Monday, March 5, 2018

A Heart Warming Trend - Good Stores with a Cause

One of our robot kids - a soul who is way older than his age - has a sister with developmental disabilities due to epliepsy.  She is wonderful, sweet and also a beautiful girl.  The other day, I had helped them with laundry for the week (frozen pipes) and she brought me the loveliest flowers and we had a long chat about her job hunt which has been a perennial topic for a few years.

We have known her now since she was in her mid-teens and going through first a high-school special program and then a college-age program to prepare her for living independently and gaining job skills.  While there are programs out there to train, the transition to actually finding a meaningful job is horrible.  I hadn't known this until the last few years.

While some people, notably some autistic people, are satisfied with repetitive and detail focused jobs, others such as those with downs syndrome are 'people people'.  Downs adults are highly sensitized to others emotions and will reach out to you in ways that are so cathartic and caring.  People with epilepsy sometimes can't drive and many others with disabilities aren't able to travel like that either - so they need to find jobs which they can get dependable transportation, limiting the choices.  And jobs are often found in grocery stores where the tight margins, bad hours, and no training cause situations that produce verbal abuse by the other employees to the disabled person (and often worse, especially for disabled women who are vulnerable and working the midnight shift).  I have no end of stories of things that have happened to her in jobs she has managed to get - and just getting in the door is a long story of trial.

We have all been trying to get her into an elderly home situation where she could work in food services or something there - knowing that as soon as she is in the door, she will never leave as the residents will just love her (I have in the past watched her interaction with older people - she is a natural).  She loves playing games and is such a sweetie that they will all 'care for her' - she would be a natural in a wing with the memory impaired.  I was thrilled beyond belief when she finally, after years, got such an opportunity a few weeks ago and we are crossing our fingers that it is a home run.

So it is with this day-to-day experience of watching a child who just wants so bad to be independent and contribute to other people meaningfully that I am soooooooo excited this morning.  I had noted that a new store opened up in town a few weeks ago and planned to visit.  It is a comic book store - and a type that looks so organized, clean and bright inside - with plenty of space for game playing, snacks and a drink fridge.  The type of bright place that a mom says - yes, hang out there.  My brothers have been involved or owned stores like this in the past and didn't listen to my suggestions to make them spaces a mother would let her pre-teen hang out in.  I always thought that they might be missing their mark in making it more of a young male adult space.

Store owner Omar Masood and store manager Sally Hoops
Well - the Boston Globe did an article on the store this morning and I about jumped out of my chair!  The store was founded by parents for their Down's syndrome child off a new model for businesses.  He is obsessed with super hero and comics and thus is quite knowledgeable.  Very often people with some disabilities focus on something they love and develop deep knowledge - our friend Ron Suskind's autistic son is an expert on Disney (Really - download the movie about them today, Life Animated,  and watch it - you will think differently about autistic kids afterwards).  The store has a neurotypical-abled manager and some regular employees but the rest of the employees are disabled and many are interns from our local high school program learning job skills in a fun and people-centric environment.  Brilliant.  Good Morning America just did a bit on them.  I hope when people from around the nation visit Lexington to see our history - they also visit Omar.

A business that is focused on providing a safe job atmosphere, promoting positive interactions between the public and disabled people to break down barriers, and giving them a place where their expertise can be on display is a god-send.  For us mom's in town - a place where our kids can go for a snack and a card game night and knowing that the staff is caring and also has a heightened awareness for inclusivity overall is a community dream.   It is now going to be our next place for a robot kid gathering - likely today.  I can imagine now my kid heading to the center with his robot friends for a break and screaming over his shoulder 'going to Omar's' and smiling.

You may have heard about the coffee shop called Bitty and Beau's that was awarded the 2017 Hero award by CNN.  An amazing story and the store has rocketed to success.  They are starting to think about franchising around the USA as a way to provide employment for disabled people that is meaningful and joyous.  They were brilliant about it, hiring managers who had business experience but also social work or special education experience as well.  So they are both manager and teacher/helper as well.  When I read about it - I had called our robot mom with the daughter and said 'we need a Bitty and Beau's in town' and we are just the right place for it.

And now we have something just as good and kid focused - and I am thrilled!

We need more businesses like this in communities everywhere!


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