Family Focus: Business employs young adults with special needs

MATTHEWS, N.C. — For young adults with special needs, finding a job can be a challenge.

A store in Matthews is helping some to show how much they can do.

Jonathan Gale is known as the friendly guy who works the cash register at Zabs Place, in Matthews. The high-end thrift store is known for good deals on designer brands.

Its main mission, though, is to be a training ground for young adults with special needs.

Gale was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old. His mother, Caren Gale, said he made it clear a few years ago that he wanted a job to make his own money.

She worried that businesses wouldn't be willing to take a chance on him.

“My son is very bright,” Caren Gale said. “But his disability is shown in his language.”

At Zabs Place, the 20-year-old is a star worker, even managing the book section. He said he takes the position seriously.

Managers said all of their employees share that strong work ethic.

“They can learn a lot more than we think, if we'll just give them the support and the opportunity,” Zabs Place co-director Rochel Groner said.

“I’ve seen him come a long way,” employment coordinator Allison Dugo said. “He’s just so independent. He’s got so much confidence.”

Caren Gale sees how much the job has changed her son, including a little extra pep in his step.

“He loves it. I cannot tell you the difference in his self-esteem,” she said.

“People who work here love me, and I become independent,” Jonathan Gale said.

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