Act of Kindness Sparks Friendship Between Whole Foods Employee And Boy With Special Needs

Act of Kindness Sparks Friendship Between Whole Foods Employee And Boy With Special Needs

A special friendship that has developed over the past six years between a teenage boy with Down syndrome and an employee at a Whole Foods store in California.

TJ Lawlor has been working at the Whole Foods in Redwood City for the past 12 years. About 6 years ago on a Sunday morning, TJ was stocking the frozen section at the store when a young boy with Down syndrome walked down his aisle.

“Eventually he got to me and I said, ‘Hey, how are you today?’ And I introduced myself,” TJ said.

That boy was Riley Dehne, now 19-years-old.

After introducing himself, TJ asked Riley if he’d like to help him fill the freezers. Riley said, “Yes,” and loved every second of it.

In fact, Riley and TJ hit it off so well that Andi Dehne, Riley’s mother, made sure to make a visit to the store a weekly ritual. Years later, they are still coming back.

Riley races in each week and while Andi shops, he finds TJ and helps him stock the shelves, take out the trash, and pick up groceries for his family.

“It honestly fills my heart,” Andi told NBC Bay Area. “Sometimes, when there’s someone with a disability it can be harder to get to know them. TJ took the time to get to know Riley. He took the time to meet him where he’s at, to learn his strengths and build on them.”

Andi even wrote a story about the friendship for her local paper, sharing how Riley’s confidence soared after each visit, being drawn ever more out of his world into the wider world around him.

“That just blew me away, that really did,” TJ said. “I never thought that little ol’ me would have such an impact on someone else’s life like that.”

What’s more, TJ said, is that the experience has made an impact on his life as well.

“Every time this guy comes in, nothing but love, nothing but smiles,” TJ said. “I get down sometimes myself. This guy cheers me up. He cheers me up and I cheer him up. That’s what I look for in a friend.”