Acts of Kindness
Store employee befriends boy with down syndrome then mom recognizes man’s changing her son
Riley, who was 13 at the time, met a store employee named TJ, who her son would gravitate towards at the store, and that's when mom started noticing a change in her son.
Rebecca Reid
12.14.21

A chance meeting at Whole Foods was the catalyst for an inspiring friendship.

It was just a typical morning for Redwood City Whole Foods employee, TJ Lawlor, whose friendly face is one of the first things customers see. Sure his days are filled with meeting and helping people, but usually, the interaction ends there. But one Sunday morning a young boy with Down Syndrome walks up to him and both their lives are changed forever.

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

A friendship blossoms amid the frozen foods.

As TJ busies himself stocking the frozen foods, he notices a young boy making his way down the aisle. “Eventually he got to me and I said, ‘Hey, how are you today?’ And I introduced myself,” – TJ told NBC Bay Area.

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

A simple question gets an enthusiastic response.

After saying hello, TJ asked him if he would like to help him stock the freezers. Riley happily agreed and enjoyed every moment of the experience.

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

A day he would never forget.

The young boy, Riley Dehne, who was 13 at the time, was with his mom Ande. TJ’s kindness had made such a lasting impression on both Riley and Ande that they decided to make weekly visits to the store just to visit their new friend. That was six years ago and those weekly visits are still going strong.

“It honestly fills my heart. 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.” – Ande told NBC Bay Area

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

Riley was starting to open up.

Each week Andi brings Riley, who is 19 now, to the store to see TJ. Riley wastes no time finding TJ as his mom grocery shops. Ande was so touched by the unlikely friendship that she wrote a story about it for the local paper. She mentioned how her son’s demeanor has changed for the better. TJ’s friendship had boosted his confidence and enabled him to come out of his shell.

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

“I’m glad the stars were aligned right here.” – TJ told NBC Bay Area

TJ was shocked to read Ande’s story. “That just blew me away, that really did. I never thought that little ol’ me would have such an impact on someone else’s life like that.” – TJ told NBC Bay Area

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

Riley isn’t the only one feeling the love.

TJ told NBC Bay Area that his life has also been positively impacted by the special friendship. “Every time this guy comes in, nothing but love, nothing but smiles. 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.” – TJ told NBC Bay Area

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

Best buds for life.

The story of TJ and Riley is a perfect example of life’s little unexpected detours that make the entire journey worthwhile.

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

Now watch the heartwarming video of this very special friendship.

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By Rebecca Reid
hi@sbly.com
Rebecca Reid is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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