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Woman with disabilities well known to Salem McDonald’s regulars

Kassey Lehman is a familiar, friendly face for patrons of the Salem McDonald’s restaurant. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: This story is part of a series in observation of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month, highlighting local employers and employees who have found success.)

SALEM — Every business that caters to the public would love to have an employee who lights up a room with her personality. Ten years ago the Salem McDonald’s found one such employee in Kassey Lehman, and it has managed to keep her.

For Kassey’s part, this Golden Arches franchise is a workplace home that she loves going to three days a week, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Kassey is the kind of friendly employee to whom the boss can give the difficult job of reminding customers they forgot to wear a facemask. “If they come in and don’t have a mask, I’m supposed to say, ‘Hey, you forgot your mask. I can give you one.’ Some people get angry and swear, but some say thanks,” Kassey said.

“They aren’t angry at you,” her mother Nancy said.

“I know,” said Kassey.

At age “31 going on 32,” as she likes to put it, Kassey lives with her parents, Dallas and Nancy Lehman, at their home in Salem. They knew she had disabilities when she was adopted as an infant.

“What are your disabilities?” Kassey was asked.

“Autism, ADHD and anxiety,” she answered instantly.

Like many girls, Kassey keeps a diary, in which she writes down her thoughts and ideas, along with happenings in her life and family. Kassey has four grown sisters: Heidi, Mary, Samantha and McKala, and two brothers-in-law: Rick, Mary’s husband, and Scott, married to Heidi. McKala is her only sister still living at home.

Kassey said she went to school at and graduated high school from Heartland Christian School in nearby Columbiana, Ohio, where her father Dallas, now retired, was administrator of the private K-12 school for many years. Kassey is active in the family’s home church, New Life Church, in Poland, Ohio, where she sometimes helps serve coffee at the church cafe, a social gathering place before and after Sunday services.

Store manager for 33 years, Becky Carner hired Kassey 10 years ago. Becky first met her when Kassey came to McDonald’s in a program run through the Columbiana County Educational Service Center (ESC) for introducing high school students with disabilities to the world of work.

Kassey said she learned the basics of being a good employee in a transition class after high school taught at the ESC by Delores Scott.

“Being on time, being showered, wearing a fresh uniform, respecting the managers and following directions. All those things I learned throughout the years. Those are the things, the big things I learned,” Kassey said of the lessons drilled into students by Mrs. Scott.

In another post-high school career training program, Kassey was among students trying their hand at taking orders and working in food preparation at a hot dog stand. It was too stressful for her. “Everybody came at once and I was an absolute basket case. That was awful.”

Carner, who has managed this McDonald’s for 33 years, remembered Kassey when she applied for employment 10 years ago. A key to her success in the new job, Carner recalls, was that “the first couple weeks she had a coach from the program with her.” Kassey’s mother Nancy said the job coach, provided through the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities program, was wonderfully helpful in teaching Kassey what was expected of her, and keeping her calm and helping her feel confident that she could do the job.

During most of her career at the Salem McDonald’s, Kassey’s duties have included cleaning windows, cleaning the restrooms, emptying trash receptacles, sweeping and mopping floors, and greeting and helping customers.

When the store reopened in late summer under COVID guidelines, Kassey was assigned the tasks of sanitizing surfaces and reminding customers to put on facemasks. She also runs takeout orders outside.

“I wipe everything down like the door handles. I take out the trash, sweep and mop, and clean the bathrooms. I used to wipe tables, but there’s still no eating inside,” she said. Under the store’s current COVID guidelines, customers may come inside to order and use the restrooms.

“She is a spitfire. She always has a smile on her face. She is very social, very friendly. ‘Bubbly’ is a good way to describe her,” said Carner.

Two years ago she started attending a sign language class taught by a woman at their church. Her new skills came in handy recently at work when she helped staff figure out what a deaf child was trying or order.

“A little boy was signing and nobody knew what he wanted,” Kassey said. With her help, he finally made himself understood “and he was grinning ear to ear,” Kassey said.

“I love to meet people, I love to meet new friends,” Kassey said. She said she will be glad when the coronavirus restrictions are over, because she misses talking with regular customers like the older people who sit and drink their morning coffee.

(To learn more about the benefits of employing individuals with disabilities, contact the Columbiana County Board of Disabilities and its Reach 4 More jobs program at 330-870-4272.)

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