Aaron Agne is not like most teenagers. At just nineteen years old, Aaron proudly landed himself a full-time job – with benefits – at MERS/Goodwill. He is a role model to his friends, family and coworkers for his relentless drive to persevere and overcome any obstacle; Aaron’s diagnosis with Asperger Syndrome inspires everyone he meets.
“I knew Aaron had great potential from day one,” said Marisa Hiatt, Director for MERS/Goodwill. “His struggle with speed, however, was his biggest barrier in learning the skills required for a full-time position. He had the support from his family, and he just needed the right guidance.”
Originally from Orange County, California, Aaron has lived all over the country, moving to Alabama in 2007 and then to St. Charles in 2010. After graduating from Francis Howell High School in 2011, Aaron knew he wanted a job, but had no idea what he wanted to do or where to start.
Aaron’s mom stepped in and started researching for a job shadowing opportunity, where she came across MERS/Goodwill’s Employment and Training programs. The opportunity was perfect for Aaron because he needed work experience and the support would help him become competitively employed. Aaron worked with a Counselor in Missouri’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and began participating in MERS/Goodwill’s Supported Employment Assessment program.
“I chose MERS/Goodwill because it seemed like a friendly corporation and I like working in a friendly environment,” said Aaron.
With Marisa’s help, Aaron learned the basics of a job hunt, including how to look for the right job that matches his skills and interests, and how to prepare and practice for interviews. Aaron looked at several job opportunities before landing a seasonal position at Gordman’s. It was clear that retail was a good fit for Aaron, but he would find that keeping up speed in a back-of-house setting was a challenge.
Aaron began training at MERS/Goodwill’s O’Fallon location in February 2012 as a processor, sorting and hanging clothes by gender and age groups, but struggled to fill the required amount of racks with clothes by the end of each shift. Marisa found that Aaron’s love of classical music helped motivate him to work faster, so he gets to listen to his iPod during his shift. Using Aaron’s hobbies and interests as a guide, Marisa established goals and incentives to help him overcome this obstacle: eight racks filled and he gets ice cream; nine racks filled and he gets a Barnes & Noble gift card; 10 racks filled and he gets to go to the symphony. Aaron has easily reached his goal of 10 racks, and can’t wait for new releases at the symphony. Aaron even gave himself the nickname, “Mr. Nine,” for continually meeting the goal of filling at least nine racks of clothes during a shift, many times surpassing his goal. His positive outlook at work is certainly contagious.
“I shoot for the gold and score big time!” said Aaron. “I just want everyone to be successful at Goodwill and I know they will if they work hard like I did.”
In his free time, Aaron likes to read mysteries and anime at Barnes & Noble. He is a huge fan of Great Britain culture, movies and, especially, Earl Gray tea. Aaron loves to draw and sees himself getting an art degree in the near future.
Aaron has been working at MERS/Goodwill’s Lake St. Louis store since it opened in May 2012, and he’s always focused on taking the next step in life. One of the highlights of Aaron’s job was receiving his first $500 bonus recently, and he has put that money toward a savings account. He’s looking to gain more skills, and his goal in the next year is to learn how to work a cash register, something that he struggled with when he first started working at MERS/Goodwill.
“Sometimes, you can’t see a person’s disability, which is why Aaron’s hard work is such an inspiration to others,” said Marisa. “Whenever I’m in a bad mood, I think of Aaron and how much he has grown. His positive attitude and motivation makes his surrounding community a greater place.”