Every STEP of the Way

Nick enjoying sitting outdoors with his family.
Watch Nick’s Story.

When you ask Nick Perso about his job, he immediately starts to grin and gush with pride. Nick is part of the Boone Hospital Center (BHC) family and works twenty hours per week in the hospital cafeteria. Besides restocking silverware, cleaning tables and sweeping floors, Nick is the warm smile that greets BHC staff and patient’s families needing physical and emotional nourishment from the cafeteria.

“When he was born, I said he’s momma’s gift from God. It turns out he is the entire world’s gift from God. You know, he’s such a joy to everybody,” said Nick’s mom, Genny Perso.

Nick began Boone County Family Resources (BCFR) services with First Steps Program shortly after his birth in ‘99.  Since 2009, Suzanne Boss, his adolescent Support Coordinator, has worked to provide community resources, therapeutic recreation, and transition supports to the family through the years. Nick’s parents believe without the support of Suzanne and BCFR, Nick would not have entered the STEP program which led him to his current job.

The Seamless Transition through Enhanced Partnership (STEP) program at Boone Hospital Center allows students to complete their senior year of high school in an on-site internship at Boone Hospital. The STEP program is a partnership including Columbia Public Schools (CPS), Boone Hospital Center, Alternative Community Training (ACT), Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), Missouri Department of Mental Health Central Missouri Regional Office, and Boone County Family Resources.

Nick’s first job was working at BCFR as a member of the work crew. Nick’s dad Robin remembers how much “that helped him understand what is involved in having a job.” Robin also strongly believes that, “Without that initial opportunity the STEP program may not have worked as well and he may not have been offered this job that he really enjoys.”

Nick is advanced in his ability to socialize with others but due to his physical limitations with standing/walking/sitting, he required a job to be flexible with his disability that would allow him time to sit while working, or take more frequent breaks.  Due to osteopenia, he is at risk for falling and injuring himself and needed a job that followed strict safety protocols to prevent injury at the workplace.  He also wanted a flexible part-time position to allow him to travel with his parents to visit Wisconsin family. His ability to socially interact with others allowed him to stand out during his job interview with Marian Zellner-Evers, his supervisor at BHC. Marian valued Nick’s addition to the BHC cafeteria and opened a new job for Nick in April 2018.

“He showed effort and ability to follow directions in task-oriented activities, but I knew he would thrive if also given the opportunity to remain socially linked to those he served,” said Suzanne.

Genny remembers this transition, and said, “As a parent it’s hard to know, am I pushing too hard, or not pushing enough. I don’t want him to think he’s failing. It’s nice to have all that outside support because other people can see different things than we see. It has been the best thing that has ever happened.”

Since Nick started working at BHC, he has blossomed socially and professionally. Every time he’s given a challenge or something to do, he rises to the occasion. He is friends with not only his fellow employees, but people who work on other floors. With a year of employment under his belt, Nick is proud of his accomplishments and BHC is happy to have him on staff. Nick said, “I work really hard, and my boss gave me a raise.”

Nick’s parents feel the job is the perfect fit for their son. And BCFR has been with them every step of the way.