plans, gained marketable skills, secured good jobs, and become role models for others. An overall state winner will be selected at the end of the year.

DSB provides vocational rehabilitation services to adults who are blind or severely visually impaired and whose goal is successful employment. The division also serves youth and older blind individuals.

For information about DSB’s programs and services, visit the DSB website at http://humanservices.arkansas.gov/dsb/Pages/default.aspx or call (800) 960-9270.