For as long as she can remember, Sara Brown always knew something with her was different and from the very beginning, she faced challenges. Like many teenagers, high school was a difficult time; Sara struggled to fit in as classmates and peers made fun of her being different. Because she was diagnosed with having an Intellectual Disability, Sara needed tailored support for her barriers to learn in a typical classroom. She took special school services and worked closely with counselors to stay on track with schoolwork. When Sara was finally old enough to drive, her academic difficulties and adaptive behavior prevented her from even getting a learner’s permit – something she’s still working to obtain.
Despite facing significant challenges in high school, Sara found time for work. She volunteered with both T.J. Maxx and Manor Grove, a long-term nursing care residence, and found a job during high school working at Cinnabon in West County Mall in St. Louis – a job she held for over a year. She remembers her first day on the job: trouble working the cashier, nervousness around customers, and a manager that would step in and urge Sara to move faster.
“I can understand now why it was so difficult for me to work, but back then, I didn’t,” recalls Sara. “I couldn’t move faster because of my disability, and people would assume if I actually tried to be better I would. I felt so stuck.”
When Sara graduated from Kirkwood High School in 2010, a special education counselor recommended she enroll in MERS/Goodwill’s Summer Work Experience Program (SWEP). She was nervous to start a new program, fearing she would face the same obstacles from her previous jobs. Nonetheless, once Sara found Goodwill, she would not only participate in SWEP, but in many other development and coaching programs through 2011 that would help her overcome obstacles she faced with her disability in real-life situations.
In 2011, Sara was referred by her Counselor with Vocational Rehabilitation, Molly Rois-Delpha, to work with John Campbell, an Employment Specialist for MERS/Goodwill. Sara credits John for helping her learn the trials and errors of finding the right job for her needs. Along with John, Sara worked closely with Casey Cary through Goodwill’s Supported Employment Assessment Program to identify her goal of moving quicker in a workplace setting and what skills were needed to achieve that goal. To prepare Sara for job interviews, they quizzed her on what potential employers might ask during an interview. Sara remembers one question that stood out: the standard, “tell me about yourself,” in which she responded by naming off cornerstones of her childhood and what she enjoys doing in her free time. Despite her nerves, Sara would learn from John how to respond to interview questions by tying in her work experience as it relates to the job she wants. Additionally, Sara learned how to put together a resume and how to look for jobs online.
Sara went on to apply to numerous jobs, including Walmart, Michaels Arts & Crafts Stores, and several fast food establishments. She was called back for an interview as a cashier at a popular convenience store and was hired, but her excitement for landing her first job out of high school would soon change. As a cashier, Sara needed to learn how to conduct transactions through an online computer program, something that she struggled with in her past experiences. Despite being trained for the position, Sara wasn’t going as fast as she was expected to, and was let go after two days on the job. She was told her services weren’t needed anymore because they couldn’t continue to train her.
“That made me feel really bad; I just got the job and now I had to leave it,” recalls Sara. “Since I had a great relationship with MERS/Goodwill, and really trusted John, I decided to get more advice from him.”
John helped Sara realize that not every job will work out; sometimes, you just have to stick through it. Luckily, Sara applied to a local Dierbergs in May 2012 and was almost immediately hired. This time, her experience was different: Sara trained for two months at Dierbergs’ Lafayette location before officially starting at the new Des Peres location on July 31, 2012.
Today, Sara is a Courtesy Clerk for the Des Peres Dierbergs, where she works an average of 20-30 hours per week and holds numerous responsibilities, including exchanging money for cashiers, bagging groceries, organizing baskets and carts, and identifying and removing damaged goods from the storefront. Her job is anything but routine. She once had a customer complain to her about damaged eggs, which she quickly responded by offering to go and get a new carton of eggs even after the customer told her she didn’t need to. For Sara, it was that extra step outside her comfort zone that in the past she would have been too scared to take.
When asked what she enjoys most about her job, Sara talks about seeing the variety of customers that pass through – ones from different backgrounds, the regulars, and first-time customers that have never been to the new store. She also truly loves the people she works with, acknowledging that all of her coworkers are like family to her. In fact, she plans on having a big party with her friends and coworkers to celebrate her one-year anniversary this May.
Sara still struggles to overcome her disability when it comes to learning and is working with a life skills coach to help her finally get that learner’s permit. Whenever Sara looks back at all of the obstacles she faced, she can’t help but smile at her newfound confidence.
“I’ve grown up a lot from all of those challenges I had to deal with,” says Sara. “I just tell myself you have to calm down, go with the flow, do your job and love it!”