“Our 41 year old son (Ryan) with Down Syndrome had been employed in a STARS enclave for over 12 years at a grocery store when the pandemic forced closure of the enclave program, in early March of 2020. Ryan had enjoyed an active life outside his employment, but his greatest joy had been his employment. He was a good employee, but approximately once a month he would exhibit stubborn behaviors.
A few months into the closure, STARS let us know that the enclave program was being discontinued for the time being and the Employment First initiative was beginning. As we understood it, Ryan would have to find a new job, with STARS help, directly with an employer. Employment with the same store, or even with a grocery store, was no guarantee. We were sent a workbook for him to complete that was designed to elicit his strengths, weaknesses, skills, and work desires. It seemed way over his head.
STARS persevered, and Ryan and a job coach met remotely over the summer. The job coach got to know Ryan and went through the workbook. By the end of the summer, STARS had contacted Ryan’s old store and told us the management was interested in talking to Ryan. The STARS job coach worked with Ryan on interviewing skills, talking about what kind of job he wanted and how he was a good candidate. Then, STARS told us he had the job. An interview that STARS had set up was actually to be a training session, and we surprised Ryan by having the store manager offer him the job at the interview.
He started work, directly for the grocery store, in mid-October. He was assisted by another STARS job coach during his shifts. However, after about 2 months, STARS announced that he was ready to graduate from the program, and have a coach only a few hours a week. Ryan was the first graduate of the Employment First initiative! Since the first day of his new job, Ryan has never been happier. Also, he has never done as good a job at his work. He has learned several new skills, and his former bouts of stubbornness have all but disappeared. He is very proud of his work, and tells us he is “independent”, and he is.
We cannot begin to describe our appreciation of STARS and the work they have done with Ryan through the Employment First initiative. We were skeptical and discouraged, but the STARS job coaches are skilled at eliciting information from their clients, and at providing the assistance and support they need. And STARS relationship with the employer was key. To say the grocery stores have been pre-occupied with other things during the pandemic is an understatement. Yet STARS persevered, and was able to convince them that making the effort to hire Ryan would be worthwhile. And we cannot get over how happy he is. It may sound trite, but STARS turned this disaster of a pandemic into the best thing that has ever happened