Paul Stevens didn’t want a miracle; he just wanted to be respected, find a good job and to eventually go to college. With the help of MERS Goodwill, he is one step closer to reaching his long-term goals and becoming an independent young adult.
For as long as he can remember, Paul has always thought he was different. Like most teenagers, Paul found high school to be a difficult time. Paul made friends easily with his sense of humor and contagious smile, but he struggled to keep up in his academics. Because he was diagnosed as having a Developmental Disability, he received Special Education classes (SP-ED).
“When my friends started applying for colleges, I thought I could too,” said Paul. “I didn’t understand why I was in SP-ED and it seemed like decisions were being made based on my disability and what people thought I should do after graduation. I became embarrassed because of my disability.”
With the support of Ms. Winchester, a work experience coordinator with the high school, Paul decided to seek the help of Missouri’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. In his last semester of high school, Paul met Lesa Barber, Counselor with Missouri’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, who worked with Paul on his plans after graduation. She recommended Paul enroll in MERS Goodwill’s Supported Employment Program, where he met Marisa Hiatt, Director for MERS Goodwill.
“In Paul’s first meetings with me, he was less than excited to be seeking assistance,” said Marisa. “I wanted to show Paul that Goodwill is here to help him grow, not be his babysitter.”
Paul worked closely with Marisa through Goodwill’s Discovery and Exploration processes, where it was determined that part-time employment would be a good start to his plan after graduation. Paul was passionate about working and interacting with other people, so Marisa encouraged Paul look for employment as a courtesy clerk or in the dietary field.
The biggest obstacle Paul faced was learning how to be professional and serious in a workplace setting with other people. He also didn’t think he needed a lot of support because he had always been independent. Paul also needed a job close to home so he for an easy commute until he could get his driver’s license.
Together, Marisa and Paul visited several potential employers in the retail and food service industries. One of the first places he visited was an assisted living center, Twin Oaks Assisted Living, where he toured the facility and learned of the different jobs available, including housekeeping positions. When Paul toured the kitchen, he was excited about the idea of applying for the open dietary position as a food server.
Through Goodwill’s Job Development process, Paul learned how to prepare for job interviews, including what potential employers might ask during an interview. It was important to Paul that he continue to develop his employment skills, going so far as to ask for a copy of interview questions for further practice even after he was employed.
In September 2013, Twin Oaks hired Paul as a part-time food server at the Wentzville location. Paul is responsible for preparing and delivering snack baskets to the residents, helping set up the dining room, and keeping tabs on the residents’ specific dietary concerns.
When asked what he enjoys most about his work, Paul can’t think of just one thing: “I love everything about my job,” said Paul. “The nurses are so sweet and the staff is like my family. One of the residents, Rosemary, looks forward to seeing me when I come in for my shift; it just makes me happy being a part of their lives.”
Paul’s determination to prove those non-believers wrong paid off. Since graduating in May of 2013, Paul has found a job he loves and he finally got his driver’s license. Paul even auditioned for and got a part in a play as a train conductor in Bye Bye Birdie. He recently performed at St. Louis Community College’s Meramec Campus, where he was able to tour the campus and get his first taste of the college experience.
“Paul makes me smile each time I think about him and how much he has accomplished since graduation,” said Marisa. “I’m so proud of him and can’t wait to see him take the next steps in becoming fully independent.”
Paul’s inspiring story can be seen in an upcoming episode of Thrift Shop Divas, a web series which follows a team of financially-savvy experts as they upcycle materials from Goodwill stores for people in need. In that episode, diva Beth helps Paul find the perfect costume at Goodwill for his role in Bye Bye Birdie.