INSPIRING STORIES

Jamie Henneberry
A primary focus at Villa is to provide services that will help individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities take full advantage of their capabilities and function as productive members of the community. When an eight year old boy with serious behavior problems started at the Villa Esperanza School thirteen years ago, that might have seemed like a pretty lofty goal. Today, that objective is rapidly becoming a reality for Jamie Henneberry.

Jamie is a unique individual. He’s fun, endearing, affectionate and his personality far outshines his disabilities. He is a huge fan of music and movies, capable of replaying scenes out loud at will. For 13 years, he has commuted via taxi with his regular driver, Mr. Rueben, from Manhattan Beach to our Pasadena campus. He sits in the back seat devouring the entertainment section of the LA Times as if he were a movie executive headed to the studio.

Read more about Jamie's unique story in our 2013 Annual Report.

 

 

Jim McDermott and Cynthia Kurtz
Villa is very fortunate to have Cynthia Kurtz and Jim McDermott on our team. Jim, a public affairs strategic communication consultant, has been involved with the Developmentally Disabled Community since the mid-eighties when he was a board member at Lanterman Regional Center. Subsequently, he joined Villa’s Board where he has served multiple terms as a member as well as Board Chairman. Cynthia, president and CEO of the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership joined in her husband’s support of Villa when the two married. Their latest Villa venture is serving as Co-chairs of our Capital Campaign.

The reasons why they are committed to Villa really revolve around our mission and the results that we achieve. Jim is adamant about the importance of the continuum of care that Villa provides. “Villa epitomizes the cutting edge attitude of not just providing services like housing for individuals with developmental disabilities, but rather focusing on ways to support them in having their own lives and achieving their personal aspirations to the full extent of their capabilities. That’s why there are people at Villa who have been here over forty years.”

Find out more about Villa's Capital Campaign Co-chairs in our 2013 Annual Report.

 

 

Miguel Lambrinos
It’s not unusual for a young man in his early thirties to be living out on his own. Nor does it seem out of the ordinary that when his mother comes to visit him at his apartment on a warm day, that he would ask, “Mom, would you like something to drink? I have some apple juice.” When she responds affirmatively, he replies, “Would you like some ice in it?” Sounds like a pretty uneventful conversation unless you were familiar with this particular young man and his history.

A year ago, if you said “hello” to Miguel Lambrinos, chances are he would give you a big smile, wave and giggle a little. While he had some speech capabilities, and had received speech therapy many times in his life, he rarely shared his voice.

Read the entirety of Miguel's inspiring story in our 2013 Annual Report.


Our Clients in the Community
One of our primary goals here at Villa is to provide services for individuals with developmental disabilities that will help them to take full advantage of their capabilities and function as productive members of the community. Client community service is a great example of just that. Through our two Adult Day Programs in Pasadena and our Community Integration Program based in Westlake Village, Villa clients give back over 8,000 hours a year and serve 15 different non-profits.

One of our first community partners in this volunteering venture was Foothill Unity Services. Clients from our Dimensions Adult Day Program have been helping out at their Pasadena Food Bank for over seven years. To date, Villa’s adults have donated over 6,000 hours of their time helping to sort and bag food items for the organization which provides food and other services to over 4,000 families in the San Gabriel Valley. Their Outreach & Volunteer Services Director Raina Martinez says the Food Bank depends on Villa’s help. “We are so appreciative of all the hard work that your staff and clients contribute to our Center. The groups that visit our Pasadena Center from Villa Esperanza and the hard work and support they contribute is a key component to the success of services at that site. Their weekly visits have become a part of the Center’s routine preparations for the weekly food distributions. We are so grateful and appreciative of all their skills and talents.”

Click here to read the full story in the Summer 2013 Villa Voice.


Family Stories: Simone and Stacy Baskin
Stacy Baskin is a hardworking woman. She is proud of the twenty-two years that she has been a secretary for the United Teachers Los Angeles. For 17 of those years she has also been mom to Simone. When Stacy heads to work each day, Simone comes to the Villa Esperanza School. She loves coming to school and is sometimes disappointed when the weekend rolls around and she can’t go. That has not always been her attitude towards school. Before coming to Villa, Simone attended a public school program that didn’t match her educational and emotional needs. Her frustration and subsequent behaviors were disruptive to the rest of the students. Her teacher suggested that Villa Esperanza might be a better fit.

