The Sweetest Job

Ashley Williams photo

Jacksonville, FL – Employment is sweet for Ashley Williams. She hand rolls, weighs, and packages caramels at Kilwins in Jacksonville as the candy store’s caramel chew packager — and she does it well. “Ashley has excelled in her duties at our store,” says her supervisor, Alena Tarpley.

Working with candy wasn’t always her career goal. Before her job at Kilwins, Ashley, who has Asperger’s syndrome and a learning disability, had primarily worked in an office setting. With the assistance of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) , a state agency that helps people with disabilities get or keep jobs, she’d previously found a position as a file clerk at a law firm. When that job was no longer available, she turned to VR for help finding work once again.

Ashley met with her VR Counselor, Kelly Harbert, to create a plan to get back to work. Though Ashley wanted to work in an office environment, Kelly encouraged her to expand her job search to incorporate a variety of options. “She loved the office job she’d had before, so she wanted to work in a similar setting, but I encouraged her to open up to other possibilities,” Kelly explains.

Kelly also referred Ashley to ARC of Jacksonville for job placement services. Ashley’s job coach at ARC of Jacksonville, Christine Thomas, agreed that she should apply for positions in a variety of fields. Ashley took their advice and eagerly began searching for jobs. “She was so determined to work that she would call me with job leads,” says Kelly.

Ashley soon found a job posting that peaked her interest. With help from Kelly and Christine, she applied for an open position at Kilwins and began working there in June 2015.

Working in a candy store may be different than Ashley’s previous jobs, but the skills she developed in other positions still help her in her current job. “Working in an office gave her a good skill set,” Christine explains. “She might not use those skills directly in her job now, but they translate to all work places.”

Those skills have certainly helped Ashley succeed at Kilwins. She is doing so well in her job that she has been given additional opportunities. Along with her duties as a packager, she’s also been assigned to hand out samples of candy to customers.

Interacting with the customers has quickly become the part of the job that Ashley enjoys the most. “My favorite part is talking to the customers and asking if they want to try some candy,” she says. While she enjoys helping others sample the candy, Ashley is careful not to give into temptation and try it herself. “I don’t eat the samples,” she explains. “I can only have the ones that are left at the end.”

Ashley’s supervisor, Alena, has noticed an improvement in her job performance and is happy to see her progress. “Since I started working with Ashley I have added on responsibilities, and she has accomplished them each time,” says Alena.

Alena believes Ashley serves as proof that people with disabilities can be successful on the job. “Those who have disabilities are just like everyone else; they want to work hard and earn their paycheck,” she says. “If given the opportunity, they’re forever grateful for it. There is always something for them to do.”

Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a federal-state program committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America’s workforce. The employer-focused website,, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 90 offices across Florida, and last year helped 5,760 Floridians with significant disabilities get or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit