Bay Area Proud

Small Act Of Kindness Sparks Years-Long Friendship Between Store Clerk, Boy With Special Needs

NBC Universal, Inc.

Walk into the Whole Foods in Redwood City early in the morning and TJ Lawlor's friendly face is likely one of the first things you will see.

Mornings have been his favorite time to work for much of the past 12 years he's been employed here. "I'm a morning guy," TJ said. "I like to get up, walk the dog, get to work, and make some money."

It was on a Sunday morning six years ago, though, that TJ made more than just money, he made a friend. He also ended up making a difference in both their lives.

"Looks like it, right?" TJ said. "I'm glad the stars were aligned right here."

On that morning, TJ was stocking the frozen section at the story when a young boy with Down syndrome walked down his aisle.

"Eventually he got to me and I said, 'Hey, how are you today?' And I introduced myself," TJ said.

That boy was Riley Dehne, now 19-years-old.

After introducing himself, TJ asked Riley if he'd like to help him fill the freezers. Riley said, "Yes," and loved every second of it.

In fact, Riley and TJ hit it off so well that Ande Dehne, Riley's mother, made sure to make a visit to the store a weekly ritual. Years later, they are still coming back.

Riley races in each week and while Andi shops, he finds TJ and helps him stock the shelves, take out the trash, and pick up groceries for his family.

"It honestly fills my heart," Andi said. "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."

Andi even wrote a story about the friendship for her local paper, sharing how Riley's confidence soared after each visit, being drawn ever more out of his world into the wider world around him.

"That just blew me away, that really did," TJ said. "I never thought that little ol' me would have such an impact on someone else's life like that."

What's more, TJ said, is that the experience has made an impact on his life as well.

"Every time this guy comes in, nothing but love, nothing but smiles," TJ said. "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."

Contact Us