Life on Her Own Terms


See how Niki's job allows her independence

“Niki is not a sit-around kind of girl.” These are the words Darlene uses to describe her active and outgoing daughter, Niki, of Fort Collins, Colo. Today, Niki enjoys staying very active in her community by going to restaurants with friends, shopping, taking Zumba classes, and working at her job five days a week at a local City of Fort Collins athletic club. But Niki’s path to employment and independence was not an easy one. While Niki was in high school, her mother had concerns she would not live the full life she dreamed of for her.

“Communication was always Niki’s biggest struggle. She uses a combination of sign language, words and body language,” Darlene explained. “When Niki was in high school, I started doing research and saw only about 6 percent of people with an intellectual or developmental disability who do not speak get jobs. She has always loved people and being active, but there was a time I thought she would not be able to live independently. That was very discouraging.” Darlene refused to give up hope. After she graduated from high school, with support from Darlene, her local community and Bethesda, Niki was equipped to live a more independent life. “Bethesda ensured that they were going to support this and that we would work through every step together. That was a huge turning point for me,” Darlene said.

Today, Niki’s work at the athletic club means she does not have to rely on others for her income and she has full benefits. She lives in her own apartment with a roommate, a Bethesda Host Home Provider. In her role at the athletic club, she cleans equipment, greets people and occasionally gets to work in the childcare area. Niki’s job supervisor, Sara Stone, said Niki’s role at the gym is vital to the team.

“Niki is very independent, and she takes her job very seriously. I give her the task list every day and she always makes sure she gets through it. She’s a great employee, and we love having her here.” Darlene said Niki’s job gives her a sense of autonomy and she feels in more control of her life. As a working adult, Niki has more choices than she ever thought possible.

“Niki works because independence is important to her. She gets to spend her money the way she wants, and you can’t be independent and go out to eat and buy clothes if you don’t have cash,” Darlene said. “Not only that, but she likes being busy and being around people. Her job fulfills all her needs. She has made friends, and her bosses and supervisors like her work.” One friend Niki has met on her journey is Sarah Bystrom, Niki’s former Bethesda training instructor. Sarah said she and Niki “clicked” and now see each other socially outside of work.

“I first met Niki through Bethesda, but Niki and I have been going to Zumba classes together three times a week for a long time outside of working hours, so there is a natural support there,” Sarah said. “We started Zumba because we wanted to get out of the house and find something new to do to be healthy and have fun, and we related to each other because we can both sometimes be shy in public.” Sarah said Bethesda’s approach to support means people are encouraged to get out and build connections in their communities. “Bethesda connects people with resources in the community to start to get familiar with places and people and feeling more comfortable. I have seen Niki’s growth in this area because now when she sees people from Zumba out in public, she goes right up and talks with them instead of shying away from interacting. I feel proud and happy watching her grow in her independence.” Sarah isn’t the only person who is proud of Niki’s growth.

“I never thought in my wildest dreams that she could be enjoying life so much; she has exceeded any expectations I had,” Darlene said. “Bethesda supported her choices and was very respectful of our population, and a lot of other agencies are not as respectful. Bethesda has been totally outstanding, and we cannot say enough good things about them. I’m so proud of the strides Niki has made and of where she is today.”

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

During October, we celebrate the contributions of workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities and witness how they add value to the workforce.  This year’s national theme is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All.” At Bethesda, we promote employment in a variety of ways, and work one-on-one with businesses and job seekers. To learn more, click here.