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TMI’s Client, Sami, is Working in the Special Needs Class She Attended

Updated: May 14, 2019

Sami teaching

Samantha “Sami” has come full circle. For the last 13 years she has been volunteering at Rolando Park Elementary School. Five years ago she started assisting in the special needs classroom for TK to 5th grade children, the same class she attended when she was young. Now 33 years old, Sami is assisting children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and helping to give them, as well as their parents, hope that they can also be successful.

As part of the Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) Paid Internship Program (PIP), Sami recently began being paid for her work with the children, which includes assisting them with learning words using visuals, helping out with their physical education and practicing yoga. While some of the behaviors in the classroom can be challenging, Sami takes it all in stride knowing that she was once in their shoes.

“I understand the kids, because I use to be in that classroom,” said Sami. “Helping them makes me happy.”

When TMI’s PIP program first started, TMI’s Director of Supported Employment Marcus Byrd knew immediately it would be a perfect fit for Sami. Marcus reached out to Rolando Park Elementary School Special Education Teacher Garth Hebbler, who was thrilled to learn there was a program that could assist with paying Sami for her work.

“I am grateful to Marcus for reaching out,” said Mr. Hebbler. “I had been trying to figure out how we could pay Sami and this was the perfect solution! TMI’s program not only makes a difference in Sami’s life, but also positively impacts the children in my class. They see that she was and continues to be capable of learning, which helps them want to try new things and to believe in themselves.”

Sami with Mr. Hebbler

(Sami with Mr. Hebbler)

“Sami is great with the kids. You can tell that she has a positive influence on their lives by the way they look to her for support,” said Marcus. “I am happy that we can be a part of that process.”

One in six children ages 3 through 17 years have a one or more developmental disabilities. Just like all of us, they have hopes and dreams. At TMI we are advocates for the belief that disability does not mean inability. It is important that everyone should have the opportunity to reach their full potential with opportunities to perform meaningful activities or work with support, if needed, to promote success. Sami is a shining example of this!

“It is wonderful that the parents of children in my class can see how successful Sami has become,” added Mr. Hebbler. “Sami is also very pleasant and the children learn from that.”

In Sami’s free time she loves shopping, getting her nails done, attending football and basketball games, traveling with her family, as well as researching activities for children with special needs. Sami lives with her mom and dad, Cynthia and Louie, who she is very close with. While Sami could live on her own, she loves the comfort of home and living with her parents.

(Sami on vacation with her parents)

“I hope other parents of children with special needs can see their children be successful as well,” said Cynthia. “Never give up hope!”

Sami hopes for the future to continue assisting in Mr. Hebbler’s class. It gives her great happiness. She is doing what she loves and being paid for it. The PIP program has truly helped to transform her life!

“Cross out good and put fantastic!” corrected Sami when asked how it feels to be paid through TMI’s Paid Internship Program.

Congratulations, Sami, you deserve it!


Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) has been transforming the lives of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 1981 and those who are deaf and hard of hearing since 2000. Like all of us, our clients are born with hopes, dreams and the drive to contribute to society. TMI strives to help our clients to realize their hopes and dreams by providing Employment Solutions, Community Living Services and Family Support Services throughout San Diego, Riverside and Imperial Counties.


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