AJ’s future is rooted

among some of her favorite flowers!

Stacye B. has witnessed AJ’s remarkable growth among the beauty of Mother Nature’s flora. Serving as the assistant supervisor for STARS Competitive Integrated Employment program (CIE), Stacye has been a supportive presence alongside AJ on her employment journey at Berridge Nurseries in Phoenix.

AJ, whose main job is watering the plants at the family-owned nursery, has functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD), while also suffering from Tourette’s syndrome, as well as bouts of anxiety and depression. “It’s amazing to see her growth and accepting direction from people,” Stacye says. “I’m really very proud of her. It’s gratifying.”

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It wasn’t without struggle to find the right environment for AJ to bloom and thrive. “Last year was not a good year for me,” says the 25-year-old University of Arizona graduate. “I had problems with my behavior, meltdowns.” Although AJ had jobs prior to the nursery, she encountered difficulties due to several factors, including poor work attendance. According to Stacye, many of AJ’s previous work issues stemmed from the lack of support and understanding of her disabilities.

“Part of our program is supporting participants all the way through the role of the job placement,” Stacye says. “Our goal is to support the person with the disability and communicate that we’re there to help. So, it’s almost as if the employer is getting two people instead of one because we’re also training that individual for the job.”

One way Stacye has helped AJ is through regular communication with the nursery staff about her triggers and ways to support her like keeping a work routine. “You have to understand that different side of her by speaking in a gentle voice, being clear with directions, and keeping her very structured because she gets anxious,” she says.

When AJ does get nervous, she might scream (a hallmark sign of Tourette’s is uncontrollable sounds). Stacye suggested that AJ find a private place and let out a small scream to avoid unwelcoming attention, which might make her more tense. She also carries a small, stuffed animal dog in her purse to comfort her. “It just helps me be happy at work. It’s a safe relief so I don’t get anxious and stressed,” AJ says.

Stacye admits there’s also been a lot of coaching to help AJ accept directions without confrontation. “I tell her that following directions makes your day go so much smoother, and it’s shown in her attitude and work attendance,” she says. “She’s taking responsibility of showing up, so I’m really impressed from when she started.”

AJ graduated the CIE program in December 2023 and she largely credits Stacye’s encouragement. “She helped support me so when I had bad days, she taught me to be better and learn from it. She helped me feel a little bit more confident so I wouldn’t be as anxious and (instead) more comfortable.”

The experience has also given AJ more independence, from obtaining a driver’s license to living on her own. She’s also an active volunteer, enjoying meeting new people in the community. “I love seeing her do well, have this great support system and be excited about her future,” Stacye says.

It’s a future rooted among some of AJ’s favorite flowers, roses—known to handle anything thrown at them, just like her. – Written by Julia De Simone

Forging Paths, IMpacting Futures

STARS is empowering participants for workplace success through the CIE Program.

This is 1 of almost 100 stories of how STARS CIE is changing lives. Help support these hard working CIE program participants and others forging their paths today.

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