Lunch diners who visit Culver’s in Savage on weekdays are often greeted by a very cheerful and smiling Millie Cell.Choice Feb 2016 062

She finds enjoyment in taking orders and processing payments, working with the public and fulfilling all the interactions required to ensure a high level of customer service. Cell knows the regulars by name, and is always friendly with new customers, as well.

The job did not come easy, and her perseverance and desire to achieve were put to the test. After finishing school in 2012, Cell came to CHOICE, Inc., an education and employment program for people with intellectual disabilities. She has autism and is self-described as a “visual learner.” Her dream then was to work with children in a daycare or preschool setting.

Over the next few years, Cell worked for a number of businesses that partner with CHOICE. She gained a variety of valuable work experiences and challenged herself to grow in confidence.

Early on at CHOICE, she volunteered weekly as a teacher’s assistant at Fraser, a school for children with intellectual disabilities. She also gave her time to Arc’s Value Village, sorting and folding donated clothing. Cell interviewed at childcare facilities, and a lack of job offers led her to broaden her search. ADOGO Pet Hotels hired her for a cleaning position, and, like others there, she loved the dogs.

Cell was then selected for the Partners in Policymaking program with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. She learned about self-advocacy and gained more confidence to express her desires and assert her rights in the monthly two-day sessions.

That led to evening and weekend work as a personal care attendant with her sister, who also has autism. Cell had approached a county commissioner about it, who helped open the door to working for the service provider.

Taking her self-advocacy further, CHOICE encouraged Cell to join an area Toastmasters Club. She developed impromptu speaking skills, learned club roles, and gave a prepared speech telling her personal story of autism, her struggles, and her accomplishments. Cell said the experienced boosted her confidence when conversing with older adults.

In February of 2014, she accepted an attendant’s job earning a commensurate wage at Culver’s. In her previous experience at CHOICE she had either volunteered, or earned a commensurate wage based on her productivity. Cell wanted to earn a competitive wage, and would frequently make that known. She liked Culver’s and the people at Culver’s liked her.

Later, managers asked her to run a cash register. Cell said she needed to further develop her skills before taking on this responsibility. She remembered her online education at CHOICE about handling money. When it was slow at Culver’s, she would train on the till. Soon, Cell was ready for her new role. She was joined by CHOICE instructor Joelle Paschke, and the two made the case for her to be paid a competitive wage. Culver’s managers were convinced.

Cell is doing well, and earning more. Her previous work with the business partners of CHOICE helped to develop her confidence and skillsets. Ultimately, it was her desire to achieve her personal goals that brought about the poise she carries today at Culver’s. Though dreams may change, perhaps the day will come when Cell will revisit her desire to work with children.