Acts of Kindness
Grocery worker and boy with special needs have the sweetest friendship that’s lasted for years
"He cheers me up and I cheer him up. That's what I look for in a friend."
Caryl Jane Espiritu
04.28.22

A small act of kindness can spark a friendship that could span a lifetime.

YouTube - NBC Bay Area
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YouTube - NBC Bay Area

This is what happened with the friendship made between TJ Lawlor and Riley Dehne. TJ works as a store clerk at Whole Foods in Redwood City. Riley, on the other hand, is a boy with special needs.

YouTube - NBC Bay Area
Source:
YouTube - NBC Bay Area

One Sunday morning six years ago, TJ was stocking the frozen section at the store when a young boy with Down syndrome walked through his aisle. It was Riley.

“Eventually he got to me and I said, ‘Hey, how are you today?’ And I introduced myself,” TJ said in an interview with NBC Bay Area.

YouTube - NBC Bay Area
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YouTube - NBC Bay Area

The two hit it off and became friends.

After introducing himself and offering an ice pop, TJ asked Riley if he’d like to help him fill the freezers. Riley agreed to this and he loved it very much, especially since he was a huge fan of the movie “Frozen.”

YouTube - NBC Bay Area
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YouTube - NBC Bay Area

The boy truly enjoyed the new activity he shared with TJ and that is what started their unique friendship. Seeing that her son had a good time with TJ, Andi Dehne, Riley’s mom, made sure that they would visit the store at least once a week.

A weekly activity for years to come.

Every week, Riley and Andi would visit the store where TJ was waiting for them. He would greet and welcome Riley and the two would spend time stocking groceries. Riley certainly looked forward to their weekly meet.

YouTube - NBC Bay Area
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YouTube - NBC Bay Area

While Andi shops, Riley looks for TJ and gives him a hand while stocking the shelves, taking out the trash, and picking up groceries for his family.

“It honestly fills my heart,” Andi said. “Sometimes, when there’s someone with a disability it can be harder to get to know them. TJ took the time to get to know Riley. He took the time to meet him where he’s at, to learn his strengths and build on them.”

A story of kindness and genuine friendship

YouTube - NBC Bay Area
Source:
YouTube - NBC Bay Area

Andi was so moved by the friendship between TJ and Riley that she even wrote a story about them in the local paper. She shared how her son’s confidence was boosted by being friends with TJ and having a chance to see that the world is so much wider than he thinks.

“That just blew me away, that really did,” TJ said. “I never thought that little ol’ me would have such an impact on someone else’s life like that.”

Both TJ and Riley are thankful for their friendship.

YouTube - NBC Bay Area
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YouTube - NBC Bay Area

TJ also shared that he, too, will never forget the moment he befriended Riley. It impacted his life more than he expected, and his connection with the young man changed his life for the better.

“Every time this guy comes in, nothing but love, nothing but smiles,” TJ told NBC Bay Area. “I get down sometimes myself. This guy cheers me up. He cheers me up and I cheer him up. That’s what I look for in a friend.”

YouTube - NBC Bay Area
Source:
YouTube - NBC Bay Area

Truly, a simple act of kindness can go a long way. For Riley and TJ, a simple hello led to a lifelong friendship that both of them will forever be grateful for.

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By Caryl Jane Espiritu
hi@sbly.com
Caryl Jane Espiritu is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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