Shared Optimism, Work Ethic Breed Independence


What do 83-years-young Gasper and 28-year-old Matt have in common? That’s easy – a big heart, a global healthcare giant, and a deep appreciation of family.

Gasper is a job coach with Helping Individuals Regain Employment (HIRE) Enterprises, an accredited vocational rehabilitation program of May Institute. HIRE provides opportunities for adults with disabilities to work at production fulfillment assignments for a variety of business customers. These individuals receive job training, coaching, and support in their work at May Institute sites as well as in the community.

Matt is one of HIRE’s success stories. Diagnosed with Asperger’s and schizoaffective disorder in high school, he is shattering many stereotypes of what it means to be a young adult with special needs. As he lives his dream of independence, Matt is achieving many goals. One example – he recently took home gold in the Special Olympics sailing competition that was held on the Charles River in Boston, Mass.

One of the major influences in Matt’s remarkable success has been the staff at May Institute’s Center for Adult Services in Raynham, Mass., and the special relationship he has forged with Gasper, his mentor and job coach at HIRE.

But before we can tell the story of Gasper and Matt, we need to take a step back in time.

A work ethic endures
In his early 20s, Gasper was a talented machinist stationed in Japan during the Korean War. It is where he met a nurse who, despite the language barrier, later became his wife and light of his life for over 50 years. When he returned stateside, Gasper became the first student to graduate in Massachusetts under the GI Bill. Graduation eventually led to a successful career of leadership positions in various manufacturing settings.

Gasper retired in 1980. Not the type to remain idle for very long, he needed a new outlet for his abundant creative energy. “I started working when I was 8 years old. I worked away from home at 13 years of age, always building and fixing things. Now, at age 63, I felt it was time for me to do something that really mattered,” Gasper recalls.

He reminisces about stumbling across a Farmers' Market in his hometown that shared space with a vocational assistance program. The organizers asked if he would be willing to lend a hand with both projects. “I had never worked with people with disabilities,” says Gasper. “I didn’t even really know what to expect or whether I was the right person to do the job. It was all very new to me and a little scary.”

But, as with every new endeavor he took on, Gasper approached the experience with sensitivity and a deep sense of responsibility. He knew that if he did his job well, that he could make a real difference in the lives of his new extended family. Chris Mower, M.S., Director of Vocational Services for Adult Services, says, “Gasper creates productive, fulfilling environments for everyone. He is truly a man who loves what he does and one who has learned how to pass on his own extraordinary work ethic to others.”

Real-world training ground builds confidence
In 2009, Gasper’s extended May family grew by one with the addition of then 26-year-old Matt, who would become Gasper’s right-hand man.

When Matt first joined the HIRE program, he lived in a supervised adult residential living program. His mother, Karen, remembers being told that Matt would never be able to live in his own apartment. Matt himself remembers that early on he was easily frustrated with others, and needed to learn the social skills that would enable him to be successful in situations where he felt he had little to no control.

In tandem with his work at HIRE, Matt spends 18 hours a week at May Institute’s Adult Day Habilitation program in Raynham. There, he works with Dana Connor, Program Coordinator, and other staff to continue developing important social and life skills.

Today, Matt spends 12 hours a week on Gasper’s assembly team. The team is assigned to Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, a global powerhouse in electronics and electrical engineering, operating in the industry, energy, and healthcare sectors. Matt and the rest of his group assemble and prep corrugated boxes for the packaging of advanced medical devices and other supplies to be shipped worldwide.

A key part of Gasper’s approach to mentoring Matt and his co-workers is establishing and reinforcing real-world expectations as they relate to productivity, commitment, and respect for others. “In the past five years, Matt has matured in ways that are quite remarkable,” says Gasper. “Interacting with others – functioning as part of a team – was a challenge for him in the beginning, as it is for many young people. Today, he is much more self-aware and well-liked by all of his peers and co-workers. He’s my right-hand man.”

“Being a part of the May Institute family over the past five years has resulted in a 360-degree change in Matt at every level,” says Karen. “It has been a life-saver.”

“I’m very proud of the young man Matt is becoming,” beams Gasper, “as I am of all the individuals on my team. These are incredibly hard-working, honest, and wonderful people who won my heart a long time ago. The opportunities that HIRE offers make so many things possible for every person involved.”

Living the dream
Matt’s confidence at work has translated to an active social and community life. A huge sports fan, Matt is rarely without a smile or wearing any one of his multitude of baseball caps. He is young man always on the go. Ballroom dancing, shopping, adding to his CD collection, studying the weather, hanging out with Mom, sailing with his brother and his Dad are just a handful of ways Matt enjoys his time off.

He also makes time to help others. “It’s important for me to help the elderly. My aunt is one of my many customers!” Matt explains, as part of the volunteer work he does with Meals on Wheels.

The rewards of bringing home a paycheck and the ability to live on his own through a supported living program are not lost on Matt. They also represent a dream his mother thought would never be possible. “I am very proud of Matt and grateful for Gasper, Dana and the others who knew progress was within reach. Their shared optimism has been a powerful learning environment for him,” Karen says.

Matt’s love for his family and life perspective continue to be major influences in his journey. When asked how he feels about all he has accomplished, he beams. “I like it,” he says. When asked for advice on living a happy life: “Make sure you get up on the right side of the bed every day.”