The majority of society has the opportunity to find a job, but career options for those with special needs are limited. For Betsy Farmer, this realization became clear when her son, Luke, who has Down syndrome, came to an age where he was able to enter the workforce.
With Luke’s desire to have a job and to gain independence growing, Farmer saw a need and thus started Promise in Brevard. This non-profit provides housing options, vocational training, and employment for young adults with special needs.
Beyond a Job
One way Promise in Brevard provides employment is through the Promise Treasures thrift Shoppe located in Melbourne. For some of the young adults, also known as “Promisers,” this may be their first real job with a real paycheck, and for others, they may have some previous work experience.
“Many of us take jobs for granted, but these jobs make a world of difference for these young adults and their families. They are thriving,” said Farmer.
Michaela Koh, 35, previously worked as a transcriptionist but was let go and out of work for about a year. She started working at Promise Treasures thrift Shoppe in November 2013, doing a little bit of everything, including data entry.
“Michaela has Asperger’s/Autism and can be socially awkward at times, but since she started working there, her social skills have advanced. She’s learned how to interact and make eye contact with people,” said Judy Koh, Michaela’s mother.
Throughout the week, Michaela will tell jokes to the store’s customers and they look forward to hearing the joke of the day. She recently authored a 25-page joke book that is now sold at the store. “Telling jokes is an easy way for Michaela to interact with others. It’s a nice ice breaker,” expressed her mother.
Inside Promise Treasures thrift Shoppe is a café serving coffee and cookies, free of charge to customers. Three days a week, Promiser, Matt Strobel, prepares the cookies. At 7 years old, Matt, who is now 30, had a cancerous brain tumor which left him blind.
“I’ve always hoped that Matt would feel good about himself, and his job at Promise Treasures thrift Shoppe does because it allows him to feel like he is contributing,” said Pam Strobel, Matt’s mother.
Matt also helps make the gluten-free dog treats sold at the store, but more than anything, he loves talking to people. “He has a set routine, but he will stop what he is doing to engage and interact with anyone who stops by. He is happy and he loves being social,” said his mother.
By shopping and donating gently used items including furniture, Promise Treasures thrift Shoppe can continue to provide employment to these young adults. All items donated are cleaned and the clothes are laundered before they are available for sale.
In December 2014, Promise in Brevard was awarded a much-anticipated $15.8 million grant to construct a residential campus for special-needs adults in West Melbourne. The campus will include a trio of three-story apartment buildings for 125 special-needs residents, along with a 13,000-square-foot clubhouse.