SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A deaf and legally blind man was promoted to the Marine Corps Recruitment Depot as a Prep Chef last week and is thrilled to be back to work.
Kevin Tong was born deaf in Vietnam and moved with his family to San Diego when he was 13.
He fell in love with cooking during an internship and started working in hotels, honing his skills in the kitchen.
In his 20s another challenge hit, his vision started to go dark.
"I started to see from what would be considered a tunnel and I went to the doctor because it was really alarming to me to work in food services and not have the vision I needed to cut safely," Tong said through interpreter Laila-Wendy Chouinard with the Helen Keller National Center.
From 2016 until about two months ago, Tong didn't have a job. That's where the HKNC stepped in with training.
They have six core areas of training, according to Susanne Hogan, Senior Orientation and Mobility Specialist, Helen Keller National Center.
"We teach in orientation and mobility, which teaches travel in the community or the work environment. We teach assistive technology," which helps those with hearing or vision loss communicate says Hogan.
"They helped me not only as a deaf-blind person to find success but they taught me how to be independent by teaching me mobility skills, taught me employment skills," Tong said through sign language.
He advocates for others in his shoes, "so for those who are deaf-blind or have vision loss, I tell them be flexible and learn to take on challenges."
He said even if you can't do something, watch and absorb the information. He said if you don't give up you can achieve your dreams, like saving up to travel the world.
"I want to learn more about other deaf cultures, other deaf-blind people who live abroad, I want to see what they do and how they live," Tong says.
Tong is one of about half of the staff at the Mess Hall overcoming obstacles to try and lead a normal life, serving those who serve our country. He works for a company called Sodexo, and General Manager Kevin Hollingsworth said he's been very impressed with Kevin's ability and his drive to earn promotions.
Tong worked for Camp Pendleton for two months before being promoted and transferring to MCRD. At MCRD he works off a recipe to feed 2,700 recruits three times a day, according to officials on base.
A green cutting board helps him see what he's doing easier and he wears extra pairs of gloves to protect himself while working: "If I show any type of distraction it could cost me one of my fingers."
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the Helen Keller National Center hopes to raise awareness of their services and help those like Tong.
The Mess Hall hasn't stopped running through the pandemic, keeping Marines and recruits full and ready for training. They are looking for more people to join their team during this time.