Melanie is chasing her dream

Disabilities not stopping Sonner from working in preschool

By Megan Neary

For The Gazette

Melanie Sonner reads to Layla Gooden, 2½ years old, before nap time at the Liberty Community Center. Sonner reads to Layla Gooden, 2½ years old, before nap time at the Liberty Community Center.


Delaware resident Melanie Sonner has not allowed developmental disabilities to stop her from pursuing her dream of working in a preschool.

Sonner began as a volunteer in Liberty Community Center’s preschool program after proving herself to be a valuable employee, she was offered a paid position in March. She recalled the date her volunteer work became “a real job” with obvious pride. The date was March 11.

Sonner’s favorite part of her job is spending time with the students. She likes “to see all the kids” and to “help them learn.” Sonner performs many tasks at the preschool, ranging from sweeping the floor to reading books before nap time.

The students are not the only people to learn from this arrangement. Sonner said she has learned to “know people better.”

“Before I was a volunteer, I was shy,” she said. “Now I not shy anymore.”

Sonner is currently attending Columbus State Community College’s Early Childhood Certificate Program. The program will provide her with the skills she needs to become a preschool teacher’s aide.

Sonner said she is thrilled to be on her way to becoming a teacher’s aide. It is “my dream come true,” she said.

The Liberty Community Center and Columbus State are working together to allow Sonner to perform school projects at the center. This means that she will get to develop lessons to teach the students through her certificate program and will get to implement them at the center.

Sue Munday of the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities said Sonner got the job “on her own merit.”

“It truly was Melanie’s work ethic that got her the job,” she said.

Munday said that Sonner is a good example of the great work that people with developmental disabilities can do. “They work and they’re excellent workers and it’s a whole ’nother level of how people with the right support can do amazing things,” she explained. “We didn’t know that years ago, but it’s time things changed.”

Munday is not the only person to feel that it is time for things to change. In March 2012, Gov. John Kasich launched the Employment First Initiative when he signed an executive order stating that “community employment shall be the priority and the preferred outcome for working-age Ohioans with disabilities.”

The Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities is working to see the Employment First Initiative become a reality. “We’re breaking down barriers,” said Munday of the work the board is doing to find people with disabilities employment.

Munday said she hopes that stories like Sonner’s will encourage more employers to “have an open mind” when individuals with disabilities apply for employment.

When it comes to hiring employees with disabilities, “we need employers to step up,” said Munday. “Let them try!”

Megan Neary can be reached at [email protected].

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