You just never know who you’ll get to know if you are friendly and open to everyone who crosses your path!
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TJ Lawlor never expected to end up featured in a news story, so when he opened his local newspaper and saw an article about his friendship with Riley Dehne, he was blown away. Riley has Down syndrome, and his mom Ande Dehne says her son’s confidence truly blossomed after he got to know TJ.
TJ, a self-described “morning guy,” was hard at work stocking the frozen section of the Whole Foods in Redwood City, California, when he spotted Riley in the aisle. Riley was really into the Disney movie “Frozen” at the time, which is why he chose that particular aisle. When Riley came close to TJ, the employee offered up a cheerful greeting and introduced himself. Then he asked if the teen wanted to help him fill the freezers, and Riley enthusiastically agreed.
That was 6 years ago. Since that chance meeting, Riley and TJ have become great friends! At 19, Riley still comes into the store once a week with his mother. While she shops, the teenager tags along with TJ and helps him with duties like stocking shelves, taking out the trash, and picking up items on the family’s grocery list.
Before COVID, they had discussed getting Riley a part time job working with TJ, but that idea was eventually scrapped due to safety concerns. Still, Riley looks forward to his time helping TJ every week, and Ande says she can’t get over how kind and accepting TJ was right off the bat.
“It honestly fills my heart,” Ande said. “Sometimes, when there’s someone with a disability it can be harder to get to know them. TJ took the time to get to know Riley. He took the time to meet him where he’s at, to learn his strengths and build on them.”
When Ande wrote the article in the paper praising TJ for befriending a special needs person, TJ was quick to say that it’s a two-way street; he gets just as much out of this friendship as Riley does.
“I never thought that little ol’ me would have such an impact on someone else’s life like that,” said TJ, adding, “Every time this guy comes in, nothing but love, nothing but smiles! I get down sometimes myself. This guy cheers me up. He cheers me up and I cheer him up. That’s what I look for in a friend.”
Friendships help us grow as individuals, and it’s clear that both Riley and TJ get a lot out of this one. We’re so glad TJ was gregarious enough to say hello that day at work!
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