Man with cerebral palsy dreamed of being a treasurer hunter, and now he's a picker
The Daily Nonpareil - 2/4/2018
Sitting in a back room at the Council Bluffs Goodwill store, Noah Wegener flips over a gray Furby, looking for a serial number.
The toy starts flapping its ears and talking in its high-pitched gibberish.
For a few moments, the only sound in the room is the Furby's "he-he-he-he-he" mixed with Wegener's own laughter.
But once the Furby quiets down, it's back to work. Wegener rolls his wheelchair up to the computer and resumes making notes on the toy that, as he quickly finds out, is older than he is.
Wegener, 20, is the Council Bluffs store's resident "picker" - a term made more familiar by History Channel's "American Pickers," a TV series that Wegener and his mother, Angela Dedrickson, have watched for years.
The stars, Iowa natives Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, travel the country looking for old barns and outbuildings to crawl around in, searching for items that are, more often than not, old, dirty and valuable.
Wegener and Dedrickson always talked about how fun it would be to hunt for treasures like the guys on the show, maybe even start a little business in Council Bluffs to sell what they find.
But scouring a barn full of antiques didn't seem too feasible with Wegener in a wheelchair.
So this fall Wegener, who has cerebral palsy, had a different idea, one he posed to his advisers at Goodwill's Work Experience.
The program gives high school special education students the chance to earn minimum wage while gaining skills by working a variety of jobs at Goodwill stores.
The program is funded by area school districts that refer the students, and Goodwill's retail operations and stores pay the participants' wages.
Wegener already had been in the program for two years, and had already learned the clerical and customer service skills. His team was discussing what else he could gain from another year.
That's when Wegener spoke up: "I have this dream of being a picker. How can the program help me do that?"
Wegener was born 14 weeks premature after Dedrickson suffered life-threatening pregnancy complications and was airlifted to Methodist Hospital for an early delivery. A lack of oxygen caused a brain injury in Dedrickson, and Wegener was born with cerebral palsy. Doctors said then that he was a quadriplegic, meaning he had partial paralysis in all four limbs.
Two decades later, after countless physical, occupational and speech therapy appointments and 19 surgeries, Wegener can move confidently with the help of a walker. During his weekday shifts at Goodwill, he uses his manual wheelchair so he can zip through the aisles, organizing items and keeping his eye out for good finds.
His picks, along with items the staff sets aside for him to research, are advertised on the store's social media accounts or listed on Shop Goodwill, an online marketplace that auctions off some unique or more valuable items donated to the thrift stores.
Wegener researches the items and decides on a price range. He has helped price everything from a 1940s record player (with a Roy Rogers record still inside) to an original Game Boy. He has learned that a set of Waterford crystal toasting flutes actually are pretty pricey, and that even quilting frames have model numbers. And who would have thought that some collectors still are willing to pay top dollar for certain Cabbage Patch dolls?
But most important, said Sam Comfort, the Work Experience program coordinator, Wegener has learned that he can advocate for himself and chase his dream.
Since starting the work this fall, Comfort said he has watched Wegener's confidence and knowledge grow.
"We are really proud of him. He's worked really hard," Comfort said. "What he's achieved is really all his doing."
Wegener's proud, too, and quick to say he probably is the store's "top dog."
After he graduates from the program in June, Wegener hopes he can take that title to his own business - maybe an antiques store he could run with his mom.
"I'd love that," Dedrickson said. "It's always been a little dream. But I just want to see Noah do whatever he wants to do. It's been amazing to see him come so far."