All of the staff members in the Goodwill East Brunswick store know Kelvin Truong by name. When he walks in with a huge grin and his high ponytail hairdo, everyone greets him hello.
The 23-year-old young man was filmed Sunday while shopping at the Goodwill store in East Brunswick, New Jersey for a portion of “Swim Team,” a documentary that follows the season of his team, the Jersey Hammerheads. The team is made up of young athletes on the autism spectrum.
Kelvin was at Goodwill spending the money his parents awarded him for his excellent performance in the Hammerheads’ final meet.
Kelvin, a regular visitor of the Goodwill store, has autism and severe Tourette’s syndrome. His frequent ticks often draw attention, which is why Kelvin’s mother, Patty Huang, says he often refuses to go out in public.
However, the Goodwill E. Brunswick store is one place Kelvin is always excited to go. “This community and the atmosphere in this store make him feel comfortable,” says Patty.
Kelvin calls shopping at Goodwill “a good time.” He especially loves to buy action movies during his visits. On Sunday, he ran straight the collection of movies and picked 10 different ones to bring home with him. And he doesn’t just watch these movies–he knows the year they were made and the names of all the main actors.
With his sharp memory, Kelvin also remembers his first trip to Goodwill. “It was 2 years ago, 2012. It was springtime,” he says.
Since that first trip, Patty says Kelvin has enjoyed coming back to the Goodwill store. Patty and her husband use trips to the Goodwill store as a reward for good behavior, and more specifically, for participating on his swim team.
Kelvin says he likes to swim, but often does not want to go to the meets and practices because he is embarrassed of his ticks. When swimmers line up for their races they wait in a very confined space, which makes Kelvin uncomfortable.
“Sometimes with my ticks at the swim meets, I don’t have space,” Kelvin says, “It can hurt someone.”
Determined not to give up, Patty came up with a plan to use something Kelvin loved to motivate him to swim. “We worked out a deal,” Patty says. “If he goes to swim practice during the week, we can go shopping at Goodwill on the weekends.”
Though Kelvin’s willingness to go to practice improved, he was still resistant to go to meets. So, Patty took the deal one step further. For each accomplishment he makes, Kelvin gets a certain amount of money to spend at Goodwill. For a gold medal he gets $20, for silver $15, for bronze $10, and for any participation, he receives $5 to spend.
And the system worked. After winning three gold medals and one ribbon at his final meet, Kelvin returned to spend his $65 reward at Goodwill.
Walking around the store, Kelvin was enthusiastic about his purchases. “It’s hard not to be captivated by him,” says documentary producer Lara Stolman of his vibrant personality.
Lara and her crew have established a relationship with Kelvin since beginning work on the documentary in January.
She calls Kelvin a “compelling individual” and hopes that her viewers will see that he and his teammates are able to live successful and fulfilling lives despite the challenges their disabilities present.
“Swim Team explores the everyday struggles and the extraordinary triumphs kids living with autism can achieve,” Lara says.
While Kelvin’s autism and tics often prevent him from doing things his typical peers may take for granted, swimming and shopping at Goodwill give him the opportunity to have meaningful and successful experiences in the community. He looks like any other talented athlete when he swims, says Lara.
Although not proven, Patty believes swimming has helped reduce Kelvin’s ticks, which is why she works so hard to keep him involved on the swim team. With hope for the future, Patty encourages Kelvin to stay involved with the swim team, even if it means a few more trips to Goodwill to keep him motivated along the way.
Goodwill NY-NJ stores offer training and employment to individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment.
Goodwill E. Brunswick store:
415 Highway 18; 08816
P: (732) 651-1091
Open Mon.-Sat. 10-8; Sun. 10-7
Alyssa Raiola is a Journalism student at Northwestern University where she spends her time writing for campus publications, searching for new restaurants, and picking the perfect Instagram filters. Although she loves jogging along Lake Michigan and exploring the Windy City, her heart lies back home in New Jersey where pizza is the right shape and bagels are a delicacy. This summer, she’s back in the Big Apple interning and blogging with Goodwill Industries before she heads off to Seville, Spain to study abroad for the fall semester.
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