Among the bright posters and colorful paintings decorating the walls of Northwest Center Kids is a black and white photograph of a teacher holding a baby girl that tells the story of a 26-year friendship.
John, a teacher’s aide at Northwest Center’s Early Learning Center, still remembers the day in 1989 when he was asked to hold one of the classroom babies, Emily, for a photo, and how the charismatic little girl immediately stole his heart.
“She was a cute baby. I had to hold her for the photo because she was still too little to sit up.”
John, who is limited verbally by a developmental delay, would continue to see Emily, who has Down syndrome for the next four years as she attended the inclusive school where children with and without disabilities play side-by-side, learning unique lessons from each other.
“I think I was his best student,” Emily recalls with laugh.
“It was sweet because, more than any of the other children, you could really see that John had taken Emily under his wing while she was there,” recalls Emily’s mom, Marilyn. “They had a connection. It was a true friendship.”
Emily eventually left the center to begin grade school, though her friendship with John continued as her two younger brothers attended the Early Learning Center.
It was nearly two decades later when the these friends came together once again, this time as colleagues, back where their friendship first began – Northwest Center’s Early Learning Center.
After graduating from high school, Emily decided to pursue her love for organizing and, with the help of her mom, applied for a position as a classroom assistant at the Queen Anne center. Marilyn recalls the sense of surprise and excitement she and Emily felt when they discovered that John still worked at the center, so many years later. Even more surprising was finding Emily’s picture with John on display in the front hallway.
“We walked in for the interview and, lo and behold, there was the picture of her and John right there, hanging on the wall. I think it cemented for her that this was a place that she would be happy,” Marilyn says.
Emily and John have now worked together for seven years, prepping classrooms and helping teachers with daily tasks and though the two began working at separate locations when the Queen Anne school relocated to Greenwood last year, they continue to stay in touch. Emily says John continues to have an impact on her life, changing the way she see herself and her own disability.
“He’s been kind to me my whole life. I know that he’s [hard of hearing], but I don’t judge that. He didn’t judge me. I have a disability but I’m okay with that. I like who I am.”
For John, the impact of their friendship is captured with his wide smile and a simple statement. “She is my good friend.”
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.