This profile was sponsored by New Jersey Yachad.
I first met Corinne earlier this year when I was photographing events for New Jersey Yachad. I would enter the room and she would spot me and give me a shy smile that told me she was genuinely happy to see me again. Pretty soon she became one of my favorite people to see when I would go and visit. Some people’s smile’s can teach you a lot about who they are and how they relate to the world. Corinne’s smile, shows the sweetness, warmth, and joy that she bestows upon the people who are lucky enough to know her.
As a Yachad participant, a young woman with special needs, Corinne was willing to sit down with me to talk about some of the distilled lessons that she has learned about how to navigate the world. She answered my questions in simple sentences, yet the messages behind what she told me were powerful, and betrayed a tremendous self-confidence. To be able to articulate bold statements about what is right and wrong, basic human dignity and kindness, and how to navigate life searching for independence and happiness, are messages that are universal. In her own way, Corinne shared with me the importance of expressing kindness and love, to others, but also to ourselves.
I asked her to tell me the first time she realized that she was different. “When I was little I couldn’t walk and talk or crawl. I went to speech therapy and when I got older I knew maybe I was a little different. For me, it feels good to be different. Because I am different I get the chance to grow. Now I keep learning to be independent, and I really like the work that I get to do. It makes me happy.” When Corinne correlated “being different” and “opportunity for growth,” that was a light bulb moment for me. I think we are used to thinking about “being different” as a uniqueness that we should acknowledge and embrace. What is exceptional about the distinction that Corinne made was the joy that she added to the equation. The growth process, no matter what point you start from, is one that is worthy, full of optimism and an exciting experience.
Corinne is a participant in the NJ Yachad Vocational Program. During the year, she works at a pre-school as a teacher’s assistant, “I like working because I love working with the kids, and the kids love me even more. I think they like me because I have a great smile and I’m warm. I work at a preschool with 2 and 3 year olds. I greet them and their parents in the morning, I play with them, open their lunches, wash their hands. They call me Morah Corinne. It makes me feel good, I feel glad they respect me and that makes me feel proud of myself. I really care about them. It feels good to be independent.” The respect for her independence and ability to shoulder responsibility helps Corinne truly enjoy her work.
She also mentioned the experience of working with the other teachers in the school. “The other teachers that I work with are nice to me and they give me hugs and say good morning to me. It makes me feel happy and like I belong there.” Corinne explained to me how important she feels proper greeting is when we meet another person. For her, it really makes her day. We all want to be seen, acknowledged and validated.
Corinne also has a second job. “I work at a local fashion boutique with my job coach, Ariella, on Thursdays. Ariella is nice to me and helps me sort clothing, open boxes, stock. This is my fifth year working there. The other people who work there are nice and friendly. When I see customers I ask them if they need help, and then I go help find them what they need. It makes my day when people come in and say ‘Good Morning’ or ‘Hello’- it makes me feel happy that
they are being friendly. If people ignore me, and don’t say hello, that makes me feel sad. I wish they would talk nicely to me. If people are mean, I don’t pay attention and walk away. If I get upset I talk to my job coach, and they help me solve my problem and make it better for me.” You can see the beauty of the NJ Yachad Job coaches in this anecdote. They are there on site, to help the participants navigate the complex experience of working in a business, and protect and advocate for them. Sometimes, they just help them problem solve, which gives them the confidence to succeed in a professional setting.
Corinne shared with me more about her educational experience. “I went to middle school at Kushner at Sinai, and then I went to Maayanot Sinai and then I came to Yachad. I was friends with some Maayanot girls, but I felt different sometimes. It was hard for me when people graduated and left school at different times. I felt like I missed them when they left. It was hard sometimes for me to make friends, but then we would get used to each other and get each other’s numbers and then we would be friends. I have my yearbook from when I graduated and I like looking back and remembering those people. It makes me feel good when I see some of them when they come to visit Yachad. Sometimes when things change, it’s hard for me. I feel sad or confused, but I can talk to my family or the people at Yachad, and they help me get through it.”
I asked Corinne to share with me advice that she would give to others about how to navigate being different. “If someone felt different, I would tell them not to be sad and that everything would be ok. Make friends with nice people. If someone hurts your feelings, and they tease you and be nasty, it’s ok to feel sad, but you should tell them it’s not nice and they should apologize to you. It’s important to stand up for yourself. Then everything will be ok.” A powerful lesson in self-respect and self-love.