DOYLESTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) — A Bucks County man is trying to change the way his community treats people with disabilities.
Joshua Fields, 24, co-founded The Next Step Programs in Doylestown as a teenager.
“I can remember in 6th grade I met my first friend who has Down syndrome and we just sat together in the classroom to sit next to each other,” Fields said.
That middle school seating arrangement led Fields to meet his best friend, Meghan Kensil, and have a pivotal conversation about their future.
“We talked about what our life would be like after high school and what we were planning to do,” he said. “The more people I’ve asked about what happens to my friends with disabilities when we leave, the more ‘I don’t know’ I got.”
Instead of waiting for the unknown, the two started “The Next Steps Program”. Fields was 16.
“What we’re trying to do is show the community that we’re here; we want to be part of the community,” said Fields.
The non-profit organization has grown into a place where people with disabilities can learn life skills and even find a job.
“In our community, over 80% of our young adults are employed,” he said.
That includes 22-year-olds like Julie Shirey.
“I love it. i love people I love being who I am,” said Shirey, who works at the nonprofit as well as four other locations. She dreams of becoming a chef.
“Yes. 100% yes. Josh got me through. He got me through it,” she said.
With Fields already achieving great results with employment opportunities, his personal next step is housing. He wants to build an inclusive community where people with disabilities have sustainable housing.
“It’s important to create a sustainable system where these young adults can become independent adults in society, where they have a place to live, a place to belong, and a place to work,” Fields said.
As he builds this place, Fields involves his friends in every step.
“We love you too,” he said to Shirey.
Copyright © 2022 WPVI-TV. All rights reserved.
https://6abc.com/bucks-county-pa-the-next-step-programs-nonprofit-pennsylvania-disabilities-education/12511331/ Bucks County nonprofit ‘The Next Step Programs’ aims toward a more inclusive community