Read more about Simone and Stacy Baskin in Villa's 2012 Annual Report.


Spotlight On: Nancy Cook and Emily Tellez
Nancy Cook and Emily Tellez are a couple whose contributions to Villa have been as unique as their individual talents. Emily is a graphic designer who frequently contributes her expertise to Villa’s media and event collateral. Her motivation for volunteering started early in her life when her father counseled her that if she was sad or bored, she should go out and help someone else. Thankfully for Villa, she took his advice to heart.

Nancy is a former police officer who serves on Villa’s Board of Directors. She is the person responsible for bringing some very big names to Villa. Her approach to life is “If you don’t try, you don’t know.” In 2010 after watching the biopic about Temple Grandin, one of the country’s most accomplished individuals with autism, she contacted Dr. Grandin. Nancy believed that she would want to know about Villa and our school which serves children with autism. Because of Nancy’s initiative, Temple Grandin came to Pasadena the following January to speak at an Autism Conference co-sponsored by Villa and attended by a sold-out crowd. Dr. Grandin also made a special visit to Villa to tour our school and speak with parents and students.

Read more about Nancy Cook and Emily Tellez in Villa's 2012 Annual Report.


Spotlight On: Marie and Lou Jones
Marie and Lou Jones have been champions of Villa for over 40 years. Most of Villa’s long time supporters are parents or family members who have a loved one with a developmental disability. The Joneses’ attachment to Villa began for another reason: to give back to the community. It is a value that is ingrained in them both.

Marie’s involvement began in the 1970’s when she supported the fledgling organization through the Junior League of Pasadena. She quickly became part of the Villa family, even teaching in a classroom for a while. She vividly recalls how touched she was by a statement made by one of the mothers; “You have no idea how much it means to people with a handicapped child to have you take an interest in us.” That interest has only multiplied over the years.

Read more about the Jones in Villa's 2012 Annual Report.

 

 

Family Stories: The Kuppermanns
The Kuppermanns are a Villa family. Their daughter Sharon was one of the first children attending the Infant Center in 1968. Today she resides at one of Villa’s group homes and attends Dimensions Adult Day program. Sharon’s mother Roza considers Villa to be her extended family and an integral part her own, and their immediate family’s lives. She recounts all of the challenges and joys of her daughter’s history here and is gracious in her praise of all of the Villa staff who have had a role in her journey. She and her late husband Aron have been very active supporters of Villa from the start. Aron served on Villa’s Board of Directors for many years as well as our Housing Board where their daughter Miriam now has taken his place.

All three of Sharon’s siblings and their families have grown to understand the profound impact that Villa has had on their lives. Her brother Nate describes Villa as “having been there for us through good times and bad, always willing to work with the whole family to achieve what is best for Sharon and for the Kuppermann family. I really couldn’t imagine life for the Kuppermanns without Villa.”

Read more about the Kuppermans in Villa's 2012 Annual Report.


Grooming for Success
Kevin loves horses. He rides them, grooms them, shoes them, and as part of his training in Villa’s Integrated Work Program, he volunteers with them. For him, volunteering at Ride On Therapeutic Horsemanship is a perfect match. Ride On, which teaches horseback riding to children and adults with physical and mental disabilities as a form of therapy, is one of several community non-profits that Villa Esperanza Services partners with to offer volunteer opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities to help them learn job skills.

Kevin’s volunteer experience supports his career goal of obtaining a job working with horses offering him a chance to gain specific skills in this area in addition to learning the basic requirements of holding down a job. Kevin’s responsibilities include brushing down the horses, feeding and walking them, as well as sweeping the barn and mucking the stalls. His training in the Integrated Work Program is teaching him how to take directions from a supervisor and receive feedback on his performance. He is increasing his communication skills and learning how to interact with co-workers. Since Kevin has been a part of the program, he has matured a great deal becoming more outgoing and more motivated to succeed.

Read more about Kevin in the Summer 2012 Villa Voice.


Gift of Time and Talent - Vanessa Manjarrez
There’s no better way to understand what Villa is all about than volunteering directly with our children and adults. Vanessa Manjarrez first came to Villa as a volunteer with the San Marino Chapter of the National Charity League. After having a fun experience helping to plan and host a Halloween Dance for the students at the Villa Esperanza School, Vanessa chose to come back to Villa when she needed to develop a project for her Girl Scout Gold Award. She created a service and social club (SAS) for Villa’s adult clients.

