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The Neighborhood Experiences summer project is a steppingstone for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, ages 16-21, on their way to employment. Arc participants serve as volunteers with organizations or businesses they are interested in and practice hard and soft employment skills while making meaningful community connections. Through this experience, 14-year-old Arc participant A’Leah discovered newfound independence and life-giving relationships with fellow community members.  

A’Leah jumped headfirst into the Neighborhood Experience program, confident in her desire to work in cosmetology. With the support and advocacy of her staff member, A’Leah began volunteering at Locks of Glory on the Delmar Loop within the second week of the project. She began by helping keep the shop clean and organized, but quickly impressed the salon staff with her hard-work and kind attitude.  

The shop staff quickly empowered her to take on new challenges, including customer interactions and working with money. Practicing handling money was the major goal A’Leah set for herself at the outset of the program, so flourishing in this new responsibility was her proudest accomplishment of the program.  

A’Leah’s impact at Locks of Glory went beyond simply her tasks. Her curiosity and personable demeanor led her to spend time alongside the beauty technicians, observing their craft, asking questions, and engaging in conversations with the shop’s clients. These interactions boosted A’Leah’s confidence and enhanced her volunteer experience.  

Though she was sad to finish the program, A’Leah left Locks of Glory with new friends, happy memories, and a gift certificate to the shop. More meaningful to her though, and the true measure of her journey’s impact, was a standing job offer from the shop for when she comes of working age. 

A’Leah’s experience was of taking incremental steps toward a larger goal, and with the support of her community connections found at Locks of Glory, she was triumphant. Her journey encapsulates the essence of the Neighborhood Experiences project, showcasing the potential within everyone to conquer challenges and achieve personal goals through the support of one’s community. Through A’Leah’s dedication and passion, the beauty salon transformed into a place where her dreams became reality, a testament to community connections as sources of empowerment, growth, and boundless possibilities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.