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  • Working with individuals with disabilities for the last 30+ years has brought so many wonderful people into my life and has enriched it tenfold. Every now and then I remember a particular individual with a smile. Justin is one of them.

    Justin was one of my students participating in a very unique school program where a house within the community served as a classroom for young people with disabilities who would be graduating within the next two years. During the day four different classes visit the program and learn skills that will prepare them for life after school. The program is in its seventeenth year and is one that I am most proud to be a part.

    Justin was born with a developmental disability. The type is of no importance (to me or my staff) and I have no use for assessments or IQ's. My approach to teaching is "lets see what you can do and use those skills to learn things which at this point you cannot and if you can't learn how to do so then let's find out what you can learn."

    Justin loves everyone, and in his presence he will shower you with a barage of compliments--"Oh Mrs. S. you are just so wonderful, and look so beautiful, and so nice and I just like that about you." He never stopped bringing a smile to my soul.

    One particular day, we were working in the backyard garden of the house. I was showing Justin how to plant corn by making a small hole in the soil and dropping 1-2 kernels down in and covering it up. Once he seemed to understand, I left him on his own with a hefty handful of kernels. A quick glance over towards him revealed that within seconds he was empty handed.

    I walked back to where he stood waiting for further instructions.
    "Hey Justin, are you done already?"
    With a smile he said yes. "Boy that was awful quick, did you plant them the way I showed you?"
    And with the everlasting smile he said, " No, I took a shortcut."
    "A shortcut?"
    "I dug a bigger hole and put them all in one!" He exclaimed.

    I smiled, and we left his shortcut version. In time a "bush of corn grew" and we thinned it a bit but it yielded corn for the beginning of the next school year. When I greeted Justin, I took him out into the garden to show him what had happened over the summer and told him:

    " This is the most wonderful corn, and it looks so beautiful, and it grew so nice and I just love your shortcut." And he looked at me and returned the compliments.

    Like many of the students who I have come to known, I have lost track of Justin after more than ten years, but, he still lifts my spirits when I think of him. I am sure others who now are part of his life, through whatever program, they too reap the rewards of his presence.
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