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DOWNEY - Imagine taking a one-way plane ride nearly 1900 miles across the country with no guarantee of a job or a place to live upon touchdown.
Eric Ledet need not wonder - he's flown that path before and likes telling how the story ends.
"I was born and raised in Los Angeles. Thirteen years ago I was living in Chino," said Ledet. "I was 29 when I left California with my family...I lived four years in New Orleans."
After his father died in 2004, Ledet decided to make a move back to his roots in Southern California, but with little assistance, the task to get from New Orleans back to Los Angeles was daunting.
However, Ledet's journey was altered when he was connected to The Arc - Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
"We got a call from the other end," said Linda Ripley, coordinator of adult education at The Arc. "We picked him up from the airport and because Eric was so positive, The Arc just went with it.
"He's a smart guy and he knew what he wanted," she added. "Any problem, he overcomes it and with a positive attitude."
Ledet is being praised by administrators at The Arc as a prime example of the hope and inspiration that results when community members participate in the Arc Walk for Independence, which supports children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Since 1997, the Arc Walk has raised funds and awareness for The Arc's various educational and occupational programs by inviting community members to walk either a one or three-mile route around Stonewood Center.
Starting at 8 a.m. on March 23, registered walkers who donate $15 to The Arc will set out on the course, walking for independence.
Beginning at Acapulco Restaurant and Cantina, the 3-mile walk travels west on Firestone Boulevard to Lakewood Boulevard, up to Florence Avenue, around to Woodruff Avenue and back to Firestone. The Arc has seen its annual fundraising event grow from just 250 walkers in 1997 to nearly 4,000 last year.
As a result of the Arc Walk, The Arc was able to pay for Ledet to stay in a motel on Firestone Blvd. once he arrived in Downey.
"The Arc helped me with Social Security and Medi-Cal," Ledet said. "I was at Arc everyday for four months in the employment services until I could find a job and a place to live."
"In July 2004, I moved into my single-room apartment and one month later I was approved for Wescom," Ledet said with a smile.
Now the 44-year-old Downey resident works Monday through Friday at the Wescom Credit Union branch in La Habra.
"I take the bus to work in the morning and transit at night," he said. "I'm responsible for the members entering and exiting the branch, providing fresh, hot coffee and ice-cold water, and maintaining the lobby."
Ledet also maintains his own apartment, which includes buying his own groceries, doing his laundry, and cooking meals seven days a week.
"It's very comfortable and very satisfying," Ledet sighed.
While Ledet's employment may be satisfying for him, it has been an inspiration to others.
In an anonymous letter sent to Wescom last Thursday, a branch member praised Eric for his courteous nature and professionalism.
"As I was walking to the front door, it was immediately opened by a very friendly gentlemen who heartily said 'Welcome to Wescom!,'" the letter reads. "It dawned on me as I watched him open the door for everyone coming and going, greet every single person, provide direction, thanked you for your visit, and hand out his Wescom flyer, that I'd never seen a disabled person...in any bank I've ever been to.
The letter continued: "I wanted to say a personal 'Thank You,' for truly being an equal opportunity employer, and for allowing the man at the door to do such a great job."
"It took Eric a little while to learn that job, but anything he's told to do, he picks it up," said Ripley. "He's taken care of himself very well."
Ledet is hopeful that community members will continue supporting The Arc, which brought him stability when he wasn't sure where he was going to live.
"The Arc is trying to do good in the world, it helps us achieve our dreams and reach our goals," he said with his arms upraised. "So far, everything that I do pleases me as long as I'm independent. Having the [community's] support, others shall have the independence they really deserve."
Published: March 14, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 48