Like anyone who gets a new job, Courtney Kawchak went in for training Thursday, before her first day of work, to learn the ropes.
She eyed the cookies, cupcakes and cake pops in their display cases at Delectable Desserts by Russ — located at 4376 Bluffton Parkway in Bluffton — where she will soon begin work as a greeter.
As cars drove by on Bluffton Parkway, she looked out the window, smiled and said “let’s go” in anticipation of customers coming inside. She showed everyone her nails, which were painted alternating shades of purple — her favorite color.
“I hope this helps her work on her social skills,” Debbie Kawchak, Courtney’s mother, said. “I want her to be happy, have a good time, and this could give the community and people who don’t know the special needs community the opportunity to.”
Courtney is 23 and has Down syndrome. She and her mother moved to Bluffton in August 2016 from Allentown, N.J., to be closer to family after Courtney graduated from high school at the age of 21.
“She’s not very high functioning,” Debbie said of her daughter. “She’s been diagnosed to mentally be around 5 or 6 years old. You see, sometimes there are Down syndrome people who are actors or can do public speaking. She’s not at that level, which is what makes it very difficult for her to get a job.”
Courtney has previously worked at a grocery and a sporting goods store. However, it was difficult for her to find a job in Bluffton because she needed more attention from other employees.
But then an opportunity arose with Russ Gardiner, owner of Delectable Desserts. He met the Kawchaks through a mutual neighbor before he opened the bakery in November.
Gardiner and Debbie agreed that “Chef Courtney” would be a great addition to the shop.
“A lot of people do shy away (from those with special needs),” Gardiner said. “ ... But it’s just amazing to interact with these adults in the community.”
Ahead of her first day on Sunday, Debbie announced Courtney’s new job on the Bluffton/Hilton Head Ask and Answer Facebook page.
“I hope this post is allowed and the community will give her a chance (and be patient),” Debbie wrote. “Chef Courtney is excited to start! Thank you for your support!”
The post got over 1,500 likes and hundreds of comments of encouragement and excitement.
“All the comments made me feel so good,” Debbie said. “ ... I think I’m more worried for her to start than she is. She’s not concerned at all.”
Courtney will be at the bakery from 9 a.m. to noon on Sundays, Gardiner said. He hopes, as she continues meeting people and gets more comfortable in the restaurant, that she can help with the food preparation and work more often.
“(People with special needs) take the meaning of loving life in ways we don’t,” Gardiner said. “They are truly satisfactory human beings, and they know how to be easy. They don’t stress the way we do.”