Matt Heslop poses for a photo with his parents, John and Linda Heslop, following his Novi Adult Transition Center graduation ceremony June 8.

Matt Heslop poses for a photo with his parents, John and Linda Heslop, following his Novi Adult Transition Center graduation ceremony June 8.

Photo by Charity Meier

Novi Adult Transition Center student graduates with part-time job offer

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published June 28, 2023

NOVI — Matt Heslop, one of the first students to enter the Novi Adult Transition Center program, which teaches life and employment skills to people ages 18-26 who have various cognitive disabilities, graduated June 8 with a part-time job offer from Chartwells School Dining Services.

Heslop will resume working in the Novi High School cafeteria in the fall — a job he started doing while working toward completing his NATC certification — but this time as part of the workforce, rather than a student worker.

“Matt is one of our pioneer students in the program,” said Ben Mainka, superintendent of the Novi Community School District, in his remarks during Heslop’s commencement ceremony at the ROAR Center. “Through Matt’s phenomenal journey at NATC, he has worked diligently at daily living skills, functional academics and work-based learning opportunities.”

During his time at NATC, Heslop gained valuable work experience through volunteer work opportunities at Premier Pet Supply, the Novi Civic Center and the Novi Cafe. He was then offered a position at the high school

Mainka said that the barriers to gainful employment for someone with a disability are “tremendous.” According to Mainka, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2022, only 21% of people with cognitive disabilities gained employment.

Adult transition coordinator Kristin Corrion said that she always cries at the graduations, because she knows how hard her students work to get to that point.

“They work harder at everything that they do to accomplish the things that they do,” Corrion said.

Corrion has worked with Heslop for the last 19 years and recalled that the first time they met, he talked her ear off about gym — his favorite class at the time. Heslop told C & G Newspapers that he still loves sports, such as basketball and bowling, and is looking forward to playing baseball this summer. His mom said he is very good at bowling and that his highest score was in the 240s.

Corrion described Heslop as a hard worker. She said he is driven to complete any task he is given, enjoys work, loves interacting with people and has a great sense of humor.  She said he also loves movies and can quote the vast majority of them.

“He takes a lot of pride in everything he does. He is never absent. He is just a great worker,” Corrion said.

Mainka said that Heslop is an “inspiration” to all. He said that Heslop showed people “the power in inclusivity.” According to Mainka, Heslop is an example for other NATC students as they pursue their certificates of completion.

“Matt’s accomplishments are another example to us that with the collective effort of family, school and the local community, our students are exactly what we all want our young adults to strive for — to become active contributors to society,” Mainka said. “He has also shown us that no matter what limits society puts on people with significant challenges, given the right tools, met with opportunity, the sky’s the limit. He has also shown us that a disability should not define a person’s future and that it is possible to shatter societal barriers.”

Corrion spoke highly of Heslop’s family, saying they had a great understanding of  autism. Heslop’s mother, Linda, praised the staff and the program.

“It takes a community, like everybody says, just working with him,” said Linda Heslop. “I can’t say enough wonderful things about everybody.”

“Matt was the life of the classroom,” said his instructor, Sebrina Shields. “I’m going to miss him; he makes me laugh all the time.”

“He just always brings a smile to everyone’s face,” said Heslop’s teacher, Brad Therrian, aka Mr. T, whom Heslop worked for as a teacher assistant.

Shailee Patel, the NCSD’s director of special education, said that Michigan is one of the few states that still offers students who have special needs public education until age 26. She said it is an honor to see the students graduate.

“You can see their perseverance, their growth, just their whole entire opportunity to be part of the community,” said Patel.

She said Heslop will continue to do well as he continues working five days a week at the high school. She said the position will allow him not only to mingle with people, but to also continue to interact with staff and students who know him so well.

“Matt, I have watched you grow and bloom and mature over these last 19 years, and I couldn’t be more proud to walk across the stage with you and graduate with you this year,” Corrion said in between tears. Corrion retired at the end of the school year.

Linda Heslop said her son had to work very hard to get to this point. She said it wasn’t easy and that he was extremely stubborn when he was younger. With autism, she said, anything new is hard, so they have to prepare him quite a bit for things such as job interviews.

“I’ve learned to appreciate the baby steps,” she said, adding that she advises other parents whose children have disabilities to do the same. “Accept the baby steps, because not everything is going to be huge leaps.”