Upstairs at Park Cities Ford, Angela Enright, Katie Jones, and Debbie Wilkes sit down to discuss Katie Jones’s son’s future.
Nick Jones, a senior at Highland Park High School, was born with Down Syndrome and struggles to articulate his words, said Katie Jones, Nick’s mom.
While “Team Nick,” as they call themselves, plan for the future, Nick is downstairs cleaning his all-time favorite car, the Ford Mustang.
In February, Nick joined the team at Park Cities Ford as an intern. He had worked at previous jobs before, but Ford was the dream. He wanted to be around the cars — particularly the Mustang.
The dream was achieved after applying and interviewing with Enright, the dealership’s communications director. Now he works from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, cleaning cars, setting out magazines, and completing other tasks.
“Everything Nick does needs to be done,” Enright said.
It’s not a charity thing, Katie clarifies. Wilkes, an education consultant of D.R. Wilkes Consulting, said he’s an important part of the dealership’s daily functions.
“The rule of supporting a person with a disability on the job is to make sure that they’re an essential factor to the employment site,” Wilkes said. “We want them to get as much from Nick as any other quality employee, and so it’s what can he do.”
When Nick isn’t working, he’s hanging out with the guys. On his birthday this year, the other employees chipped in to give him cash and a surprise party. After the party, Nick and some others tossed around a football outside.
Katie said Nick feels like his work peers are his family.
“I’m so proud,” Katie said. “So very, very proud and I’m learning from him. He’s constantly teaching me new things about himself and that’s one of the things we were talking about in the meeting. I’m hearing all these things he’s doing here I didn’t know he could do, things he’s doing on the computer. He just keeps reminding me, ‘Don’t lower the ceiling. Keep raising it.’”
One area in which Nick is improving at is verbal communication, Katie said.
“He gets frustrated because if he knows he’s going to stumble and fumble a little bit, he will struggle, but he can show me with his phone or draw it or shorten his answer to two words,” she said. “But yeah, he’s definitely interacting with people around here and communicating.”
Several different Park Cities Ford workers help supervise Nick. To help with his tasks, he has a notebook full of the day’s checklists and pictures of different workers, as well as rooms within the dealership, labeled with names so he can better remember.
“He’s more of a visual learner we’ve figured out,” Enright said. “He’s a good reader. He can read and follow instructions.”
And there’s plenty Nick can do. The women of “Team Nick” are constantly learning how far they can push him and what’s the best route for him.
“The sky is the limit,” Wilkes said.