A transition success story, with Susanna Quim

 When the opportunity for a paid internship came up this past winter, transition student Susanna Quim felt sure she was ready. Her teacher, Krista Hanson, was confident too becauseQuim had a solid foundation in job skills. But when the first day rolled around, Quim panicked. She felt anxious and unprepared, and Hanson wasn’t sure how to help.

Would this opportunity end before it even got started? Or could Quim work through her stress and stay on at the internship? (Here’s a hint: this is a success story!)


Filling a new internship opportunity

Quim, now age 21, will graduate this June from the Community Transition program in Hillsboro, Oregon. During her years as a transition student, Quim worked closely with Hanson and participated in many work experiences.

“I learned how to work by practicing at different jobs. Like at MOD Pizza, Baby’n’Me, and Sunrise Church. Rite Aid was my favorite place to work because I like stocking the shelves,” said Quim.

Hanson agreed that Quim put 100% into every opportunity. “Susanna excelled in every situation. She is always very positive and works so hard,” said Hanson.

Like most transition professionals, Hanson often reaches out to local businesses for new work experiences for her students. The Chick-fil-A restaurant in Hillsboro agreed to partner with the Community Transition program. They went beyond the typical work experience and embraced the idea of creating a resume-building opportunity that would come with a paycheck.

“The Chick-fil-A management really took it to the next level with a paid, semester-long internship. They recognize the value of paying a person for their work,” said Hanson.

The internship would be a perfect way for Quim to finish her transition years and learn to manage a paycheck before graduation. In preparation, Hanson and Quim met with the manager, had lunch there with the Community Transition group, and arranged to have a familiar teacher assistant present for her first workday. Quim liked her uniform, which had been tailored for her petite frame.

Everything was set for success. But when the first workday arrived, Quim felt overwhelmed and anxious. “I told myself over and over I can’t do this, I’m not ready!” she explained. But with a bit of guidance from her teacher, Quim remembered to use the self-care and mindfulness techniques they’d been practicing. This helped her move forward, and realize that she could do this, even when it felt scary.


Self-care tools make a difference

The first self-care technique they used was breathing. Slow, deep breaths help calm a stressed mind. The second technique was movement—Quim knows that for her, walking and getting outside releases tension. Finally, Hanson helped her take it one step at a time, starting by changing into the uniform she liked. And one step at a time, she got through the first shift.

Helping Quim was a learning experience for Hanson, too. “I learned that working ‘on the clock’ for a bonafide paycheck can feel very different from other unpaid experiences, even for a student who’s always been confident. We’ve always taught mindfulness and self-care for stress management as part of the Community Transition program, and now I’ve seen how critical those tools really are for students,” said Hanson.

One fear that nagged at Quim was being unable to reach items on higher shelves.

“I’m a fun-sized person, like my whole family. I didn’t know if I could do everything for this job,” she said. But instead of allowing this worry to take over, Quim spoke to her manager. They made sure she had a step stool available, and the problem was solved.

Quim’s duties include cleaning the tables and chairs, setting up silverware, and filling the salad dressings. During moments when she does feel stressed or fidgety, she heads out to the parking lot to check for litter—a self-care solution that fits into her job. She finds satisfaction in being part of a team of fun, friendly co-workers. And best of all, she got to hand out treats for pups on Chick-fil-A’s Doggy Day.

The Chick-fil-A team appreciated Quim’s cheerful disposition and diligence in doing every task well. In their final feedback comments, they emphasized their support for building an inclusive community.

“It’s wonderful to see that steps are being taken to be more inclusive and provide opportunities for people of all abilities to learn work skills in a supportive and accommodating work environment,” they wrote.

What’s next for Quim after wrapping up the internship and graduating from the Community Transition program? She’s not sure yet, but she’s ready to work towards her next step. She’s connecting with a job developer through Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). After the thrill of receiving her first paychecks from Chick-fil-A, she’s looking forward to saving money from future wages and planning for travels and fun with friends.

Hanson plans to continue the Chick-fil-A internship for transition students in their final year; she’ll also keep expanding the variety of work experiences in the business community. Hanson describes the process as creative detective work, sleuthing out job opportunities and matching them to students’ skills.

“There’s no job too big or too small. Our students just need a start and then we can pedal our way to the right level of work. Finding that right fit changes lives—I’ve seen it happen. And the business benefits too,” said Hanson.

“I’ll sure miss our shining star, Susanna,” she added. “But I can’t wait to see what she does next.”