Read more about Vanessa in the 2011 Annual Report.

Dancing Dreams
Consider for a moment the anticipation of attending your first school dance. You are all dressed up. You walk to the hall and can hear the strains of music mingled with the excited but contained chatter of those walking with you through the cool evening air. Your peers and a few chaperones beckon, as do the decorations that adorn the hall. Instead of opening the doors, you stop. What happens next?

Click here to read more in the Fall 2011 Villa Voice.
BFFs
How many guys still get to hang out with their childhood buddies? For Tommy, James, Greg and Carson, it seems like only yesterday that they were all back at the ranch.

Our roots in the West Region started taking hold when a property in Agoura Canyon came up for sale in 1978. The opportunity for expanded programs in a rural environment was viewed as a well-suited addition to Villa’s urban base. The vocational and residential training programs proved to be a welcome addition for students who thrived in the open space and spent their days caring for small farm animals and gardening. For Tommy, James, Greg and Carson, “Rancho de los Robles” as it was called, was also a place to build friendships and happy memories. The boys are now grown and still thriving under Villa’s wing. Tommy (now Tom) lives in one of Villa’s apartments and is also part of our Independent Living Skills program. Thanks to Villa’s Employment Services program, he has a job at Target. James lives at the Allen House and is part of the Food Services crew. Carson is also at the Allen House and recently created two paintings that were displayed at Pasadena City Hall as part of an exhibit done in partnership with the Accessibility and Disability Commission. Greg, who got an early start with Villa in the Infant and Toddler Program, now works on an Employment Services cleaning crew.

The continuum of care that Villa Esperanza Services offers not only provides the basic needs of education, employment, adult day programs, and residential housing, it also provides a community for its children and adults. It’s a place where friendships can blossom and last a lifetime.

Click here to read more in Villa's 2010 Annual Report.
Breaking through Barriers
From the very beginning, families have been the heart of Villa Esperanza Services. They are the parents of children with developmental disabilities who knew that their children deserved a future just like any others. They stepped up and made it happen. One such parent was Katie Nack.

When her youngest daughter, Susie was born with Down syndrome, it was a turning point that took her down a path of politics and public service as she fought to ensure that Susie and thousands like her would receive the education and services they needed. Instrumental in the creation of the California Regional Center system, she spearheaded an advocacy movement that succeeded in obtaining rights for all who are disabled. She dedicated her life’s work to speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves and was one of Villa Esperanza Services’ strongest advocates and supporters.

Today, her daughter Susie is a living example of the success of her mother’s mission. Susie started at Villa in the Infant Toddler Program and continued through high school. As an adult, she now lives at the Wynn House, one of Villa’s nine residential group homes. She and her five housemates go to dance and exercise classes, help with chores at their home, and enjoy shopping and other outings. Through our Employment Services program, Susie is a member of a Villa work crew. She and her peers earn their paycheck by providing cleaning services at our offices and school.

Following in her mother’s footsteps of community involvement, Susie is active in Aktion Club, which is a Kiwanis sponsored service club and attended their regional convention this year. As a fierce advocate for the developmentally disabled community, Katie was a voice for those who could not speak for themselves. Thanks to all her mother’s efforts, Susie now has a voice of her own.

Click here to read more in Villa's 2010 Annual Report.

C is for Caring
Starting with the original group of Villa’s founding mothers, the teachers and staff at Villa Esperanza Services have been the key component in uncovering and strengthening the abilities of our children and adults.

Dedicated Villa teachers like Joan Feser (left photo), whose experience in teaching the developmentally disabled has spanned decades, were instrumental in the development and success of countless students under their care. This standard of care and commitment set by teachers and other program staff has earned Villa a reputation as a place where children and adults are treated like family and afforded the dignity and respect they deserve. Like many Villa families, careers and lives often intertwine. So is the case with Joan whose two sons Michael and John are currently participants in Villa’s Employment Services program.

Today, Villa’s staff continue the legacy of hope established by their predecessors. Zenola Gibbons (right photo, pictured third from the right) sets the bar high for her group of 6 kitchen helpers at Dimensions Adult Day program. She has been part of Villa’s staff for 15 years. Monday through Friday she leads her well-trained team through all the tasks required to prepare and deliver lunches to the school and the Adult Day Program. Watching the cooking crew, you can sense the pride of accomplishment in her kitchen. With Zenola’s care and coaching, these adults, like so many others at Villa are productive, contributing members of our community.

