A white woman with blonde hair stands smiling with her arms at her sides in front of an office desk cubicle. She is wearing a white t shirt, black pants, and white shoes. After graduating from high school and realizing college wasn’t the right path for her, Amy—who has a learning disability—knew she was ready to begin building her career. She started with typical jobs for young adults, working at Bath and Body Works and Giant Food for several years while taking classes at the local community college until a chance meeting in the college parking lot changed her life.

Amy encountered a woman in the parking lot and engaged in some polite small talk. Serendipitously, the woman’s daughter also had a disability and was currently seeking a job. She had contacted a program called Project SEARCH, and the woman passed the information for the program along to Amy.

Project SEARCH is an employment program for people with disabilities that aims to train and place each participant in competitive and rewarding employment through a series of internship rotations. As an added bonus of the program, the placements help demonstrate to businesses the long-term value of hiring people with disabilities and the wide range of jobs they can be successful in.

Amy enrolled in the program and began her placements, including one at the Montgomery County Department of Finance Treasury Division.

Amy and her assigned employee mentor MaryAnn got along right away—she even had chocolate and a pen ready for Amy’s first day. They got to work learning about homestead compliance and correcting records in the department’s system. Amy learned what it took to succeed in an office job and focused on building skills and making herself an asset to the department.

Amy chose to pursue Treasury Department job after all of her rotations were done and was thrilled to secure a full-time, competitive job there where she thrived in an environment where people believed in and supported her to succeed. Amy notes “When I first got hired, I was so grateful. I didn’t say it, but inside deep down because I didn’t really know if it was going to happen. I felt really focused.”

Now 32 years old, Amy is still at the same job enjoying her work, and is optimistic about what her future holds.

“I like everyone I work with. They like working with me too. I am most proud of working on property tax refunds. I research accounts ahead of time to figure out who is eligible for a refund, and then take their information and add the record into our system so it can move to the next step. I’ve gotten better at it over the course of my time there and I like working in Excel.

I’m coming up on my 10-year anniversary which makes me proud. I do think about the future and maybe learning more skills. It’s been quite the journey.

I have a job coach I see during work, but I live by myself. I have a one bedroom and my parents help me with things and have been supportive. They retired to Florida and I miss them a lot. They come up and visit and I fly down to stay with them.

When I’m not working, I like to run. It helps me. I don’t get to do it often because of my job, but anytime I can do it, it helps me think better. I like to hang out with friends—it’s good to be social.

Having a job allows me to be independent, buy groceries, pay housing expenses, and go out to dinner with friends.

I hope people don’t give up on their dreams and their goals. It’s very important to work and try to make a good life for yourself.”

The post When Small Talk With a Stranger Led to a Thriving Career: Amy’s Story appeared first on The Arc.

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