For individuals with disabilities, employment success often follows a windy path, full of bumps in the road. For Ashley Perea, 24, the journey has required patience and perseverance, but the rewards are tenfold.
Ashley has not one –but multiple challenges. She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and Asperger’s – an autism spectrum disorder. She has attention-deficit hyperactivity, depression and anxiety and mood disorders. “I don’t like that I have it,” says Ashley, who chooses to focus on the positive. “I focus on what I can fix and that helps.”
Three years ago, the California Department of Rehabilitation referred Ashley to PRIDE Industries where she received Employment Services support and placement. With assistance, Ashley landed a job at Panera Bread. While working there, Ashley uncovered a previously unknown skill: customer relations. She excelled at interacting with the customers and quickly became a favorite.
Ashley remained employed for over a year until life threw her a curve ball forcing her to take a break from the job.
When she was ready to return to the workforce, Ashley reconnected with PRIDE Industries and began the journey anew. With professional guidance and appropriate medications, Ashley gained coping skills and made remarkable strides. When anxiety kicks in, she uses breathing exercises, counts to ten backward, or picks up the phone and calls her job coach, Katie Edwards. With better focus and help from PRIDE’s Employment Services, she fine-tuned her resume, polished her interviewing skills, and worked with the team to identify jobs that might be a good fit for her strengths.
“Ashley has overcome many interpersonal barriers and has found a position which allows her outgoing personality to shine,” says Katie Edwards, a PRIDE Industries job coach.
After a few months of job searching and a very special makeover, Ashley landed a retail job. While the job was only seasonal, it was a great learning experience and a step forward on her journey – and Ashley did not give up.
Ashley refocused again and landed a job with the locally headquartered grocery chain, Raley’s. She recently passed her 90-day probationary period and is now gainfully employed. Ashley is a courtesy clerk – a perfect fit for someone who excels at customer service. “I love it!” says Ashley, “Connecting with the customers, and making sure they feel welcome at the store.” Working at the grocery store provides a welcome environment where she sees the potential for a long-term future. “It is like one big family,” she says. She hopes to work her way up to the assistant manager position one day.
One step at a time, Ashley is accomplishing her goals of independence. Her latest achievement: the purchase of a new car.
We asked Ashley which accomplishment she is most proud of; she replied: “Going from a bus to a car and overcoming my shyness to be successful at Raley’s.”
Ashley’s next two goals are to go back to school and move out of her parents’ home. “My mom used to be a writer; I would love to do something like that,” says Ashley.
Individuals like Ashley remind us that success is a journey, not a race and that people can achieve their dreams when given support and opportunity. We are so proud of your achievements, Ashley! Keep up the great work.