Bentonville Teen with Cerebral Palsy Excels at First Summer Job Through PROMISE

October 19, 2017

Luke Kitterman enjoys time with Debby Wieneke and Charlie Richison during a recent visit back to Habitat for Humanity of Benton County in Bentonville.Luke Kitterman checks out a customer buying paint supplies.Luke Kitterman shows how the cash register works.Kevin, Christina and Luke Kitterman pause at ReStore.Susan Daniel, left, and Carole Shaver, employees of the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, celebrate Luke’s award.

Talking with him and his parents for only a few minutes makes clear 17-year-old Luke Kitterman has a loving, supportive family that has taught him well. But, there is at least one thing he can’t get from them – the sense of independence and accomplishment that comes from having a job and getting paid for working.

The Arkansas PROMISE project named Kitterman the Outstanding PROMISE Youth in Northwest Arkansas for 2017 based on his work ethic, efficiency, respectfulness and dedication. He has cerebral palsy and has recently been using a walker instead of his usual cane since a growth spurt created some balance problems for him. His parents, Christina and Kevin Kitterman, have taught him at home since he had hip surgery in 2016, one of 15 surgeries in his life. Luke has a twin brother, Logan, who also has cerebral palsy, and a younger brother, Peyton.

The Arkansas PROMISE project based at the University of Arkansas provides a group of 1,000 teens who receive Supplemental Security Income two paid summer work experiences as well as additional training and intensive support services. Each work experience is about 200 hours. A second group of 1,000 teens receives only the usual services provided to youth with disabilities.

Researchers will collect and analyze data from the two groups to help the federal government determine whether the PROMISE project should be used as a model for future programs. Arkansas PROMISE is funded by a $35.7 million federal grant to the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Education.

Luke worked at ReStore in Bentonville, a nonprofit home improvement store and donation center from which proceeds are used to fund Habitat for Humanity of Benton County. Habitat for Humanity builds affordable housing for people who qualify for assistance.

“It was the right fit for me,” Luke said. “I provided customer service, worked as a cashier, cleaned up and answered the phone. I improved my social skills and learned it’s important to lead by example.”

Individuals and companies donate items to ReStore. Furniture, cabinets and appliances, both new and gently used, are popular items and sell at a fraction of the retail price. Volunteers help with repair and building new items.

Luke handled sales transactions. And, he talked to callers about what donations the store accepts and took information from those who wanted to schedule pickup of items.

He made friends and gained confidence in thinking quickly and using his wit.

“It was good to see that,” mom Christina said.

His parents said Luke is different from other 17-year-olds because of the challenges and obstacles he has faced. They feel those experiences have made him wiser in some ways and he fights for what he wants.

Kevin described Luke as a people-pleaser who does not want to make a mistake. Luke understands that some things don’t come as easy to him as they do to other teens, his dad said; he is willing to work harder and may be more mature than many teens his age.

“We struggle,” Christina said. “Life is very hard but we lean on each other and encourage each other.”

Luke said he was grateful for the opportunity PROMISE provided.

“They were very welcoming from day one,” he said of his co-workers and the volunteers at ReStore. “No one was mean. My experience has been very great.”

Luke said he was shocked when his name was called to receive the award at a PROMISE celebration event. He said Carole Shaver, his career adviser, wrote a good recommendation for him. Shaver works for the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, one of several state agencies that work with PROMISE to serve youth with disabilities.

“I tried to do my best and Carole was pleased with how I was doing,” Luke said. “Before, I was very shy. This job helped me connect with people. Carole was very helpful with me and my needs. She kept tabs on me. PROMISE is a good organization. They really help kids as much as they can.”

“He deserved that award,” said Debby Wieneke, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Benton County. “He was so mannerly and respectful. Our older clientele fell in love with him.”

PROMISE was easy to work with, Wieneke said.

“It being our first time to work with PROMISE, we didn’t want to take on kids and let them down,” she said. “They made it very clear what the program was about and that they wanted the kids to have a learning experience.”

ReStore manager Charlie Richison said having PROMISE youth benefited the store, too.

“We are compliant with the (Americans with Disabilities Act), but this experience helped us be more mindful,” he said. “We have customers who use walkers and wheelchairs, and we want the store to always be accessible to them and to our employees and volunteers.”

“Working here made Luke more independent,” Wieneke said. “I’m a mom, too, and I understand the need to protect your kids. Here, he made his own decisions. We consider our experience with PROMISE a huge success and we already told them we would participate again.”

Luke plans to take the GED test in May for his high school diploma and to enroll in community college. A movie buff, he wants to write movie scripts and he likes a wide range of genres.

Richison described Luke as humble.

“I asked him if he needed us to make any accommodations for him, and he said, no,” Richison said. “He just wants to be like everybody else.”

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