MADISON (WKOW) -- A former Madison school teacher has created a business to give young women with developmental disabilities a chance to gain employment.
Until last fall, Tyreena King, 24, was having trouble finding a job. She has a mental retardation and a speech impediment.
"People used to make fun of me," King, who graduated from James Madison Memorial High School, said. "[They would say] you're stupid. You're retarded."
King was looking for work for about two years before she began working for Happily Ever After, a children's resale boutique created expressly so that young women with developmental disabilities could have a place to work.
A former school teacher at Faulk Elementary on Madison's west side, Marilyn Harper opened the Whitney Way store in August 2013, just two days after she retired from teaching.
"I work with some young women who have developmental disabilities at the Family Resource Network. They really struggled to even get volunteer positions and they could not get paid positions," Harper said. "I knew that they enjoyed working with children and they liked retail and clothing, so I just thought this would be the perfect kind of job for them."
About 1 in 5 adults with developmental disabilities is working, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Harper employs two young women with disabilities. One works two days a week and King works five days, stocking and putting away clothing and vacuuming with oversight from a an employment coach.
A Milwaukee interior designer and Harper worked together to design a space so the young women could work there. This includes wider aisles and clear demarcations between sections to make it easier for employees to navigate.
"Women come in and appreciate that they can easily move around with their strollers, so the feedback from customers is also very positive," Harper said.
King volunteered at the store for a week to see if it would be a good fit first, then stayed on. Harper says receiving a paycheck has helped King's self-esteem.
"As I work here, I keep making progress to be a better person," said King. "Maybe someday I'll have kids."
Harper encourages other employees to see the value in employees like King.
"Give people a chance and I think most employers would be surprised and pleased with the work ethic that this population brings to the table," Harper said.
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