Archive for December 14, 2017

New Normal Part 2—A JOB!

We’d been assigned a new job coach. Back in September, Valerie came into our lives. She reviewed everything we had tried, thought about it, and then asked one question.

“Why can’t CJ just work at Lake Howell?”

Lake Howell. The high school that had been his life for six years. Lake Howell, that he loves more than junk food, more than football, more than his mom.

Dumfounded silence.

Well, why not?

I have been thinking and thinking and praying so hard, reminding myself that no matter how big I dream for CJ, God’s plan for his life is already in place and so much bigger than anything I could ever imagine. But believing it…having faith in it…has been so hard sometimes. Hitting wall after wall, jumping through hoop after hoop, it’s been so hard to imagine a life for my son that includes purpose and most of all, joy.

And now, here it was. Or at least, it might be.

Valerie, who we now consider a genius, went to work. I tried not to get my hopes up.

Valerie, the Job Coach

Valerie, the Job Coach

It seems that the cafeterias at the schools are now outsourced. She had to make contact with the business that provides food service to the Seminole County school system. It took weeks and weeks.

CJ kept on trudging through job fairs and training. I learned that some corporations hold job fairs for people with special needs, with no intention of actually hiring anyone. It’s all for appearances. I drove him all over town. He kept getting dressed at 6 AM. I tried not to lose hope.

And then the phone rang. Valerie had made contact with the manager of the cafeteria at Lake Howell. The powers that be in the Seminole County school system had heard about CJ’s application to work in the school cafeteria, and they sent the message: “Make it happen.”

Valerie arranged an interview for CJ with the manager and area manager of the Lake Howell’s cafeteria. CJ dressed at 6 AM, and we went for the meeting at 9 AM. At 9:25, I got a phone call from Valerie saying she was back at the house.

CJ had the job!!!IMG_6792

Now, drug testing, background check and everything else that goes with a real job, so that CJ could start the following Monday!

I spent some time on my knees that day, my faith restored and my heart full.

CJ now works 2 hours, 2 days a week, doing lunch prep for the school he loves. If all goes well, that will expand to the limits of his earnings cut off. And it turns out, he’s a pro. He’s a dynamo in the kitchen. He can sort and process and arrange with the best of them. In fact, he’s raised the performance bar for the entire staff..IMG_6752And I am grateful beyond words. Welcome to the new new normal.  IMG_6767Welcome home to Lake Howell High School!!

New Normal

CJ Cap & Gown with DiplomaIt’s been five months since my post. Five months. Long enough in real time. Light years in CJ time. We are a million light years from graduation, and nobody gave me a map from there to here. CJ graduated from high school in May. Seven years of high school and at the age of 21, CJ graduated. I have never been so terrified in my life. He walked out on the commencement stage to the call of “Christopher Williams.” Who? You could have heard a pin drop. Nobody knew who that was. Then the crowd saw CJ step out on the stage, and it was pandemonium. They clapped. They cheered. They jumped to their feet. “CJ! CJ! CJ!” He walked across the platform as a celebrity. He hugged everybody and everybody hugged him. He reveled in it.

And then we came home.  I could feel the void looming. The emptiness of the days coming.

We shoved it back for bit while CJ went off to summer “college” at the ARC Jacksonville LIFE program. For 8 wonderful weeks, we all pretended that life was going on as usual. CJ loved his time there, growing, living in student apartments, and living the college life without classes.

And then it was over. Life as we’d known it for 22 years was over. And there was nothing waiting, no people, no activities, no bus, no purpose, no place in the world for CJ, except to sit in front of the TV and stare the next sixty years in the face.

School started again in August, and CJ didn’t go. Instead, he and I stayed at home with our new normal. Me being me, I like a good schedule. Sitting at home isn’t an option. So, CJ found himself out and about with his mom doing the shopping , going to the gym, and lunch with mom’s friends. Worst of all has been going to work with Mom. None of these things should ever happen to a 22 year old, but this was turning out to be CJ’s life.

Our options are limited. He can’t stay alone. He can’t live alone. He could go to a day program where he’d sit for hours doing arts and crafts. He could sit home and watch TV all day.

Not good enough. Not for me. Not for him. His world had shrunk to a shadow of what it was before. And the only one who could put it back together again was me.

He needed to get a job, I decided. How, I had no idea, but he needs a busy world full of typical people. Anything less is a waste.

But how?

Challenge #1: Money. Not too little. Too much. If CJ makes more than $85 per month, his SSI benefits are reduced fifty cents on the dollar. Yes. I need to find a job that makes almost no money. Because, if he has more than $2000 in his bank account, he loses his benefits entirely. Good luck, me!

Challenge #2: Working with a job agency. I discovered the Vocational Rehabilitation government program which helps people with disabilities prepare for job searches and find jobs. We were passed off to an independent contractor, who only gets paid if CJ finds a job. Great. So, CJ now has to learn how to present himself for a job interview.

He takes it very seriously. He has a “uniform” that consists of black pants and socks, black shoes and a green polo shirt. It doesn’t matter if the job interview is at 2 pm, CJ is up at 6 AM, dressed and ready to go. It all makes me want to cry.

He tries so hard, going to training sessions, watching videos on how to act and answer questions. I know it must seem so strange and bewildering to him, but he never stops trying to make the grade. Meanwhile, I make phone calls, send emails, go to meeting and arrange more interviews.

Could he stock shelves at the food pantry? Take in donations? Do laundry at the hospital? Volunteer at the high school? Anything. I’d take anything to keep him out of arts and crafts for the next forty years.

Weeks went by. Months.

And then I got the call….