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Rachel has autism and for 7 years, she felt like no one would give her a chance. Now she has the independence she always wanted.
Humankind

Editor’s note: This is the third of three Humankind profiles on residents of Promise in Brevard. The West Melbourne community provides adults with disabilities a place to live and work. The first phase of the community opened this fall. Last year, Promise was awarded a $100,000 grant by A Community Thrives, a USA TODAY NETWORK initiative. Humankind, also a part of the USA TODAY NETWORK, tells amazing stories about people performing positive acts, overcoming great odds and sharing special connections. To see more uplifting Humankind stories and videos, follow HumankindVideos on Facebook.

At 28, almost 29, Rachel Rodrigues is living the dream.

She has a job, friends and an apartment, complete with a cozy bedroom bathed in pink light. The complex is still under construction, but soon it will include a swimming pool, a gym, an art center and a dining hall.

Even now, she and her roommates and neighbors can enjoy activities like dance class and yoga. A note on the fridge reminds her: 4:30 p.m. Resident Meeting, 6:30 p.m. Dance Fit.

This dream of independence, taken for granted by so many, seemed out of reach for Rachel.

“Since she graduated from high school, despite the challenge of autism, my daughter’s dream has been to live on her own, work for herself and have fun with friends,” said Rebecca Rodrigues, Rachel’s mother. “We just hoped she’d be safe — and happy. After seven years of frustration, turned down for job after job, we’d watched her bright, eager hope extinguished.”

“It can get depressing,” Rachel said. “Because you don’t know. …You feel like you can’t do anything to hasten your future.”

A few weeks ago, Rachel moved into an apartment at Promise in Brevard, an independent living community in West Melbourne where adults with special needs can live and work.

“I’m really, really happy,” she said. “It seems like the Lord is taking good care of us, and good care of me.”

Rachel is adjusting well to apartment living.

“It really is refreshing,” she said. “It’s fun to live with people my own age instead of with my parents. It’s kind of like a college dorm.”

It’s not all fun and pajama parties, though.

Rachel works at Five Guys at the Avenue Viera, where wipes down tables with meticulous care to make sure the dining room is tidy and pleasant for guests. She hopes soon she’ll be able to transition into washing dishes and food prep.

Her father, Stan Rodrigues, is teaching her to manage her money. Her mom stops by sometimes with groceries, but reminds Rachel that food isn’t always going to magically appear in the kitchen. 

Promise has a van to take residents on grocery runs, which means Rachel doesn’t have to rely on her parents to take her…