Local woman finds special place at Decatur’s Taziki’s

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Decatur native Christine Sass is many things. She’s a funny, energetic person, according to her peers and is a multiple medal winner at the Georgia Special Olympic Games, winning two silver medals and a gold. She’s also something that unfortunately many adults with special needs are not—employed.

 Keith Richards, Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe’s founder, wanted to lend a helping hand to special needs students and provide opportunities for special needs adults looking for work.

 According to the Center for Social Development and Education at the University of Massachusetts, unemployment rates for special needs adults are twice as high than the general population.

 Sass is currently employed by Taziki’s in Decatur and works the morning shift. She said her work at the job can be difficult at times, but rewarding.

 During a 2017 Autism Awareness Month event in April, Sass said it’s important for parents and teachers to prepare students with disabilities for the workforce.

 “I wasn’t ready to have a job right after high school. Parents can help their kids learn skills to become more independent,” she said. “My parents have helped me learn to do laundry, shop and take care of myself.  Everyone should treat people with disabilities nicely and be patient.”

 Sass’s manager Blake Marshman, 27, said Sass is doing a great job at Taziki’s. At first, Marshman said he wasn’t sure what to expect because he had never hired someone with special needs.

 Marshman, Taziki’s general manager for roughly three years, said Sass has become a part of their family and hasn’t had any problems.

 “Honestly, she’s been a fantastic addition,” Marshman said. “This was my first experience hiring a special needs adult I was cautiously optimistic at first, but she’s exceeded expectations. When my team comes in she brings everyone so much joy.”

 Marshman said Sass can sometimes be the jokester of the group.

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 “Christine is hilarious. She’s highly intelligent and some of the stuff she says gets people rolling. She’ll say different comments and then you’re laughing about it for the next five minutes,” he said. “She can be very independent in a good way.”

 Taziki’s has set up a station for Sass when she comes into work—roughly three times a week. She’s in charge of getting the restaurant’s dining room ready for open by doing prep work and portioning out the dressings. She’s also in charge of getting the chairs and tables set up.

 It can be a challenging task, but Sass said she works on staying focused.

 “Staying on task is hard. I stay on task by not looking at the clock. Also, I have a list of tasks to do at work each day and that helps me stay focused. I work at Taziki’s and sometimes I have to fill 2-ounce cups with dressings. It is hard to pour in just the right amount,” Sass said. “I keep practicing and [I’m] getting better. I have a job coach that comes to my work once a week for an hour. She helps me with tasks that are hard for me.”

 On May 20 Sass, who is a member of the Young Adult and Transition Program at the Community School in Decatur, competed in swimming at Emory University during the Georgia Special Olympic games and won a silver medal in the 50-meter relay and received a gold medal in the 50-meter backstroke.

 Marshman said he hopes other businesses in the area will follow suit when it comes to hiring special needs students and adults.

 “There are a lot of special needs people out there that want employment but aren’t given the opportunity,” Marshman said. “There’s tons of people like Christine that can contribute and help and I realize the impact it has on her life..it’s had a tremendous boost on my life as well.”

 Sass’s mother, Beate Sass, said Taziki’s is her daughter’s first paying job and she’s noticed a difference in her daughter’s self-esteem.

 “It is a matter of pride and dignity. She’s doing something to help the community and it’s so important for these young adults,” Beate Sass said.

 Beate Sass said she hopes hiring adults with special needs will become more frequent in the area. She said her daughter’s hire at Taziki’s was a surprise and that she was hired on the spot.

 “As a parent, I’m really grateful to Taziki’s. They’re on a mission to put employed [special needs] people at every one of their restaurants,” Beate Sass said. “They’re committed. It’s not just a token hire. This is a mission of theirs.”


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