Andy Gardner showed up for work a few minutes early on March 27, just like he has nearly every day for the past 16 years. He came ready to help Safeway customers who count on him to bag their groceries and carry them to their cars. That was the day Andy was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Medal from his colleagues. His family couldn’t be prouder, but they aren’t surprised by the honor. Andy typically exceeds expectations! An accomplished Special Olympics athlete, Andy’s favorite sport is soccer, but he’s also participated in basketball, softball, bowling, and golf. He’s lived independently for 14 years and travels alone from his Oregon home to visit his mom in Washington and siblings across the country.
Andy grew up in a big family and was always encouraged to be active in as much as possible -- and that includes sports. His mom says she'd drive him to practices, games and tournaments and it led to bigger things. "He was such a good athlete, he loved Special Olympics from the beginning." She says Andy's participation in Special Olympics has taught him how to be part of a team and how to take criticism; he's also learned how to be around people with varied personalities -- and how to win or lose a game and still be happy.
Andy's mom says, "The lessons he's learned on the soccer or baseball field, the basketball court or even in the bowling alley have helped him be successful at work in so many ways, it's hard to name them all." But when asked to name one thing about Special Olympics that has helped most of all, she says it comes down to social skills: "When Andy was initially interviewed to work at Safeway, the HR person asked him (I was not in the room but was later told his answer was why they hired him) -- 'Why should we hire you?' and he said, 'I will be really, really nice to your customers.' In Special Olympics, everyone is taught to be nice to each other and it worked for Andy. He is nice to everyone and Safeway loves that!"
Andy has earned a lot of medals over the years from Special Olympics, and adding one from Safeway to his collection is fitting. Andy said both his job and his participation in Special Olympics “are fun and I meet new friends." His mom adds that, though he loves his job, it's at Special Olympics events or practices that he feels completely at ease. "Some of his greatest and happiest times have been participating in Special Olympics."