Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Outstanding employee

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Jose Espinosa

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Jose Espinosa

Age • 35
Home • St. Charles
Occupation • Porter for Club Fitness in St. Charles
What he did • He moved past his Down syndrome and is working a job where he's respected and admired.
How • By believing in himself.
Website • To learn more about Community Living Inc., visit
Jose Espinosa has Down syndrome; few people have expected much from him. But that hasn't mattered, he said, as long as he expects a lot from himself.
Today, he works a job at Club Fitness in St. Charles, where as a porter 12 hours a week, he keeps the place spotless.
"I just worked hard," he said, explaining how he got the permanent job. "I'm proud of myself."
"He's great to have around," said Nick Kotanich, general manager of Club Fitness on Bass Pro Drive in St. Charles. "He's always on time, he speaks to everyone who comes in; he's an inspiration."
And keeping the place clean is vital to fitness clubs, Kotanich said.
"You lose or keep members by the condition of the locker rooms and the (cleanliness) of the machines," he said.
Espinosa said that by believing in himself, others believed in him.
He joined the staff about two years ago, said Jessica Paluch, a social worker with Community Living Inc. The agency works with people living with personal challenges.
Espinosa began as a volunteer at Club Fitness, learning work and interactive skills, Paluch said.
He recalls what he saw as his first challenge. When he first started, he was working around a lot of physically fit people. But he was 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 193 pounds.
"I went from 193 to 135," he said with a contagious trademark smile. "And feel this." He flexed a rock-hard biceps.
One of the trainers adopted him as a personal project and taught him about how to work out on the machines as well as how to eat a healthy diet.
"I used to have pizza and chicken nuggets for breakfast," he said. "But now I have (turkey) sausage links."
While that trainer has left the club, Espinosa still follows her instructions, he said.
His meals also include chicken breasts and catfish. "I love catfish, and lots of fruit, Healthy Choice cheese pizza, and sometimes a snack at night, like grapes.
"Sometimes I treat myself with ice cream," he said, "or a cookie, but just one, not two."
About two months after he started as a volunteer through Community Living, he was hired part time.
"He proves that anything is possible if you put your mind to it," said Kotanich. "He not only cleans the machines, he uses them. He's always polite, he opens the door for people and always has nice things to say to everyone."
"My sister (he has three) said I'm her role model because I can do 10 minutes of wall sets," Espinosa said. That's leaning against a wall in a sitting position.
The money he earns? "Cardinals tickets," he said. He recently got autographs from Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire.
As for where he's going in life, Espinosa said, "My future is here."
Do you know a "How I Did It?"
Send submissions to:
Jackie Hutcherson, STL Health Editor
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
900 North Tucker Boulevard
St. Louis, Mo. 63101-1099

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