When Becky Berger's son Griffin turned 18-years-old, she made a vow that Griffin would be living on his own by age 23, working in the community, and making friends.
Griffin was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. Becky said her son, who is mostly non-verbal, was becoming increasingly dependent on her for his daily needs. She became determined as her son reached adulthood that he would reach his full potential.
"I made the pledge to give Griffin the tools and skills to successfully live in his own home, with support, by age 23," she said, adding that she is thankful for the dedicated professionals and aides who have worked intensively with her son to help him gain independence.
Becky said Griffin, now 20, has already succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. A transition student in the Hillsboro School District, Griffin recently started his first paid job at Metro West Ambulance. He works about 15 hours per week as part of a group of employees known as Vehicle Service Technicians. Griffin's primary job is to assemble and inventory different medical kits that Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) put in ambulances.
Nicholas Von Pless, supported employment manager with Community Access Services, said the close-knit team, including Griffin's instructional assistant Pam McCann, his speech pathologist Britteny Asher, and his family, conducted a career exploration through Vocational Rehabilitation.
Nicholas said during those team meetings, he noticed Griffin liked to work on colorful mosaics.
"He was very precise about what colors should go where and in what order," he said. "So we started looking at possible jobs that would fit his interests and skills."
John Walker with Community Access Services helped develop the job for Griffin by following up on a lead from one of Griffin's skills trainers, who suggested Metro West Ambulance as a possibility. Metro West Ambulance provides advanced life support and medical transportation services in Columbia, Washington, Clackamas, and Multnomah counties.
Manager Melissa Zimmer said Griffin's work putting together the ambulance medical kits helps to ensure that EMTs have more time to focus on other daily tasks.
"I love having Griffin here," she said. "He's very detail-oriented and he has a high degree of accuracy."
Nicholas and Pam both have supported Griffin as he became familiar with his job tasks. Nicholas, John and Pam individually photographed and catalogued every single item that needs to go into various medical kits. Griffin uses his speech communication device to help organize his work. He uses the speech device in the community, and his own voice when he feels comfortable.
Pam, Griffin's transition teacher, has been providing job coaching for the short-term.
"When he first came to us, it was like the whole world was just what was right in front of him," Pam said. "The world is starting to open up for him. He has an incredible team surrounding him. It makes a huge difference."
Nicholas said he has been doing supported employment for many years, and he said the Employment First initiative has made a big difference in bringing educators, providers, VR counselors and case managers together. Griffin's team also includes VR counselor Karen Burch and his personal assistant (PA) with the brokerage Self-Determination Resources Inc.
"There has been a huge shift and a lot of excitement that the state is supporting transition to work," Nicholas said. "We are seeing early engagement from the schools. Instead of feeling like you are out there alone trying to find your client a job, now there is this whole team working together."
Pam said after a few months on the job, Griffin now does most of the work on his own.
Griffin's mother Becky has started a nonprofit, called Griffin's Place. Her hope is to provide individuals and their families with resources and information, classes and hands-on experiences to enable people with I/DD to be included, engaged and successful in all aspects of their lives.
Among Griffin's other recent successes:
- He now attends social activities with friends in the community, takes classes at the local community college, and is learning to read.
- He cooks all his own meals and can order a variety of menu items using his communication device at local restaurants.
- He cares and cleans up after himself; does laundry, is learning to vacuum, grocery shops with a visual shopping list, checks out books from the library and hosts social activities.
- He loves to watch Blazer games with his family, enjoys bike riding, strength training at the gym, and swimming.
- He is learning to text critical information and can use his debit card to pay for items on his own.
- He uses public transportation, with support.