BHS student works at BX, prepares for real life

Bitburg High School student Josh Johnson is an Army and Air Force Exchange Service employee at the Bitburg BX. Josh works every Wednesday stocking items at the BX. (US Air Force photo by Nick Anderson)

Bitburg High School student Josh Johnson is an Army and Air Force Exchange Service employee at the Bitburg BX. Josh works every Wednesday stocking items at the BX. (US Air Force photo by Nick Anderson)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- The next time you are at the Bitburg BX, think about the person who made sure everything you were looking for was fully stocked. 

Joshua Johnson, a Bitburg High School student with Down syndrome, might have stocked it. Josh works Wednesdays from 9-10 a.m. in a program that combines the efforts of school, community and home to prepare Josh for his future. 

Several months ago, Josh's parents, Sherri and Senior Master Sgt. Rickey Johnson, 52nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron, started communicating with the school a desire to continue Josh's real-world education. The parents both knew there would be challenges in this venture. 

Their success with Early Infant Stimulation, a program that involves children with disabilities in school before age five, provided a basis for their future plans for Josh. 

"We wanted Josh to get involved in a program that would provide real-life tasks that would be a part of his future to make the transition to adulthood easier and him more independent." Sergeant Johnson said. "This allows his mother and me to set realistic goals for Josh to reach with the help of his teacher, Amie Law." 

Once the school and parent relationship had been established, they needed a place for Josh to gain this valuable experience. The BX offered an accommodating and safe environment for the program. 

To start working, Josh had to fill out an application just like anyone else who wanted to work with AAFES. Now every Wednesday, Josh clocks-in when he gets to work and receives pay for the job he performs. As he continues to develop more work skills and a comfortable routine, Josh's time at the BX increases. 

"Josh is doing a great job. He is enthusiastic, never late and seems to enjoy what he is doing," said Karl Gillen, Bitburg BX operations manager. 

The program also offers AAFES employees practical experience in training new workers by helping Josh each week. 

"We hope that people see and hear what we are trying to do," Sergeant Johnson said. Making the community aware of students with disabilities and their capabilities helps them become productive citizens. 

This program is the first of its kind and still in the experimental stage. Josh's parents hope the program becomes widely used and accepted in all communities.