Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Full Circle

Last week Caden and I had an amazing opportunity at a Children's Miracle Network Hospitals event held for Walmart to honor a Walmart associate who inspired me. Here was my original description of meeting this associate for the first time a month ago:

I went shopping this weekend for a short sleeved polo shirt for Caden to wear to an upcoming function. Not an easy find in winter and I made it more difficult by wanting a specific shade of blue, with no labels or logos. Knowing I would probably need to make several stops, I left Caden at home with Frank. Eventually I found myself at WalMart and discovered a promising but extremely messy table of spring clothing. Time to dig in.

Next to me was an employee trying to fold and sort a cartful of mismatched items. She was flanked on either side by a pair of women shopping together and speaking over the employee as if she was invisible. One of these women bumped the employee's cart. Though it wasn't her fault, the worker apologized and moved her cart back as much as possible. She then offered her assistance in finding whatever they were looking for but the shopper snapped that she was fine and would "find it myself". Then this shopper met my gaze and rolled her eyes in that way that says "Can you believe what I'm putting up with here?" and that begs for a return nod of sympathy. I thought she was being a little rude so I simply shrugged my shoulders and went back to my shirt search. The pair of shoppers moved on and the employee now noticed me and asked if she could help me in any way. "I'm looking for a blue shirt for my son," I said as I turned to face her.

And only then did I realize that this young worker had Down syndrome. She immediately reached into the mound before me and pulled out not one, but two shirts in different shades of blue and both in the right size, which was some kind of impressive. It was one of those serendipitous moments that seem to happen with this extra chromosome that find me fully and helplessly cognizant that it would happen no other way WHILE it is happening. Of course this particular employee would find the perfect shirt. Of course.

"Thank you," I said, "You're very good at your job."

"I love my job," she replied, "I love to help people. That's why I'm good at it. Customers are always number one to me." She showed me a few other items before I forced myself to walk away so she could get back to her previous task.

I regret to say that I did not catch her name. But major props to WalMart for hiring this fantastic woman. She not only gave me outstanding service but she gave me hope for the future. I can't wait to find an excuse to go back.

Flash forward to last week's CMNH event where I was able to thank the associate, whose name is Brittany, and meet her mother as well. To put some meaning behind why this was such an inspiring moment for me, it is important to understand that there are incredible disparities in employment between Pennsylvanians with and without intellectual disabilities. Those with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as individuals without and only 22% have any kind of employment whether it's full-time or part-time.

Is this Caden's future - unemployment or at most, under-employment? Not if Brittany has anything to say about it. We are indebted to her for her efforts at breaking down barriers and we don't intend on letting those efforts be for naught. Thank you, CMNH, for allowing us this chance to tell Brittany how she inspires us. It was a very emotional and meaningful full circle moment. I think it meant as much to her and her mother as it did to me and Caden. And thanks to Walmart for hiring Brittany and allowing her to shine. Most of all, thank you, Brittany, for your hard work to work hard. The ripple effect of your employment will become a wave to the next generation.

**Caden is wearing the shirt that Brittany helped me select. As if this story can't get any better, wait till I tell you the reason I was buying the shirt!

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