Click here to read more in Villa's 2010 Annual Report.


Facing Forward
When a little school for developmentally disabled children opened its doors in 1961, it was impossible to imagine the evolution that would take place over the next 50 years. Thanks to the Pasadena Civitan service organization, the school opened in its first permanent home on Villa Street. Expanding from 37 students and 4 teachers to 80 students and 17 staff members in just 2 1/2 years, the school and facility kept growing at a rapid pace.

With increasing public awareness and landmark legislation, the developmentally disabled community embarked on a mission to meet the growing demands of the population it served and Villa Esperanza was at the forefront. As more children required services, Villa expanded. As those children grew up, Villa met that challenge with the addition of programs and services designed to meet the needs of adults with developmental disabilities.

In 1993, Villa offered it first class for children who had autism. As the frequency of this diagnosis escalated and more students with Down syndrome and similar disabilities were being mainstreamed into public schools, Villa met the challenge by revamping its curriculum and facilities to provide an appropriate educational environment for these students.

In the Villa classrooms today, smartboards and other high tech communication devices combined with a highly-qualified and caring staff allow students to learn and develop their individual abilities and the talents of students like Sarah come shining through. At the school’s annual holiday program, every student played a part in their presentation of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Singing in the role of Cindy Lou, Sarah melted the heart of the Grinch and everyone else who was there. Along with her classmates, she validated Villa’s ongoing commitment to forecast the changing needs of the community and strengthen the abilities of each individual. Through love, hope, and care the future is brighter for all of them.

Click here to read more in Villa's 2010 Annual Report.


Temple Grandin
If you saw the Emmys this past September you may have seen Dr. Temple Grandin! The Emmy Award Winning HBO Movie, “Temple Grandin”, portrays the life of Temple during her school years and growing up with autism.

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world. Dr. Grandin didn’t talk until she was three and a half years old, communicating her frustration instead by screaming and humming. In 1950, she was diagnosed with autism and her parents were told she should be institutionalized. She tells her story of “groping her way from the far side of darkness” in her book “Emergence: Labeled Autistic,” a book which stunned the world because, until its publication, most professionals and parents assumed that an autism diagnosis was virtually a death sentence to achievement or productivity in life.
Dr. Grandin has become a prominent author and speaker on the subject of autism. Even though she was considered “weird” in her young school years, she eventually found a mentor, who recognized her interests and abilities. Dr. Grandin later developed her talents into a successful career as a livestock-handling equipment designer, one of very few in the world. She has now designed the facilities in which half the cattle are handled in the United States.

Click here to read more in the Fall 2010 Villa Voice.

Harold Gordon and Jeff Salzman
Good Business
At the Agoura Hills headquarters of Nature-Watch, President Harold Gordon and CEO Jeff Salzman have created a mutually beneficial relationship with Villa Esperanza Services by providing employment for a crew of our clients. In 2003, Harold and Jeff acquired the business that provides educational products and craft activity kits designed to teach children about nature. Having had a prior positive experience, it seemed to them that Villa clients might be a good match for their package assembly preparation. The initial crew started in 2006 doing counting, weighing, and bagging. As the clients became increasingly embedded in their company, they began playing a larger part in their day-to-day operations. Current responsibilities include actual assembly of kits into their final form, a task that requires a high level of consistency, accuracy and attention to detail. Jeff and Harold credit Villa job coach Susan Snowden for enabling the clients to succeed in these expanded roles. “She understands what our company needs in terms of a finished product and finds ways to accommodate each client’s capabilities so they can successfully meet our goals.” By employing clients from Villa, Harold and Jeff’s motivation is not only about supporting a charitable cause. For them, it also makes good sound business sense. For Villa, it develops some very proud and capable clients.

Click here to read more in Villa's 2009 Annual Report.


Senator Carol Liu
A Champion for the Cause
California State Senator Carol Liu describes herself as a “helper and service oriented person.” She has been widely recognized for her legislative achievements on behalf of the disabled community and was named 2009 Legislator of the Year by the Arc of California, which is the state’s largest organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Senator Liu believes that it is government’s fundamental responsibility to provide services to those with the greatest need. “The difficult budget challenges facing the state mean that we must pay careful attention to the people most in need of our assistance.”

