Layers of Kindness Make a Difference in the Life of a Man with Down Syndrome

As I opened my email, I really thought the sender was about to share a story of cookie-making kindness. It was early in the morning, and my first pre-coffee thought was, “Oh, how sweet of them.”

Then I kept reading.

Then I read it again.

Then I wrote back and asked her to tell me more—more about her son, his work and his story.

I could see layer upon layer of kindness, and all of a sudden, I was inspired by a man I had never met.

Teri Johnson sent me this story about her son. I wonder if you can see the layers of kindness, too?

“As I helped my son, Blake, prepare treats for his co-workers to celebrate his one-year anniversary at his job, I realized I had to share this story of kindness. It was his idea to bring sports cookies to the guys at work to say thank you.

“Blake is our first born and will turn 23 years old Oct. 28. It is ironic that he was born in October, which we found out much later, is Down Syndrome awareness month. As the saying goes, ‘Down Syndrome is a journey I never planned, but I sure do love my tour guide!’

“Blake graduated with his brother, Alec, from Fargo North High School in 2013. Much to Blake’s delight, he was able to stay at North two more years for some ‘post-grad’ work while his brother headed to college.

“As he neared the end of his time at North, people would ask Blake what he was going to do after high school. He’d always respond, ‘I’m going to work at Buffalo Wild Wings.’ We apparently had visited the restaurant more times than I’d like to admit.

“My husband, Steve, and I wrestled with making plans for the next phase of Blake’s life. What would we find to make him feel productive and challenged?

“My husband approached the Buffalo Wild Wings manager with an idea: Could Blake work there if we provided a job coach?

“Prior to the interview, we had done some role playing to prepare him for questions we thought the manager, Jeremy, may ask. Blake was ready!

“Jeremy said that when he was wrapping up the interview, he asked Blake if he had any questions for him. (Oops! We hadn’t anticipated that.) The manager said Blake paused, looked down at his folded hands, then looked him straight in the eye and stated, ‘I love work.’ Jeremy hired him on the spot.

Blake Johnson attended the Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla., and even got a piece of the net, but was concerned about missing work.

“We knew our prayers had been answered when we saw Blake’s reaction to an upcoming family trip. We were lucky enough to be headed to Tampa for the Frozen Four in April 2016. Blake watched his favorite team, the University of North Dakota, win its eighth Division I Men’s Hockey National Championship. He even got a piece of the net! We were shocked when he didn’t seem as excited to go as we thought he would’ve been. When we asked what the problem was, he responded, ‘I have to work.’ He looked at us very seriously and said, ‘They need me.’

“In those three words, it was clear how his co-workers made Blake feel: needed, respected and more alike than different. They may not realize that the kindness they show him in the kitchen makes such an impact.”

Can you see the layers of kindness? An employee who brings cookies, a brother who walked through high school with his best friend, a mom and dad concerned for their son’s future, a manager who gives a guy a chance, and co-workers who welcome him into the fold. It illustrates the truth that wherever you are and whatever you do, kindness matters. It always makes a difference.

You can add a layer to the kindness by joining Blake and his family next week for GiGi’s Fest! It’s a one-mile inspirational walk at Scheels Sports Arena at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 8. The money raised benefits GiGi’s Playhouse, a Down Syndrome achievement center in Fargo.

Learn more about GiGi’s Playhouse and the walk at: gigisplayhouse.org/fargo/ or gigisplayhouse.org/fargo/walk-festival-2016.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.

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