Patrick McQueen unloads trucks, stocks groceries and likes getting to know customers at a popular Quitman business.
Standing nearly 6’5” tall, Patrick can easily grab items off the top shelves to please shoppers at Greer’s Food Store. The former Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services vocational rehabilitation client is getting noticed for his hard work as a stocker. In 2019, McQueen was selected Greer’s Employee of the Month.
With plenty of bananas, a nice selection of deli food plus an attached Ace Hardware store, Greer’s is a must stop for shoppers at 550 South Archusa Avenue. It’s a good place to catch up on the latest news happening in Quitman. The friendly Clarke County community is home to 2,300 residents.
During his 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. shift, three days a week, Patrick, 30, is among the hardest working employees. He’s thrived at Greer’s with the help of the MDRS AbilityWorks, Inc. vocational job program in Meridian. Agency employees gave him the confidence, encouragement and tools to join the workforce. He’s succeeded, while facing an intellectual disability for many years, says counselor Melissa Jones.
With programs statewide, MDRS’ Ability Works helps people with disabilities gain work experience and meet the needs of businesses. That includes manufacturing, assembly work, maintenance, janitorial services and much more.
He first got connected with the MDRS AbilityWorks out of Quitman High School after finishing in 2008. After training, he was paired with other clients with disabilities to help produce clipboards.
McQueen returned to Ability Works in Meridian a few years later and developed his communication skills thanks to a computer program helping him read. He initially worked another job in Meridian doing mopping, sweeping and cleaning bathrooms in 2017-18. But an opportunity for the job at Greer’s opened up and was more in line with Patrick’s career goal.
Counting in-store training, he’s been on the job at Greer’s food store for two years. His co-workers are impressed, and customers are, too.
Patrick McQueen’s boss, store manager Eddy Parker, salutes the young man. “Patrick is awesome. He shows up and does the job. He’s beloved around here.’’
As a stocker at Greer’s, he’s a capable employee who does whatever is needed. Stocking frozen food, unloading trucks (about three trucks arrive with food daily), Patrick isn’t afraid to work. “Being very tall is a bonus,’’ Parker says.
Conversations with customers typically don’t last long. He tells them where to find items on which aisle and goes about his business.
It’s not been an easy road for her son, says his mother Jerrie McQueen. He’s had autism since he was a child, would seldom talk, and had little interaction with other kids, even when attending Quitman High School. Autism is a developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact.
“It was like he encased himself in a bubble,’’ Jerrie McQueen said. As a teen in high school, he was in a more controlled environment paired with other students with cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome and autism. He finished Quitman High School with a certificate.
Getting assistance from MDRS through AbilityWorks, she said, made a big difference.
“I stand back and am in awe at how he interacts with strangers and his ability to work’’ at the store as customers come and go, says Jerrie McQueen, a social worker.
Patrick lives at home with his parents who drive him to and from the store. “He loves his job,’’ his mom says.
His father, Larry McQueen, an Air Force retiree, is pleased with their son’s progress. “He’s happy over there (at Greer’s).’’ When he was young, “he wouldn’t talk at all. He’s come a long way.’’
When Patrick returns home after work, he stays busy doing laundry and tackles other chores at their residence near Pachuta. He is fascinated by trains, NASCAR, and football teams, including the New Orleans Saints and Alabama Crimson Tide. Trips with his parents aboard Amtrak trains to cities like Chicago, Atlanta and states like Nebraska (to visit his older brother) are always delightful.
Patrick enjoys drawing, too. About three years ago, he donated one of his drawings of trains and airplanes to the Ronald McDonald House serving sick children, who are patients, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
As 2020 comes to a close, Patrick hopes to log more hours during the busy Christmas season to add to his earnings at Greers. He has other goals on his mind as a new year begins. The former MDRS client wants to get a driver's license. He's faced challenges with reading and understanding over the years. It's another step to become more independent in the rural East Mississippi community he calls home.