Brian’s Story

Sometimes we’re born into supportive families, and other times we build them ourselves.

Some lucky people, like Brian, manage to do both.

When Brian joined Aspire a couple of years ago, it marked a new step in his journey toward discovering everything that was possible for him. But that journey had begun much earlier, thanks to the unwavering support of his grandfather, Charlie.

“Grandpa Charlie,” as he’s known to everyone at Aspire, has made all the difference in Brian’s life. Whether big or small, he has stood by Brian as he pursued his goals. “Charlie has taught me a lot,” says Brian with a grin. “Things like how to pay my bills and how to cut down on soda.”

Charlie also encouraged Brian to pursue a bachelor’s degree after earning his associate’s degree from Triton College. Brian is now enrolled in the Theater Program at Elmhurst College, where in the spring he carried a full course load that included a theater class. Acting is one of Brian’s first loves; he’s played Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast and Scar in The Lion King with a company for adults with disabilities.

“Aspire has become a linchpin in the process of helping Brian launch himself,” says Charlie. “It’s been a springboard that has helped him along the process of learning to live and work independently.”

Brian’s “family” expanded when he joined the Life on My Own program, thanks to donors who continue to enrich Aspire’s programming. Since 2019, Life on My Own Life Consultant Eli has been helping Brian prepare to move into his own apartment by teaching him life skills like doing laundry, washing dishes, and maintaining a budget. Beyond that, he has become another member of Brian’s found family. “Our relationship has become much more robust and meaningful over time,” says Eli. “We not only see each other as mentor and mentee, but also as friends and confidantes.”

Aspire Careers Team Member, Mike also stepped in to help. He connected Brian with Portillo’s, where he now works on staff as a patio cleaner. “Brian has a great attitude and energy,” says his manager. “When he sees something needs to be done, he does it. He works well around everyone.” In fact, Brian was recently recognized on the Employee Compliment Board: “Thank you, Brian, for your energy and teamwork.” For more information about Aspire’s Program, Life on My Own contact Eli Ruplinger at eruplinger@aspirechicago.com.

Brian has grown into his roles as an employee and future renter. It all started with the faith his grandfather had in him. “Charlie helped form Brian into the man he is today,” says Eli. “He has always pushed Brian to strive to be the best he can be. I’ve heard Brian say numerous times how thankful he is for his grandfather.”

The entire Aspire family of donors, volunteers, and staff has built on the foundation Charlie established, giving Brian and other participants the tools to discover all that’s possible. “Brian’s autism will never go away, but he’s learning to navigate the larger world through it,” says Charlie. “A few years from now, when he graduates and moves into his own place, then our mission will be accomplished. I’ll be here for him, always, but he’ll be on his own.

“It’s an ambitious goal, but I know he can do it with all the support he’s getting now.”

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