December was truly the most wonderful time of the year for 20-year-old Mark because it marked the one-year anniversary he has lived on his own in his very own apartment.
"This is the first time something is in my name," Mark said proudly with a huge smile on his face. "It’s very exciting!"
Mark has learned to be responsible for himself and is having fun creating his own routines. He wakes up on his own, makes his own breakfast and follows the rules he has put in place for himself.
"You should always have rules," he says matter-of-factly.
He keeps busy too. In addition to maintaining his own place (Sunday is cleaning day), Mark is managing two jobs. He works Saturday mornings from May to October at a food truck at the local farmer’s market and is a certified dog walker. Throughout the week, he takes care of his furry four-legged clients: Teddy, Bella and Oreo.
"I feel like they know I’m giving them attention and that I love them," Mark said.
Mark credits the attention, support and love he received through two of Cunningham’s programs—Residential Treatment and Vocational Options (Options)— for his success in becoming the young man he is today. He said some of his best life lessons were learned during the two years he lived at Cunningham where staff helped him to be honest, talk out his emotions and "not hide behind my faults."
"Kandis taught me that anger doesn’t solve anything, and that it shouldn’t be my first response," Mark said when talking about how Cunningham staff helped him.
As Mark worked on controlling his emotional outbursts, he also took steps towards independence. The Options staff helped him become self-sufficient through training, support and real-world experiences. At first, he worked on Cunningham’s campus, helping with recycling and delivering mail to different departments. Once he mastered those tasks and proved a strong work ethic, vocational counselors connected him to opportunities in the community.
Mark worked behind the scenes in the university housing dining hall where he learned how to make pizza and sushi from scratch. He also worked in a local restaurant and learned the importance of customer service, saying "the customer is always right." These experiences enhanced his"people skills" as he learned how to properly greet customers and look them in the eye.
"I figured out I would much rather take orders than cook the food," he said laughing. "I think I burn things too easily."
Well not everything. He has perfected salt and pepper baked chicken—his favorite dish he makes for himself.
"It’s the bomb." he said.
So are you Mark, so are you.