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Meeting of March 15, 2011 - Employment of People with Mental Disabilities

Written Testimony of Tenesha Abbott
Employee Giant Supermarket

Good afternoon. My name is Tenesha Abbott. I am 27 years old and I have a mental disability. I am here to tell you about what it means to work. I hope that by telling my story, I can make it easier for other people with mental disabilities get jobs too.

When I was in school, I was labelled as having MR (mental retardation). Later I was also labelled as having learning disabilities.

I work at the Giant supermarket in Columbia Heights. I have worked there for one year. This job is very important to me and helps me stay active and learn new things.

I got this job with the help of the Kennedy Institute, a program that helps people with disabilities like mine. I went to school at the Kennedy Institute, and they helped me get several jobs over the years. Before this job, I had a job answering phones. But I wanted a job where I could learn more skills. So they helped me get work at the Giant. I had a job coach who helped me find the job and prepare for the interview.

I love my job because I learn to do new things all the time. I bag groceries. I take items back to the shelves when people decide not to buy them, so that they donít spoil. I gather shopping carts and put them in the front of the store. I greet customers and I help them find what they are looking for. Lately I have been helping blind customers. It means a lot to me to be able to help other people.

One of the most important things about my job is that it is helping me learn to read better. I am street smart but I have had trouble reading, and that is frustrating to me. But my job gives me chances every day to learn more words. When I help customers find things, I have to look at the labels and I learn new words. Sometimes I have to look at each letter and sound out the words, but then the next time I will know what the word is.

Sometimes I need a little help on the job, and people are always happy to help me. I donít need a lot. But if I need some help learning where to find something, I can just ask one of the managers. The next time I need to help a customer find that item, I can do it by myself.

My job also helps me learn how to take responsibility so that I can prepare to be on my own. My mother died when I was 8, and I spent some years in the foster care system. Right now I live with my aunt. But some day I would like to live on my own. I am learning how to do things for myself, like budgeting my own money. People I work with at the Giant have been teaching me how to budget. One of my main goals is to save money so that I will always have enough to get what I need -- like clothes, food, and my Smartrip card. I also like to get myself fun things, like video games and a Wii.

I always try to make sure that I get to work on time. I love working so much that at one point I worked at two different jobs at the same time Ė one in the morning and one later in the day. My aunt was worried that I was being too hard on myself, but I told her not to worry, because I enjoy working a lot and it makes me feel good.

Another thing that is great about my job is that it has helped me make friends. I have a couple of friends from the Giant and we often see each other outside of work. Having a social life has helped me grow as a person.

When I canít work, I often get bored. I watch TV at home a lot, but I would drop the TV in a minute to be able to work more. Sometimes I call into the store manager several times a week to get more hours to work.

Being able to succeed at work has made me realize that I have a lot of opportunities to do what I want with my life. There are a number of things I would like to explore. I am interested in being a home health aide or a social worker. People tell me that I am very good at helping kids with disabilities. I am also looking to take some acting classes. Some day, I think I might like to be an actor. I like to make people laugh. I might even want to try to start my own business one day. But I have plenty of time to figure out where I want to go with my life, and right now I am excited to work at a place where I can learn new skills, meet new people, help others, and enjoy myself. Work is a wonderful thing.