Last week Nate and I had a meeting at ArcOtsego. It was through the Arc that Nate did his three job assessments – cleaning up at the SUNY-Oneonta Cafeteria, doing factory work at MAMCO and stocking shelves and tossing expired items at Hannaford’s grocery store. The meeting was with the three coaches who went on the jobs with Nate, the Assistant Community Employment Coordinator and the Community Employment Coordinator. And Nate. And me.
Each job coach talked about their experiences with Nate, his strengths and his weaknesses. Then talk turned more serious – what do we do next? It came down to how we saw Nate’s future, how to take his skills as a college graduate and an overall smart guy and turn that into a proper job placement. Problem is this county is very small and opportunities for a kid like Nate in the job he belongs are rare.
I’m never sure when, and how much, I should weigh in. At least at first. That wasn’t the case when Nate was little, but now that he’s 22, I expect that he is supposed to carry the ball. He can’t though. At the meeting he played with his iPad and almost never paid attention. His answers – “It’s OK,” “Sometimes” –were always unhelpful, general and vague. I stepped in.
Karen and I were told, very early on in Nate’s life, that no one would ever be as strong an advocate for Nate as his parents. At this meeting, I spoke strongly about my hopes for Nate, that somewhere there was the right fit for him, that he needed a mentor who would relish Nate’s strengths and gloss over his weaknesses. In that special place, Nate would do work that suited his skillset – computer work, design projects –and he would be as productive, if not more so, than the average worker.
Frequent readers have heard about Nate’s job project at our local hospital, Bassett Healthcare. During his senior year in high school, Nate spent one hour per week in their print department, working on the computer and learning how to behave. From session one, where he had to learn to keep personal space and not to pick his nose and then use the keyboard, Nate evolved into a terrific worker, his distractions never keeping him from completing all the work assigned and, in fact, Nate’s computer proficiency resulted in his teaching the full timers short cuts on the keyboard that increased their productivity. It was a major success and Nate received a glowing job recommendation.
I told this story to the group and, thankfully, there was a file with all this information. The Community Employment Coordinator knew where to find it and read the letter aloud. It was as effusive and enthusiastic as I remembered. Everything clicked from that point onward. There was a real sense of purpose when it came to planning for Nate. We adjourned after an hour with everyone ready to explore their possible connections so we could get Nate in a suitable situation.
One of the job coaches said to me, “Are you a used car salesman? You really sold Nate.” Another sent me this: “Your special relationship with him is impressive. I am not sure we will ever find a better advocate for Nate than you. I believe we all look forward to searching and finding the best possible job match for him.”
The meeting reaffirmed that we are the strongest voice in support of Nate. It was true 19 years ago and it’s true now – there’s no one who will advocate better for him than his parents. And that’s not just a reminder for us. It’s a reminder for you too.