It was over twenty years ago, and I was a “fresh out of grad school” rookie, eager to do well in my first real job. Although it meant moving from the town where I had attended college and gotten my master’s degree, a few weeks after graduation I accepted a position at Independence, Inc., a Center for Independent Living in Lawrence, Kansas. The organization served people with disabilities in a wide variety of ways. My title was that of Independent Living Skills Trainer, which meant that I helped our clients learn skills of their choosing that would enable them to increase their independence. During my almost five years of employment, I worked with people who wanted to learn budgeting skills, how to successfully use the community transportation system, effective ways to grocery shop, cook, clean, advocate for themselves and a whole lot more.
My favorite client was a young man named Todd. He had an intellectual disability, and I quickly discovered he took things rather literally. In our work together we went over skills including safety, successful social interactions, and various ways to ask people for things he wanted or needed effectively. We also spent lots of time at the grocery store. When we first started, Todd carried a list that his mother had written out and we would find the items on it in the store together. Over time, he made his own list and learned to count out change for the cashier. He made slow and steady progress. Eventually, I would simply sit at the front of the store and wait while he completed his shopping on his own. Those were really good days.
When we first started, Todd carried a list that his mother had written out and we would find the items on it in the store together. Over time, he made his own list and learned to count out change for the cashier. He made slow but steady progress. Eventually, I would simply sit at the front of the store and wait while he completed his shopping on his own. Those were really good days.
Todd and I worked together twice every week for several years. And I always looked forward to our appointments. He had a great attitude, was incredibly respectful and was always ready to work hard. Even when what we were trying to accomplish was difficult for him, like counting money correctly.
He had a part time job in the mornings at Hobby Lobby. In the afternoons, he would either work on something with me or work on a project in the computer lab of the agency. In between, he would eat his lunch in our conference room.
His lunches were epic., rivaling any gourmet meal I have ever seen. He always packed them himself. The sandwiches could have come from a deli. In addition, there was fruit, chips, raw vegetables and dip, and numerous cookies and other sweet things for dessert. He ate all he brought with gusto and flair. Sometimes he also brought snacks, in case he got hungry while he was working at the center.
One day, I was a witness when a coworker of mine passed by him as he was eating lunch in the conference room. Because we all really liked Todd, he got teased good naturedly pretty often. Upon seeing all the food laid out in front of him, this co-worker started to give him a hard time.
“Todd, if you eat all of that, you will end up getting pudgy. Now drop and give me twenty.”
It’s safe to say that Todd had never been in the military and consequently had probably never heard that expression nor any reference to it before. After several seconds of confusion turned to panic, Todd’s answer was one that I will remember forever.
In a voice that was both shaky and uncertain, he stammered, “I don’t know how, I just don’t know how, and besides, I don’t have any money.”
A classic Todd response. Totally, completely and wonderfully Todd. Both the coworker and I assured him quickly that all was well.
I must confess, I have been known to over-indulge on good food much more often than I should. And I, like Todd, am unable to drop and give anyone twenty, at least in the conventional sense. When that particular memory comes to mind, I simply make sure I know exactly where my purse is, ready to hand over a $20 bill to anyone who might suggest it.
And I smile.