March is recognized around the country each year as National Intellectual and Developmental Disability Awareness Month. Throughout the month, Lookout Mountain Community Services celebrates our friends and neighbors living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) by sharing their personal stories that highlight the ways they are embracing choices and achieving independence.

The great majority of young adults completing their education, whether it be high school or college, are faced with a huge question: What is next for me? Typical young adults anticipate getting a job, earning a pay check, being able to buy things that they want and need, having their own home and family one day. For young men and women with IDD, going to work has not always been the expectation. But it can be, when given the opportunity and with the right supports.

One individual that serves as a great example of the huge contribution people with disabilities can make in the workplace is Rebecca Mullins. She has autism but she has never let that diagnosis hold her back. Rebecca Mullins has been employed at Walgreen’s in Fort Oglethorpe for over six years, and is a highly valued team member by both her supervisors and co-workers.

Rebecca remembers what life was like as a child growing up. Having autism wasn’t easy. She says her preschool teacher at Gilbert Elementary really helped her to begin using her words to communicate with others. Rebecca’s mother shares that when her daughter was diagnosed with autism, she wondered how their family would manage. She worried about the future for her child. No one imagined that this little girl who wouldn’t speak would one day be working as a cashier, assisting customers with their orders in the photo lab, and being responsible for a section of the store.

Rebecca has far exceeded the expectations of others and those that she had for herself. She is friendly and welcoming to everyone who comes through the doors at Walgreen’s. She says, “I love my customers, crew, and the vendors who come in. I know many of them by name, and I’m always glad to see them.” Rebecca has a way of making everyone who meets her feel good about themselves. She is positive and hopeful and loves her job. She calls her co-workers her Walgreen’s family and can’t imagine life without them.

When asked about her hopes and dreams for the future, Rebecca states that she wants to continue working right where she is. She feels good about the difference she is making. She’s proud of how independent she has become too, saying that her job has helped her learn to solve problems, make decisions, and speak up for herself. Incidents that may have made her panic in the past are now met with a calm attitude and confidence that she can handle whatever comes her way.

Recently Rebecca and her mother went on a vacation to Arizona. Rebecca loved stopping at every Walgreen’s she could visit along the way. As she compared the stores to her own, she proudly announced to the employees, “I work at Walgreen’s in GA!”

Thanks to people who believed Rebecca could succeed, she is living proof that employment is not only possible for people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities, it should also be the first option. People with IDD represent a great untapped resource for employers who often struggle with issues of recruitment and retention. Agencies such as Lookout Mountain Community Services ensure that individuals with IDD have the supports they need to fully participate in their community, including making contributions in the workplace. And as her mother says, “I love seeing that Rebecca has become her own woman!”

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