As Chair of the Senate Human Services Committee, she plays a key role in meeting these challenges. Her commitment is to work closely with Senate leaders and the Budget Committee to ensure any budget changes are “fair, equitable, and do the least harm.” As a former teacher, Senator Liu believes that everyone should be able to live their lives to the fullest and that this is a bigger challenge for the disabled community. “Everyone has a gift to offer even with their disabilities. They inspire us to do better and we ought to cherish those types of opportunities to make good on our investments in people. Organizations like Villa Esperanza that provide support services are key to making this happen for lots of folks.”

Click here to read more in Villa's 2009 Annual Report.


R-lene and Gordon de Lang
A Passion for Giving

Pasadena couple R-lene Mijares de Lang, General Manager and Partner of Mijares Mexican Restaurant, and husband Gordon de Lang, Senior Vice President of Pasadena’s East West Bank, are a powerful force in the local community. As long time supporters of Villa Esperanza Services, their strong commitment has influenced many individuals to join them in contributing to Villa.

As a child, R-lene’s mother and grandmother fostered an ongoing compassion for those with special needs. Through a close friend, R-lene became directly involved with Villa 23 years ago. While supporting a number of other worthy community organizations including the boards of the Huntington Hospital and Pasadena Community Foundation, R-lene remains dedicated to Villa as her first passion. 

Husband Gordon enthusiastically followed that passion for Villa after seeing “what a special place it was nearly 20 years ago.” Like his wife, Gordon serves on a number of boards with Villa remaining central to his commitments.  Gordon says, “As a society, we are measured by the care and support that we provide to those in need, at risk, and who are challenged by developmental disabilities. Villa gives us the perfect opportunity to give back.”

Both R-lene and Gordon reflect on what a wonderful experience their relationship with Villa has been. While citing the outstanding reputation and trust that Villa has established in the community – and the leadership of the staff and administration – the heart of their passion comes down to the smiles and hugs from Villa’s clients.

 “I know, see, and feel the love, nurturing, and passion that exists within everyone who works there,” says R-lene.  “They truly love what they are doing and it is reflected in the client’s faces.”

Click here to read more in Villa's 2009 Annual Report.

meymarian Family Matters
For Debbie Meymarian, Villa Esperanza Services is all about family. Her involvement began when her cousin Laura, who had Down syndrome, moved into a Villa Esperanza residence when she became an adult. The home that Villa provided meant that Laura would still be close by her family. “We always knew that she was happy and well taken care of.” Laura has since passed away, but Debbie describes the time that she spent at Villa’s residence as being full of joy and happiness.

More recently, Debbie’s young cousin Jonathon has become a student at Villa’s School. Jonathon was born with Angelman Syndrome, a rare neuro-genetic disorder characterized by intellectual and developmental delay, jerky movements and frequent laughing and smiling. Jonathon’s mother appreciates that the staff and teachers at Villa have the highest of expectations for Jonathon and she is amazed by the progress and new things he learns since he started attending Villa’s School. Jonathon recently broke his arm and had to undergo surgery. After his surgery, Casey Gregg, Villa’s Principal, arrived in Jonathon’s hospital room. She sat by his side and comforted Jonathon for several hours. Debbie calls Casey’s dedication “the ultimate example of the care and understanding of faculty and staff at Villa.” For Debbie, supporting Villa ensures that the organization has the means to grow and continue to provide services for Jonathon and his friends.

Click here to read more in Villa's 2009 Annual Report.

Volunteers Volunteers
Community volunteers — those two words mean quite a lot to the children, adults, families and staff at Villa Esperanza Services. We are always looking for ways to integrate our children and adults with the community. Volunteerism is growing in popularity nationwide; more and more individuals are looking for rewarding opportunities. Hundreds of volunteers come to Villa each year and leave a lasting mark...

As Casey Gregg, Vice President of Children and Youth Programs points out “student volunteers at Villa result in a positive impact on the volunteers as well as our students. These young volunteers grow up with a better understanding of people with disabilities and Villa’s students benefit from interactions with peers serving as models for good behavior.” A fourth grade Mayfield student was so touched by what he learned when he volunteered with our students it stuck with him and he came back to complete his Eagle Scout project here. Needless to say, he is sure to be an adult who has more compassion for individuals with disabilities....

