“I am opening Section Street Pizza in Fairhope with my dad. His first job was at a pizza restaurant when he was 13 and he had the goal of opening his own for about 47 years. I grew up with his dream and we are finally making it happen. I was a personal trainer so this is a little foreign to me but I have enjoyed learning and plugging myself into it. Hiring and working with special needs employees is making this very meaningful. I went back and forth thinking this is going to be challenging and I don’t know what to expect. My mom has worked with special needs for 30 years and started the special needs program at the Chandler Y in Mobile. Right now she works with equine therapy and kids who have Down Syndrome, autism and turrets. She is so gifted and it is beautiful to watch how she interacts. I grew up around that and wanted to bring it into our business and show others that hiring people with disabilities is doable if you are flexible.
We have received so much support and it has even attracted good employees who just want to be a part of this. I didn’t expect that to happen. I am doing this more for myself. I love being around them. They are so positive and their energy is so contagious. We have one with Parkinson’s, two with Down Syndrome, a few with autism and some have learning disabilities and extreme anxieties who don’t know how to fully interact with the world. Some came through vocational rehab and Project Search. I have loved training them.
We started working on this about a year ago. I saw something on Facebook about a man who had a son with autism and worried he couldn’t find a job so he started a car wash and only hired people with autism. I put a post out on Facebook about hiring people with special needs and was worried about how people would respond. It was so positive and led to most of our hires. It would be great to have multiple stores doing the same thing and a store with an entire special needs crew. The goal is to always put something back into the community and help people think out of the box that things like this are possible.
I was very involved in church and grew up thinking I had to do something miraculous and outstanding to make a difference but now I realize I can do something regardless of where I am. When I was younger, I thought I would be a missionary to Africa or a youth director. I wanted to run an orphanage, but you can’t get a degree in that. I went to four different schools and was very lost. I strayed away from my church and struggled to figure out what I could do with my life that what mean something to me. I had a six year period of depression and anxiety and making bad choices. I grew up with ‘find your purpose and passion’ but for a lot of people it is unclear what that is and how to find it.
When we began planning, I started feeling myself and alive again. And God has shown himself to me. As long as I do my best with what I have, everything is going to be okay. I will do anything to make this work, no matter how many hours I have to work or how many conversations I have to have with mom and dad. I am not going to let anything get in the way of making a difference like this.”