When Nick began losing his ‘shine’, the Valitutti's sought opportunities to re-establish Nick's purpose, and allow his soul to flourish.
Nick Valitutti is a 37-year-old man from Michigan with Down Syndrome, but he has never seen himself as someone with a disability. Growing up, he participated in activities just like every other kid. He was enrolled in public school and partook in the Special Olympics, competing in shot put and snowshoeing. He rode his bike all over the neighborhood, loved movies and sports, enjoyed spending time with his cousins, and would strike up meaningful conversation with anyone who had the time. “He may not be able to read or write, but he gets it,” said Lisa. “He can have conversations and knows exactly what’s going on in the world and has his own opinions.”
Nick has always held down a job, and his strong work ethic is evidenced by his 18 years with Kroger. “Everybody liked Nick and how he packed their groceries,” said Aldo, Nick’s father. A cheerful Nick would meticulously organize items and make sure they were secure and double bagged. “People just gravitated towards him – our friends would say ‘your son is the only packer we want!’”
There were times that the Valitutti’s saw Nick regressing – losing his sparkle. “He was becoming introverted and never wanted to go anywhere or do anything with friends. He was spending most of his life in our fully furnished basement. This is not the life I wanted for him,” said Lisa. The Valitutti’s knew they needed to make a change for their son.
For the longest time, Nick avoided conversations with his family about his living on his own someday. The family eventually found a community for people with disabilities where Nick could have his own apartment. “It was like sending him to college and all of the sudden he had freedom,” said Aldo. “He was like ‘Oh, this is great. Why didn’t I ever think about this?’ He was his own man.” It was an ideal living situation for one year. The community didn’t have enough adequate support structures in place to empower Nick on his journey to independence. Nick wanted to build relationships and find purpose.
After extensive research, Lisa reached out to Treasure House CEO, Lauri Tanner. Their phone call ended with Lisa sobbing in relief and excitement. As a creature of routine and habit, Nick was not pleased to hear that his family wanted him to uproot from life in Michigan so that he could have more support, and he was even less keen on participating in a trial stay at Treasure House.
One foot into Treasure House and Nick was home. “It was like ‘well, you can go now, mom,’” said Lisa. “I felt like we were walking him down the aisle on his wedding day to a new family. He had found his place. I think we’re his second home, now.”
Since living at Treasure House, Nick is “a happier young man,” said Aldo. “He looks at life differently now than when he was at home with us. He’s willing to share about his entire day with us, which he was never willing to do before. If something should ever happen to me or my wife, we know that Nick is in a good place.”
When Nick came to Treasure House he set a goal to find competitive employment and now he stays busy with not one, but two jobs! With support from his life coach, Nick secured his dream job as a greeter at State Farm Stadium, home to the Arizona Cardinals. Game-goers come up to him just to receive the famous Nick V. fist bump! He also transitioned from an intern to an employee at Spencer’s Place, a coffee shop which places an emphasis on inclusion. At Spencer’s Place, he makes beverages, greets customers, and sanitizes and organizes the shop. Aldo says that Nick never wants to come home because he feels essential at his jobs and doesn’t want to miss a day of work.
Outside of work, Nick hits the gym and the punching bag several times a week, and is a huge sports fan. He especially likes WWE wrestling, and college and NFL football. Every Friday, his routine consists of ordering pizza and watching WWE Smackdown. Nothing gets in the way of his Friday night ritual! In his free time, he enjoys volunteering at Miller Barn and spending time with his friends.