By MATT ELLIS
If you have walked into C & R Market in Monroe City since last December, you might have noticed a taller, dark haired gentleman with glasses smiling as you gather groceries.
Monroe City High School junior Luke Long began working at C & R Market in December 2011 after completing the appropriate paperwork and career exploration and planning building through Learning Opportunities Quality Works Inc. (LOQW) in Monroe City.
Through career pathway and career planning exploration, Cyndi Johns LOQW Director of Human Resources, discussed different job opportunities in Monroe City with Long.
“Luke is very outgoing and loves to work around people so we felt the opportunity to work at C & R would be great,” Johns said.
Long works Monday and Wednesday afternoons from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. doing various tasks like stocking shelves, pushing carts and assisting customers.
Long has been working with LOQW since he was eight years old has been involved in various LOQW programs. During the summer, Long has participated in the Youth Exploration for Success YES summer youth program for several years and has been able to gain valuable skills and work experience.
Long was diagnosed with autism by doctors when he was a young child. Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills.
Long’s mother, Donna Long, said sometimes people have the misunderstanding that Luke is unable to perform certain tasks because he has autism but he is fully capable of any activity or task if he is taught how to perform the activity.
“Luke loves his job and loves being around people. If you see the look on his face when he leaves school for work, it says it all,” Long said.
Before working at C and R, Long worked two paid work experience, internships at the local Humane Society here in Monroe City and also at Mosswood Golf Course in Monroe City.
Johns said these job internships were set up based on Luke’s interests and his conditions, preferences, and contributions for work, he received support from LOQW to develop these positions.
C and R Market Manager Rich Shively said Long has been a great surprise and a wonderful addition.
“No matter what you ask him to do, he does anything you ask him to do,” Shively said.
Shively said Long has great work ethic and continues to bag groceries, push carts, arrange items on shelves and great community members with enthusiasm.
“At times there are certain tasks Luke is able to do that other workers can’t. When there are items on top shelves they can’t reach, Luke can reach them and rearrange the items without any help,” Shively said.
Long’s father, Dennis Long, said the work continues back at home.
“He is very helpful around the house. He enjoys loading and unloading the dish washer and helping mow the grass during the summer,” Long said.
Long said the community gets a chance to see the capabilities Luke has while he works and he brings that same enthusiasm home.
When asked what he was going to do with all the money he earns from working at C and R Market, Long smiled and said he wants to purchase more Disney movies, especially 101 Dalmatians because it’s his favorite Disney movie.
Long said his favorite part of working at the grocery store is being able to talk to people and help carry out groceries.
Luke’s parents attribute their sons willingness and desire to learn and ability to communicate with others to anyone who has been involved in his life.
“We have an excellent school district with fabulous staff members that are always working with him,” Donna Long said.
Long is only a junior at Monroe City High School but he already has options for future plans after graduating. Long plans to either join the work force with the added experience from C and R or attend the University of Missouri’s Transformation, Health, Responsibility, Independence, Vocation, Education (THRIVE) program.
The program is a pioneering, post-secondary program on it’s Warrensburg campus that will serve students with developmental and intellectual disabilities. THRIVE is designed for this population of students who have finished high school and are working toward full inclusion in the workplace and society The program provides participants with enhanced job skills and new-found independence.