Local businesses give job opportunities to young adults with disabilities


HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Local businesses in Horry County are helping young adults with disabilities thrive by offering them summer jobs, but those businesses get just as much in return.

“It not only gives the employee so many new skills and such an amazing feeling of accomplishment and being proud of themselves, but it also helps the other employees to see that there are a bigger spectrum of people on the planet,” said Tj Weeden, owner of The Roasted Bean.

Savannah Thompson, of Savannah’s Playground, is now an employee of The Roasted Bean in The Market Common.

“One day, as she was at the register, I said, ‘Savannah, how would you like to work here on Mondays in the summer after you graduate?’” Weeden said.

Thompson is quite an enthusiastic worker.

“She brings out that joy, like it’s really fun to be alive and it’s really fun to wake up on Monday because she’s going to be here,” Weeden said. “She’s helping us and learning teamwork. It’s huge.”

Thompson was born with Williams Syndrome, which causes physical and mental disabilities.

“We knew that she had some serious physical disabilities, so she’s had open-heart surgery when she was a little over 3 and had some complications with that and some difficulties growing up,” said Lance Thompson, Savannah’s father.

Nothing has stopped Thompson from graduating high school, and now balancing two jobs, working at Stephanie’s Salon and Day Spa in addition to The Roasted Bean.

“I love working,” she said. “Everybody is so special here.”

“Opportunities like this just give challenged folks like Savannah an opportunity to really get some social skills and work experience and really have a sense of worth,” her father said.

Thompson will be starting at the LIFE program at Coastal Carolina University this fall.

Gabriel Rodriguez, better known as G, is in the LIFE program already. He calls himself the Chanticleers’ No. 1 fan.

Rodriguez has an internship this summer with a computer lab at CCU and that could turn into a part-time paid position in the fall.

“I greet customers who have problems with their computers or mobile devices,” he said.

Rodriguez was diagnosed with autism just before he was three years old, said Aixa Rodriguez, his mother.

“He’s a very hard worker,” she said. “He does not see limitations in himself. He has set goals and every time he sets a goal, he achieves it.”

He’s already making plans for after college.

“For now, I would like to be a banker,” Rodriguez said.

People with disabilities have the same goals as everyone else.

“A meaningful job, independence, and to contribute and they do have skills that can benefit businesses even if they’re a little different and might take a little different way to learn the skills, but we as a society have to support them so they can be productive,” Aixa Rodriguez said.

SOS Health Care provides a variety of services for people with disabilities, including putting them on a path to independence by helping them get jobs and giving them the skills to succeed.

Executive director Sarah Pope said SOS Health Care is one of the biggest job placement organizations in the area for people with disabilities.

The organization has offered a job coaching program for about two years now, and Pope estimates that, along with a life skills program, has helped about 75 adults.

Recently, four participants were placed at Paula Deen’s new restaurant in Broadway at the Beach to roll silverware, Pope said.

She said Ripley’s Aquarium has also hired several people to do food prep for the kitchen and one participant is now in the live mermaid show.

SOS Health Care has a career camp going on right now to get young adults trained for future jobs.

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