MILTON — Chris McKinney began an employment preparation class at Vision of Hope in Pace called JUMP Start in September 2019. Thanks to his hard work with the program, he was able to secure his dream job at the Milton Whataburger.


►RELATED: Special needs tourist gets surprise beach ride


“Vision of Hope is a nonprofit, Christian-based organization where young adults with physical and developmental disabilities learn life skills, receive vocational training, job placement assistance and other services and support they need to fully develop their potential,” said Tara Potter from Vision’s employment support office.


The JUMP stands for Jobs Unique to My Potential and the class helped McKinney create a resume and job plan based off his dreams for independence.


►ALSO: Florida district wrongly put student in special needs program to avoid state testing, judge rules


McKinney has Down syndrome and is adamant about making his own money and being independent. He wants a career, home, marriage and is on his way to fulfilling them.


Chris attends the job preparation class at VOH each Monday and Wednesday.


Part of the job development class was discussing the possible locations he could work. His first choice on where to apply was also his favorite treat, Whataburger.


McKinney said he wanted to be part of the Whataburger team and interact with the community.


McKinney began working at Whataburger on Stewart Street in Milton just before Christmas 2019.


His supervisor, Micca Rodriguez, provides fantastic support for McKinney.


“The first day we met Micca, Chris was charming, able to sell himself by expressing to her that he had always wanted to work at Whataburger and this was his dream job. She and Chris hit it off from the start,” Potter said.


McKinney followed up by sending a thank you email and his person-centered plan for employment to Rodriguez. McKinney got the job working three days a week at $10 per hour.


McKinney has formed relationships with his co-workers that brings him a constant smile every shift.


This is a good thing since he is a customer service ambassador as a Dining Room host.


McKinney embodies all the Whataburger philosophies: pride in your work, care for your co-workers, and love the customers, Rodriguez said.


When a team member sees a customer come into the store, they are greeted with a smile and the words “Welcome to Whataburger.”


He has done an amazing job of making customers feel welcomed and valued and tending to their needs, Rodriguez said.


McKinney’s goal to work and gain independence and to constantly strive to learn and do more is an inspiration and fun to watch, Potter said.


“We are so proud of Chris and so thankful to Micca and her awesome team for showing us that working together makes dreams happen,” Potter added.


For more information about employment services offered by Vision of Hope, located at 5555 Woodbine Road in Pace, please visit www.visionofhopefl.org, or call 850-994-2000.