An Award for Billy

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“Mrs. Schulz, this is Alice at Food City…”   (my heart stops: what’s wrong?). “Billy is getting an award this afternoon at 3:00; I thought you would like to be here.”

Would I? I called Mary and we met at Food City a little before 3:00. Billy saw us and declared, “Mom, I getting a ward!” He was beaming as he led us to the meeting room at the back of the store. Chairs were arranged for seating and refreshments were placed on tables: chips, dips, vegetables, fruit -a generous assortment. Billy sat on the front row with his friend Michelle, I sat behind them, and Mary found a place where she could take pictures unobtrusively.

Brandon, the store manager, explained the awards to be granted for community commitment and for length of time employed at Food City. Billy was called to the front and presented with a pin representing ten years of employment at Food City, a chain of over 100 grocery stores in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky. It is a beautiful pin with 3 small rubies and a diamond. Billy accepted the pin with a big grin on his face, sat down and showed it to Michelle.

With tears running down my cheeks, I recalled the difficulty of our moving from North Carolina to Tennessee ten years ago, the anxiety of  finding a job, learning new skills and trying to avoid stressful situations. I thought of Jonathan, the friend who taught Billy the unforeseen  ropes and offered his friendship.

And I thought of Billy’s work experience: 21 years at Hunter Library in North Carolina and 10 years at Food City. That represents an employment record to be envied by anyone.

Not bad for a man who was diagnosed “trainable” as a child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHOUT!

Adults with Down Syndrome, Community Participation, Diversity, Down Syndrome, Education, Inclusion, People with Disabilities, Uncategorized 4 Comments »


While equal opportunity employment is a vital element in the inclusion of persons with disabilities into the community, there are other important ways to help accomplish this goal. An organization called SHOUT (Students Helping Others Understand Tomorrow) makes a concerted effort to introduce diverse groups of people to selected high school students.

SHOUT is sponsored by the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and is designed to inform future leaders of possibilities for service in the area. For several years, Billy and I have been asked to meet with the group on Diversity Day, one of the five categories in the program. One of the stated goals for this session is: “To initiate, foster, and promote an understanding and appreciation for all people and their unique perspectives and contributions to the world.”

My thrust is the development of attitudes from tolerance to acceptance to celebration of diversity. Billy shows his slides, pointing out the normalcy of his life and the importance of his family. His real message, however takes place during his interaction with the students at lunch time and after the program. Initially reticent, they find that he is easy to talk with and fun to be around. Evaluations referred to it as “an eye-opening day,” stating, “Billy was awesome; it was definitely an amazing experience.” In planning their graduation ceremony, the students asked that Billy hand out their certificates. On the appropriate night Billy, dressed in suit and tie, shook hands and gave out certificates to all the students. At the end of the program, students write letters to thank the session leaders. One letter addressed to me read:

We were very privileged to have you speak to us on Diversity Day. Your presentation was a touching and heartwarming experience. Not only did you show us that you should not be ashamed of or try to hide your differences, but you urged everyone to CELEBRATE what makes them special. I think nearly everyone can agree with you that Billy has a way of teaching people that no one else is capable of. He has an extraordinary gift and that is something to celebrate.On behalf of everyone in the SHOUT program, thank you. We were blessed to have you!

It is a joyful opportunity to be involved with this group – future parents, professionals, and employers.

Do you know of community organizations that encourage and promote the inclusion of people with disabilities? Is there potential in any of your social organizations to develop such ideals?

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