Personal Story

Impact Feature Issue on Self-Determination and Supported Decision-Making for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

A Sense of Pride and Purpose: Nathan’s Story


Nathan Barclay lives and works in St. Paul, Minnesota. He told his story to Kelly Merchant, Employment Consultant at Kaposia, Little Canada, Minnesota.

I was only five when I began sitting on the piano bench. Using only my ear, I taught myself the instrument and spent vast amounts of time figuring out how to play familiar songs. When I turned 12, I developed a deep interest in understanding how the keyboard works. I studied the technical parts of the instrument and took the keyboard apart so that I could be a better piano player. My childhood was music, and nothing brought me more happiness.

After graduation, I settled into an internship in a retail setting where I spent my shifts working with clothing and household items on a sales floor. I felt nothing as I went through the motions, lasting a year before I joined Kaposia in hopes to find a job I was passionate about. 

During our initial meetings Kaposia visited my home, listened to me play the piano, learned about me and my life and what held importance, mapped my neighborhood, and talked to others who know me well. Prominent themes emerged after our visits – music, entertainment, and figuring out how things work. 

We began visiting a variety of organizations related to my themes. I looked at ushering, working in a local music shop, and even piano repair. It was interesting to talk to people and hear about their jobs and how they got there, but whenever they asked me what I saw myself doing, I always answered, “Playing the piano.” The discovery process offered me the opportunity to explore the world of music and the variety of organizations out there where people work. Most importantly, it helped me understand myself and where I excel, both in my interests and skills. My heart (and my discovery staging record) told me that I belonged at a piano, entertaining others. 

My job developer watched this realization happen and suggested that we meet with some local musicians to further explore. We sat down with them and asked about their career paths and advice on how one begins pursuing this line of work. They all shared similar advice and emphasized the importance of promoting and marketing yourself. We took notes and immediately went to work on building my brand. In a few weeks, I had a Facebook page and business cards.

Then one afternoon during an info meeting with the manager of a local music store, something exciting happened. The manager mentioned that not too long ago, Menards had contacted her asking if she had any pianists to recommend for a paid position at their store. After this meeting, my job developer called Menards to see if we could meet. We went together to meet with the manager and he requested I play three songs of my choice. By the time I was done playing, there was a crowd around me. The hiring manager looked at me and asked, “When can you start?” 

I’ve been doing this job for three years now and it brings me so much joy. I love to entertain people and it’s extra special when I get the chance to interact with the customers. Some of these interactions have turned into paid opportunities. I hand out my business card all the time and have been asked to play at graduations, private parties and events, and I’ve even been a guest speaker on a podcast. 

Kaposia helps me manage these opportunities. My job developer is listed as my agent on my business card, so when a call comes through, he helps negotiate a price. My employment consultant then takes over and helps me prepare for the event. She helps me organize my schedule, sets up my transportation, and sends me reminders as the event grows near. I like to be independent, so she helped me put together a gig checklist so that on the day of an event, I can work on my own without worrying that I’ve forgotten something. In addition to these opportunities, I play the piano at two nursing homes on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. 

My whole life has changed since I walked through Kaposia’s doors. I now have a full schedule of work doing the very thing that I love most. Music is in my DNA. The discovery process helped me understand that, and led me to a job where I can use this skill with a sense of pride and purpose.