“It’s always good to be me,” says Julia Neri, 23, who landed her dream job working as a cashier at Target. “I still like it. I love my people that I normally work with. My co-workers and my manager have been really good to me. I get to see a lot of people that I know, including my old teachers and my principal.”
Now Julia’s got her sights set on the next goal—becoming a front-end manager! “They watch all the front lanes. Whenever they [cashiers] have their light on, I would come over to help them—like if they need a state I.D., or want to use WIC check or tax exempt letter. I would also help at guest services with customers who are upset and mad. I can handle anything. I am a people lover.”
The day we spoke, Julia was to begin training at guest services the very next day. “They have to see if I can multitask,” she explains. When asked if she was nervous, Julia said, “Not really. I’m excited.”
Although Julia doesn’t drive, she gets herself to work independently. “I take Lyft if my Uber doesn’t work,” she says.
So far as Julia’s is concerned, Down syndrome simply means, “Being normal.” And when Sam asked Julia if there were anything she’d like to change about her life, she responded, “I wish I had a magic pill to take my celiac disease away.”
Here’s the rest of Sam’s interview with remarkable Julia:
Do you want to do any other jobs at Target—or is there anyplace else you’d like to work? “I want to stay here. This is my Target family. They give me respect. They make me feel like I’m at home here.”
Tell us about some of your happiest moments in life. “I have a lot of happys. I like to hang with my friends and my boyfriend. I like playing basketball and going to movies. I like any movie. I know all the actors. Some of my favorites are Pitch Perfect 3, A Rough Night, Love Simon and Jurassic World.
“My boyfriend and I have been dating for 4 years. He went to my high school. He is the biggest crush I ever had. “
Who’s your hero and why? “I have a lot of heroes. I would say my co-workers and my manager, because he knows everything about how I got here. “
What do you like to do in your free time? “On my days off I like to go swimming. I’m a really good swimmer, and I’m a really good bowler too. I also play bingo at the senior center. I go to Weight Watchers, and to a literacy class. On Thursdays I go to the health center and help my boyfriend coach a soccer team at the Park District.”
What advice do you have for others with Down syndrome? “I would start by getting a part-time job.”
What’s been the hardest thing you’ve ever had to face, and what got you through it? “Probably standing up to people—like if there’s a problem with something.” In Julia’s first two weeks, she had one very irate customer. “I told her ‘I’m still learning.’ But she was just so mad. It was hard for me. Now I know to call my manager for help. I still stand up for myself, but sometimes I do need help.” After that experience, Julia’s co-workers sent her an encouraging card in the mail that said, “You are awesome! We love you! You are the best!”
Where do you see yourself in five years and do you have any other life goals? “I do want to get my own place, close to around here and close to work. I probably want to get married one day, maybe in 10 years. I want to get more hours for work—probably 40. Now I work 28 to 32 hours a week, but I could work every day.”
A bit more background . . .
After graduating from Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, Julia attended the transition program while also taking classes at Harper College’s Career Skills Institute three days a week. It was while in transition that Julia says, “I learned that I’m good at math.”
Julia got her first job at age 18 as an office assistant at the nearby school district. After many applications and closed doors, Julia was hired at Target at age 21. Julia’s mom, Stephanie, says they’ve found that interviews went better with an advocate present, and that “everything clicked” for Julia once she started training to be a cashier, because, “She wanted to do it.”