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TMI Expansion into Downtown Riverside Brings New Opportunities and Invaluable Friendships

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

As Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) continues to grow and expand its services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, our first Integrated Work group has started volunteering in downtown Riverside. The group is gaining invaluable work experience while contributing to the success of local businesses. Thu, Lacey and Haile, with the support of their TMI Job Coach Jennifer Wortman, make an amazing team! Two of the ladies have limited verbal abilities, but all have learned to communicate with each other to get the job done!

(Thu, Lacey and Haile celebrating Lacey's birthday)

When Jennifer first came to TMI and met with these young women she was determined to help them find work sites that they would not only enjoy, but that could teach them skills in an environment aimed at people of their own age group. For the last few months, the group has volunteered at Downtown Apothecary, a bath, body and home shop, and MP Couture, a women’s clothing and accessories story, in downtown Riverside, as well as at The Grove Community Church restaurant in Riverside. The bond they have formed in just the few months that they have been a team is evident in their work ethic and improved social skills. The ladies love the work that they are doing!

“These ladies have become very bonded and are thriving in their current work sites,” said Jennifer. “They operate almost as a perfect machine in harmony, naturally picking up where the other left off or filling in if a group mate can’t complete something.”

(The group volunteering at Downtown Apothecary)

First established in 1981 in San Diego, TMI’s Temecula office opened in April 2008 and in April 2016 our Corona office opened. TMI now serves nearly 300 clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy, throughout Riverside County, with services for more than 1,000 clients throughout San Diego, Riverside and Imperial Counties.

“Working with the girls has been a wonderful experience,” said Sarah Becker, owner of MP Couture. “They catch on to every task very fast!”

“Lacey is now approaching customers and greeting them with ‘how are you?’" added Jennifer. “Haile used to primarily perform sedentary tasks and is now able to move about the store and work. I am very proud of the growth they have made in such a short period of time.”

Lacey radiates joy wherever she goes and her smile can light up any room! She grew up loving The Wizard of Oz and collects Oz memorabilia. Lacey absolutely adores her favorite character, Dorothy. She loves to dress up as Dorothy and sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Lacey enjoys watching stage productions of her favorite movie online, but her favorite activity is attending live musical theatre as often as possible. A highlight for her was appearing on stage with a Riverside youth theatre group - she loved every minute of it! Lacey also enjoys listening and singing to music, playing a variety of sports with Bill’s Special Kids, dancing, and shopping. She also spends time painting and sold some of her artwork at a TMI art show that featured many of our talented clients.

(Lacey as Dorothy)

“It’s wonderful to see the success of this group! Jennifer has made it a priority to find work sites that are a good match for her clients,” said Linda Hunt, Lacey’s mom. “We appreciate her seeking out places of employment and store owners that provide such a positive environment for the whole group. Lacey absolutely loves going to work and interacting with her amazing friends from TMI and the Riverside community! The addition of retail businesses to their schedule has introduced new opportunities to learn valuable work and social skills. We are grateful to business owners, Sarah Becker (MP Couture) and Tonya Harper (Downtown Apothecary), who have created meaningful and purposeful work for them to accomplish. Lacey and her friends also look forward to the group's participation in a weekly Zumba class, thanks to Jeri and Debbie’s Z-Stars who offer an adaptive dance class each Wednesday in the city of Perris. A big thank you to Lacey’s former TMI Job Coach Angelina Rodriguez for a wonderful four years together and who will always be remembered with love and gratitude.”

(The group quickly completing their tasks)

Thu loves the movie Frozen and dressed up as Elsa for Halloween. She enjoys singing along to the songs on her way to job sites! Thu talks a lot about her home life and how much her family loves her. She often talks about helping her mom cook and prepare for family gatherings. Thu takes on challenges head on. She loves to complete all of her work and takes great pride in it. Even with more relaxed activities, such as sports, she really puts in 100% and keeps trying and trying and does not give up. She has greatly improved at basketball. Her determination is admirable!

(Lacey and Thu happy to be together)

“Thu is like the mom of the group,” said Jennifer. “No one can cough or sneeze, including myself, without her being concerned and asking if we are OK. She has impressed me greatly. She is so patient with her group mates who aren’t as verbal. She picks up on body language and other cues and doesn’t skip a beat. Even when she doesn’t understand something, she takes the time to ask again and very patiently tries to understand. It really is such a pure and beautiful friendship she has with Haile and Lacey.”

Haile, who has Down syndrome, is the dancing queen according to her mom Kim Sherwood. She loves to dance and workout. Haile, who also participates in Bill’s Special Kids, enjoys sports including bowling and basketball. She loves to dress up her Barbie’s, as well as use calculators and toy cash registers to add up the costs of clothing for each. Haile also enjoys going to the beach to walk or run along the shore, shop for clothes and go to the movies.

“I appreciate TMI so much,” said Kim. “They have really helped our family to learn more about Haile’s abilities and for her to be more challenged, as well as become more independent; precisely moving toward maximum independence. The program is more than we could have hoped for. Jennifer helps her to meet and exceed new challenges. Haile has mild autism, which affects her verbal communication, but since joining TMI her self-esteem has gone up and she is now communicating more. It is wonderful to hear about her day.”

(Haile, Thu and Lacey working at The Grove Community Church restaurant)

The TMI Integrated Work program is designed to meet the employment and community integration needs of individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. Although paid work is the desired outcome for all of our clients, many are working as volunteers at a wide variety of nonprofit organizations throughout San Diego, Riverside and Imperial counties. In addition, clients have the opportunity to access resources in the community such as libraries, fitness centers, and restaurants.

“This TMI team has made great strides and are a shining example of teamwork,” said TMI Executive Director Rachel Harris. “They are the perfect group to get TMI’s Integrated Work program up and running in downtown Riverside. We look forward to partnering with additional businesses in the area to help us continue to transform lives!”

If you know of a business that could benefit from amazing employees or volunteers such as Lacey, Thu and Haile, get in touch with us at (800) 877-5452 or We look forward to hearing from you!

(Haile, Thu and Lacey visiting Santa in 2019)


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. 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 and Instagram. Together we can share acceptance and awareness, ultimately contributing to further inclusion.


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