Meet early in the morning at Whole Foods in Redwood City and the friendly face of TJ Lawlor is probably one of the first things you’ll see.
Mornings have been his favorite time to work for much of the past 12 years he has worked here. “I’m a morning guy,” TJ said. “I like to get up, walk the dog, go to work and earn money.”
It was a Sunday morning six years ago, however, when TJ made more than money, he made a friend. He also ended up making a difference in both of their lives.
“Looks like, doesn’t it?” Said TJ. “I’m glad the stars are aligned here.”
That morning, TJ was storing the frozen section of the story when a young boy with Down’s syndrome walked down his driveway.
“Finally he came over to me and I said, ‘Hey, how are you today? “And I introduced myself,” TJ said.
That boy was Riley Dehne, now 19.
After introducing himself, TJ asked Riley if he would like to help him fill the freezers. Riley said “Yes” and loved every second.
In fact, Riley and TJ hit it off so well that Riley’s mother Ande Dehne made sure to make the store visit a weekly ritual. Years later, they still come back.
Riley is shopping every week and while Andi is shopping he finds TJ and helps him tidy the shelves, take out the trash and do groceries for his family.
“It honestly fills my heart,” said Andi. “Sometimes when there is a person with a disability it can be more difficult to get to know them. TJ took the time to get to know Riley. He took the time to meet him where he was at, to learn and develop one’s strengths. “
Andi even wrote a story about the friendship for her local newspaper, telling how Riley’s confidence skyrocketed after each visit, being drawn more and more out of her world into the larger world around her.
“It blew me away, really,” TJ said. “I never thought my little old man would have such an impact on someone else’s life.”
Plus, TJ said, the experience had an impact on his life as well.
“Every time this guy comes in, nothing but love, nothing but smiles,” TJ said. “I get depressed sometimes myself. This guy cheers me up. He cheers me up and I cheer him up. That’s what I’m looking for in a friend.”