Erika Weiss, 21, has participated in Special Olympics Wisconsin (SOWI) basketball, bowling and track and field for half her life. She’s currently training to compete in athletics (track and field) at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey. When she’s not competing, she participates in taekwondo and horseback riding. So when it came time for Weiss to start job hunting two years ago, it was only natural for her to fuse her love of sports with a job at Wisconsin Athletic Club (WAC).
Weiss works twice a week stocking the women’s locker room, cleaning windows and doors, folding and putting away towels, and cleaning gym equipment. According to Weiss’s mother, Sue, her daughter’s participation in SOWI taught her valuable employment skills. “Special Olympics helped Erika find a job. You have to be disciplined and work hard because people depend on you, just like when you’re on a team,” she said.
According to WAC General Manager, Molly Anderson, Weiss’ customer service skills are excellent. She is helpful, caring and her positive outlook on life brightens the spirits of staff and gym members.
“Sometimes we get so busy that we forget the little things that make a huge difference in people’s lives, like just saying ‘hello’. Erika always remembers the simple things and I’ve had many comments from members on how sweet she is and how she makes peoples day,” she said.
According to Anderson, Wisconsin Athletic Club places an importance on hiring individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID).
“We all have something to offer; people with intellectual disabilities just have different skills,” said Weiss’ mother. “People can learn from Erika and accept differences as strengths.”
Weiss is just one of 1,150 Special Olympics athletes who is currently employed. According to Weiss, working has not only given her the opportunity to become independent, earn money and make new friends, it has also allowed her to be treated with the same expectations as people who do not have disabilities.
“It’s just like being like everyone else. Mom and Dad have to work and so do I,” said Weiss.
You can help reveal the champion in athletes like Weiss. This tax season, do something Special. Make a contribution to SOWI by designating an amount in the “Donations” section of your state income tax form. For more information on how to donate, please visit www.specialolympicswisconsin.org/taxcheckoff/.