In honor of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, our client Sarah, who has autism, shared her journey with the Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) Paid Internship Program which led to paid employment at a job that she absolutely loves! With that has come newfound confidence and independence. Although Sarah has only been with TMI less than a year, she has proven that disability doesn’t mean inability.
Q. How has TMI assisted you?
A. My first TMI Facilitator Karen Ritchie helped me get a Paid Internship at Christy's Toy Outlet at the Viejas Outlet Center in Alpine. My new TMI Facilitator Mary Hanson then taught me how to do so many things in my internship. When Mary teaches me new skills, she shows me what to do, does it with me, and then lets me do it by myself. She always praises me when I do it right and never gets mad at me when I don't, even if she has had to help me 18 times. Mary helps me clock in using the GT Independence app and when it didn't work right, she texted my TMI Associate Division Manager Colleen Gatchalian who then brought paper timesheets which Mary helped me fill out so I could get paid. Mary has taught me how to straighten all the toys and books in the shop. She has also helped me do inventory, pricing and restocking. Mary is always there and makes me try things for myself once she has taught me how to do my job.
Q. How does being employed make you feel?
A. I love my job! Having a job makes me feel valued and worthwhile. I am glad that Christy hired me one month before I completed my internship and that she trusted me enough to take a vacation on my first day as her employee. My favorite thing to do is to make grab bags. I go through the toy bins, mark paper bags, fill them, staple them shut, and then place them on the rack.
Q. What life challenges have you faced?
A. I have asthma and nut allergies. I also deal with feeling worried and having occasional meltdowns.
Q. How have you faced these challenges?
A. I deal with asthma by taking medicine by inhaler when I start wheezing. I deal with my nut allergies by avoiding any food with nuts. If I eat something with nuts, my sister Amy has Benadryl. I deal with feeling worried and having meltdowns by taking deep breaths, going for walks outside, riding my exercise bike, talking to my doll Savannah, and by sleeping.
Q. How do you feel when you are able to manage these challenges?
A. It makes me feel great and accomplished.
Q. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
A. I enjoy riding roller coasters and traveling. We have horses which I like to ride. I also like to watch my favorite TV shows, Big Bang Theory and The Curse of Oak Island. I love watching movies especially Cinderella Story with Hillary Duff and The Wizard of Oz. I also enjoy reading books, coloring, and making art with glitter and glue, as well as listening to CDs by my favorite musicians: Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, BB Rexha, Halsey, and Lady Gaga. I like taking care of my cats, Frankie and Black Cat, who live in my room with me. I love to help keep the house clean by sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, organizing the refrigerator, and doing the dishes. I also enjoy working out to dance videos.
Q. Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
A. I love my family! I have two sisters, Lisa and Amy, and my brother Brandon. Brandon and I used to dress up for Halloween, it was fun! I grew up in a condo in Pine Valley but now I live in Boulevard with Amy. My mom had a stroke a few years ago and she became an angel. Lisa used to ride motorcycles, but she got in an accident and now uses a wheelchair. I used to ride with Lisa on her motorcycle. I held on tight and wore a helmet. Lisa is my niece Cameron's mom. Cameron and I are the same age. Growing up, I remember going on vacations to the beach in Texas. When we went to Yuma, I went on the swings with Brandon and Cameron. I went to Mountain Empire High School where I got good grades and was a cheerleader.
Q. What are your hopes for the future?
A. I hope to work more hours at Christy's Toy Outlet.
“Sarah has a positive outlook on the world,” said Mary. “She is the embodiment of ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ If there are thunderheads in the sky, she calls them curly clouds. Sarah waits on the rain and thunder to end and for the rainbow to appear. When she has a problem or gets in trouble, she thinks about what she has done and figures out how to make things better. She does not want to disappoint anyone, especially her sister Amy. I hope that she achieves all her dreams, continues to grow in independence and that she is safe and happy.”
Amy had this to say on the San Diego Autism Support Group Facebook Page: “I am so proud I could cry! Sis was hired by the small business where she was doing her paid internship! She has been so diligent about being there, being on time and doing her best job! Her Job Coach through TMI has been so awesome! Sis couldn’t have done it alone. Shout out to Mary for all her hard work! Special props to Christy’s Toy Outlet! They have been super supportive of Sis too! I am having a super proud sister/mom moment! I know our Angel Mom is super proud of her too!”
You are amazing, Sarah, and all of us at TMI are very proud of you as well! Mary, you are a wonderful TMI Facilitator. We are extremely fortunate to have you with us and appreciate you very much. You two make a great team! Thank you to Christy’s Toy Outlet for partnering with us to transform Sarah’s life! We value our community partnerships, together we are making a difference in the world!
The Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) Supported Employment Paid Internship Program (PIP) is designed to encourage competitive integrated employment (CIE) for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (clients). CIE is full or part time work for which an individual is paid minimum wage or greater in a setting with others who do not have disabilities. This program is funded through the State of California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) in conjunction with Regional Center. TMI is the agency responsible for administering the program by directly interacting with employers and clients to foster successful outcomes. The purpose of the program is to increase the vocational skills and abilities of clients who choose, via their Individual Program Plan (IPP) process, to participate in an internship. Goals of this program include the acquisition of experience and skills for future paid employment, or for the internship itself to lead to full or part time paid employment in the same job.
Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) has been transforming the lives of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 1981 and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing since 2000. In 2020, we launched Disabled Veteran Employment Services. TMI strives to help our clients to realize their hopes and dreams by providing Employment Solutions, Community Living and Family Support Services throughout San Diego, Riverside and Imperial Counties. To stay connected with us, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Together we can share acceptance and awareness, ultimately contributing to further inclusion.