December 9, 2019
By Mollie Morrison ’20
“With the senior year in progress, the questions about college and my possible majors are all my relatives can ask about. All I can ever answer with is a long ‘uhhhhhh’ and a short ‘not sure, maybe business.’ Even questions about college majors or minors or extra years stumped me. Since I have the great luck to know early on exactly where I will attend college, these questions also arrived earlier than I expected. At my age, you either definitely know what you want to be or you have no clue. Naturally, it’s more common to not know than to know.
Being one of the kids who doesn’t know what I want to do for a career, the junior project was actually pretty helpful. Before starting the junior project, I had few expectations for the assignment. However, once I really started to investigate my options, my mind was quickly changed. The choices for me were endless, which was exciting. I could try anything I wanted — something I’d never really thought about. My search far and wide for an ideal junior project ended when I finally saw that the perfect one was right in front of me.
My mom had just come up with the amazing idea of adding to our family’s gourmet food to-go plus cafe business, the New England Pasta Company. This meant transforming the old cafe into BeanZ, an all-inclusive place to spend time and enjoy many breakfast and lunch choices. More specifically, it gave adults with disabilities a chance to have a job. My mom’s inspiration for this idea is my sister, Megan.
Megan has Down syndrome and a trach so she has to use sign language to communicate. She was in the public school system until senior year. While at public school, Megan was banished to a small classroom with just ten other kids. They did very little to move beyond basic lessons and she was bored. Space was limited and so was her schooling. I remember the only class she had outside of that small classroom was Sign Language, where she thrived. She had space and the freedom she needed to move around, to learn things and to be able to fully express herself. But sometimes, even with thirty minutes left in the class, she would be dragged back into ‘the cave.’ I knew the frustration she had about this and how she wanted to do so much more. She knew — we all knew — that she could handle it.
She moved on to the University of Hartford because UHart was part of FVTA, Farmington Valley Transition Academy, which gave Megan and other students jobs. Most of the jobs she did, however, amounted to dusting shelves or basic cleaning. Again, she would come home frustrated and angry with the busy work they gave her. Watching the skills she had at home and then while working at the Pasta Company, I knew that she was fully equipped with the skills she needed to have much harder classes and more serious tasks. In addition to interacting with customers, she expertly worked the register, managed the place well and found joy in learning. When she works at the Pasta Company, she makes lasagna and she does it better than everyone else. She is capable of so much. She can make change faster than people can put it back in their wallet and she can organize lunch orders to get the chef to move faster. She is a leader at Beanz and the Pasta Company and makes sure people know it. At BeanZ and the Pasta Company, she gets a chance.
While working at BeanZ for my junior project, I saw an opportunity to market the new company so I started sitting in on marketing meetings with my mom’s marketing manager. I learned so much from her. I posted on our social media pages and when I saw the reactions in the comments and insights from strangers, it made my day. The outreach and impact I could make from one single post amazed me. I felt rewarded for doing this work. And then I knew, this is what I want to do.
I added this special marketing focus to my junior project along with working at the store and planning a Big E booth for Beanz. My workday at Beanz included making lasagnas, then thinking of ideas for social media posts with my mom. While running both Pasta Company and Beanz, I saw the impact that Beanz had on its employees. Seeing the growth in their skills in just that one summer has blown my mind. One employee would hide from the others and close herself off from everyone. Now, she runs up to me and gives me big hugs while doing dance moves to lighten the mood.
I now know I want to be around this joy and transformation. Seeing the employees fight to do more complicated work makes my smile go from ear-to-ear. They want to do as much work as possible and you don’t see that often in the workforce.
I finally feel comfortable answering my relatives’ questions. I applied to be a sports marketing major so that I can combine the things that have impacted me the most in my life. My sister deserves to learn, to grow and to be properly challenged by meaningful work. I’ll aim to make sure that this is the case for all ambitious workers who may be left in spaces where they feel useless. Everyone deserves to grow and we all benefit by having everyone contribute in a meaningful way to our society.
I believe that the Junior Project has helped, and will help, so many girls discover their calling in life. It is not easy, but the joy of discovering what matters to you, and being able to see your efforts come to fruition, makes all of the hard work worth it. I am proud of what I was able to do for my sister, and I am very excited about what I may be able to do to make inclusive workplaces wherever I go.”
Mollie is a senior at Walker’s. She recently signed a letter of intent to play Division 1 lacrosse at Merrimack College. Her family owns BeanZ and Co. Cafe and the New England Pasta Company in Avon. Students at Walker’s are required to complete a Junior Project which provides an opportunity to pursue an in-depth study of an area of interest outside of the traditional classroom. Typically, the project is a two-week internship which culminates with the student delivering a poster and presentation on her experience.