Food and fun with a little help from his friends
A brain injury doesn’t keep Brandon Smith from working toward a career
Brandon Smith loves people, and people love him.
He is a 35-year-old man who exudes positivity, and says that his dream job involves “just being happy every day.” But Brandon will also be the first to tell you about the challenges that he faces, and about the accident that changed his life more than a decade ago.
Brandon was driving under the influence of alcohol, too fast and without a seatbelt. He crashed and was pronounced dead at the scene. Brandon spent a month in a coma with a traumatic brain injury.
Brandon has been employed by The Common Man Roadside in Hooksett (Interstate 93 northbound) for the past year. When Brandon decided he wanted to look for a job, he applied to the New Hampshire Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation (NHVR), which helps people with disabilities to meet their goals for productivity and independence through employment.
Through NHVR’s career exploration services, Brandon figured out he was interested in pursuing a career in the food service industry. NHVR referred and funded J. Cook Workforce Solutions to take over Brandon’s job development and support. They worked with Brandon to find employment that would be a good match for his interests and his schedule.
Jen Cook and her associates teamed up with CM Roadside to create a position where Brandon can provide a useful service. Brandon’s main task is to package the famous Common Man potato chips, but he is also involved in some food preparation and bakery packaging. Memory issues pose a challenge when learning new tasks, but Brandon’s employers give him the time and accommodations he needs to become comfortable with each additional responsibility.
While most of Brandon’s work takes place in the prep area on the lower level of the CM Roadside, Brandon also has opportunities for one of his favorite activities: socializing. Brandon describes his coworkers as being more like his family and friends. When Brandon began transitioning into employment last year, a goal was to work on developing social skills in a professional setting. Brandon was integrated into the staff with ease, surprising no one who knows him.
In fact, Brandon was treated so well that his direct support professional (DSP), John, also took a job with CM Roadside outside of the hours he provides support for Brandon. John says that the one drawback is that no matter how good his relationships are with the other staff, it would be impossible to be as well-liked as Brandon.
Brandon has a tendency to click with customers, too, as he brings the packaged chips out to be sold. John is well aware of Brandon’s knack for interacting with people, and makes sure to give him plenty of space.
In his DSP role, John makes sure people know that Brandon is an employee and that they can communicate with him directly. While it is his role as the DSP to help out with initial training and any additional needs at work, the goal is to have the DSP remain in the background whenever possible.
When Brandon is not working at CM Roadside, he spends a lot time at the pool, enjoying himself while strengthening the muscles in his legs. When Brandon realized he would need to devote more time to this physical therapy, CM Roadside agreed to cut back his hours without question.
Photo courtesy of www.thefriendlykitchen.org
The dining room at the Friendly Kitchen in Concord
Brandon also makes the time every week to volunteer at the Friendly Kitchen, a soup kitchen in Concord, where he has volunteered for more than five years. This activity served as a launching pad for paid work. When he started looking for a job, a J. Cook Workforce Solutions associate observed Brandon while he volunteered at the Friendly Kitchen to identify his interests, needs and support preferences.
Brandon takes pride in his work at the Friendly Kitchen. During Friday shift, he is responsible for the desserts. He fills up a cart with sweet treats, and serves them. Interacting with guests is another aspect of what makes volunteering with the Friendly Kitchen so enjoyable for Brandon – its mission of feeding the hungry in a warm and caring environment doesn’t hurt, either. Brandon speaks frequently about wanting to “help people out” with the work that he does.
He enjoys volunteering, but Brandon is also still working toward his dream of having a job that involves cooking.
He has been cooking more in his daily life. Brandon goes grocery shopping every Saturday, and enjoys cooking everything from breakfast foods to chicken, even baked goods. He feels fortunate that his current employment and volunteer work both revolve around food.
Mikayla Collins spent the past year as the Outreach VISTA for the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities. Her main priority was to keep community members informed through the use of publications (like this one!), email, social media, and the Council’s website.