An extra-special employee

An extra-special employee

MARION, Va. - In this fast-paced world, it's hard to find someone who stays with the same job for 25 years, let alone the fact it's in the fast paced world of fast food.

But one Smyth County man has become an institution at a Marion McDonald's. He's a success story for a program that helps challenged individuals gain employment and their place in the community.

The Mount Rogers Industrial Development Center in Atkins, Virginia is a busy place; there are 125 workers here, almost all of them with some type of disability.

They make items for federal contracts and some local contracts with local industry. The mission is to help these individuals get a job and grow with their community. "That's one of our main goals is to integrate them into the community, whether it's employment or doing activities, clubs. We want them to get involved in the community and give back to the community," Darlene Dean with the project says.

Jerry Louthian could very well be the poster boy for this program. He's been working with the program since 1984. He loves a challenge, especially from his boss. "Up here it's a challenge. Sometime Robbie is like, 'I bet you can't make 50 boxes,' and yes, I can. I always prove him wrong because once last week I made 55 and he said I couldn't do it," Jerry said.

Putting boxes together is one thing, but he's got another job. At the peak lunch hour he's at the Marion McDonalds. "I love it, I've been there 25 years," he proudly announced.

And the customers love him back -- he greets everyone who comes in and is quick to give a hug. Some of the customers come each day just to say hello to Jerry. "I have a friend named Sonny, I always go and get his cup of coffee because he's always saying, 'Jerry, I'm ready for my second cup of coffee.' I go get him a cup of coffee take it back to his table for him and give him two sugars because that's what he always gets," Jerry said.

But just keeping up with Jerry in the fast-paced restaurant is a job in itself. He's everywhere doing everything. "He's real popular in the Olympic games. He just participates in a lot of things. Jerry's a real interesting person," his friend and customer Sonny Taylor said.

And a credit to the program that gave him a chance.

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