Click here to read the entire story.

The Dimensions of Giving
When asked if he volunteers, Carl Norgaard's face lit up as he proudly said that he "helps the Food Bank." Carl started attending Villa's Dimensions Adult Day Program and, like many retired adults, found volunteering gives him the chance to give back and feel the rewards of helping other people while supporting his peers. 

Dimensions serves adults with developmental disabilities. Dimensions staff are always striving to offer fresh new opportunities to help our participants grow. The staff teach living skills including how to bank, grocery shop, and utilize public transportation. The participants also enjoy art programs at the Armory Center for the Arts and exercise using yoga, dance or weights.

What many people don't realize is that our Dimensions participants are giving back to the community even more than they receive. They volunteer at the Pasadena Senior Center, Foothill Unity Food Bank, Union Station Homeless Services, and Pasadena Park Recreation as well as helping out with Villa's mailings, school lunches and Campus Store. Thirty participants give over 15,000 hours each year.

Click here to read the entire story.

Lala Lifelong Dedication
Meet Maria Carla Sangalang or Lala as we know her. She is Villa’s lead teacher in Room 2, one of our middle school classrooms with six students ages 11-14. Lala came to the United States in 2001, her journey is one of great accomplishment and pride.

Lala attended college in the Philippines and received a degree in what she hoped would land her a job in broadcast journalism. While in college, she volunteered at an alternative school. This was where she first experienced working with children with special needs, specifically autism.

Click here to read the entire story.

Lisa Loosening the Ties
When I first began treating Lisa, she needed restraints on both hands to keep her from hitting herself or pulling out her hair, a cushioned head band to keep her from banging her head, and a full-time aide to prevent self injurious behaviors from escalating.  Lisa has been actively participating in school based occupational therapy twice a week for an hour for 4 months, and she seems like a different child to me now. Lisa can demonstrate diaphragmatic breathing as a self regulation tool. She can move her body using typical movement patterns that previously initiated panic and fear.  She can now eat at the dinner table with her family and go for almost a full school day without requesting her “ties” as an external support to keep her body in control. More importantly, she smiles more. 

Click here to read the entire story.

  Caregiver Awareness
...My family started on a new journey with my oldest sister Sandy approximately 4 years ago. Sandy lives at home with me and my mother.  She has a developmental disability and is not always able to express what is going on with her. When my sister started experiencing problems with her breathing, her doctor changed her medication. Adjusting to the medication was difficult for Sandy and our family. Sandy became quiet, withdrawn and lost a lot of weight. Over the next couple of years we tried different medications and tried to keep her going to a workshop in the area. Sandy was pretty much a trooper through it all. When Sandy could no longer attend the workshop, we needed to find another place for her to go during the day. We found the Adult Day Program (ADP) at Villa Esperanza Services.

Click here to read the entire story.

Sisters Sisters
My sister Kathy is three years younger than myself. Due to a complication at birth, she is developmentally disabled. Kathy attends the Dimensions Adult Day program at Villa Esperanza. I attend to Kathy. It wasn’t always this way.

Click here to read the entire story.

Aaron Our Journey
In late March 2002, our son Aaron was diagnosed with autism. At the time, he was a little over 2-years-old with no speech. Our family was confused and in disbelief. Aaron’s daily struggles and difficulties literally turned our lives upside down. My husband and I scrambled to figure out what he wanted and why he was so upset. Like cameras we zoomed in and zoomed out of situations to make sense of the numerous meltdowns he had throughout the day. Sometimes we were successful, but many times we were at a loss.
...
And for the very first time in his life, Aaron said “Mom”. He was holding my picture in his hand, and he looked right at me. I cannot put into words what I felt that day.

Click here to read the entire story.

Ryan Ryan Rose: A Life Not Defined by Autism
I rushed to catch up to Ryan as he slipped into the store like he’s done for over three years, past the cashiers and down an aisle to a door marked “Employees Only.” I hesitated. “Ryan, am I allowed…” He grinned and motioned for me to follow him into the staff room, where Ryan was met by a chorus of greetings. Ryan stuck his hand out to a new employee and smiled warmly, “Hi, I’m Ryan, a manager.”
...
Watching Ryan interact with surprising ease and confidence with his colleagues
made me ponder, how did a young man with autism get this far? What struck me is that Ryan is not defined by his disability.

Click here to read the entire story.