A local story celebrating October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month
By J. E. Gates
Hoy Schramm is living his life every day, loving it, and bringing joy to others.
Hoy, 20, graduated from Oak Grove High School in 2020 and works at the Bellevue Corner Market grocery store near Hattiesburg.
Hoy has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes intellectual and developmental delays, but he doesn’t allow his disability to define his life.
“Hoy’s joy at doing his job makes us look at life differently,” said Corner Market bookkeeper Kayla Clark. “He is so positive. When we look at Hoy, we have no excuse for not wanting to come to work or doing our jobs.”
Ashlynn Arrington, a counselor at the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, said Hoy takes his job seriously and the favorite part of his job is bagging groceries.
Hoy may have difficulty verbalizing his feelings to others but his infectious smile and penchant for high fives leave no doubt of his joy of life, coworkers and supervisors at Corner Market say.
“He is a joy to be around,” Clark said. “Customers love Hoy…We love him.”
Hoy has worked at Corner Market since July 2020. His duties include collecting shopping carts from outside, wiping down shopping carts, and bagging groceries.
When Hoy graduated from Oak Grove High School in Lamar County, the Coronavirus pandemic threatened his opportunity for employment. During his senior year of high school, Hoy completed three 10-week internships while participating in Project SEARCH Forrest General, a part of Project SEARCH Mississippi.
Project SEARCH Mississippi is part of a national program that helps students with disabilities obtain community-based employment. For the 2021-2022 year, the training and internship program has 13 sites operating this year across the state. A maximum of 12 students at each site can participate in the training.
Since 2018, roughly 100 students have graduated from Project SEARCH Mississippi, which has the goal of helping students with disabilities gain independent-living skills to have productive adult lives.
Administered by the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, Project SEARCH Mississippi is a partnership between the state agency, a business, and a school district.
In Forrest County, the local partnership, known as Project SEARCH Forrest General Hospital, brings together MDRS, the medical center, the Petal School District, the Hattiesburg School District, and the Lamar County School District.
During the 2019-2020 school year, Hoy interned at Forrest General Hospital. His time was cut short due to the pandemic. Hoy had hoped for a job offer from the hospital, but the pandemic had led to pretty much a hiring freeze, Arrington said.
With Hoy unable to get a job at Forrest General, this lead him to consider other opportunities in the community and Corner Market offered a job.
Bellevue Corner Market Store Director Andrew Brown said he didn’t know why they decided to hire Hoy other than to give him a chance. He said they are happy they made that decision because he is now like a family member.
“He gets along with everyone,” Brown said of Hoy.
Clark said she hopes Hoy stays at the store for a long time.
Hoy’s mother, Kimberly Schramm, says she is so proud of her son and even prouder that he has a job and is taking care of himself.
When Hoy isn’t working, his favorite pastimes are listening to music, dancing, and eating, Kimberly Schramm said.
“He loves to dance, and you can always bet he’ll win the best dressed award,” Arrington said of Hoy.