By Polly Keary, Editor
“Welcome to Galaxy Theatre, where all your dreams come true.”
That’s Mike Hoey’s newest greeting for movie-goers as they hand him their tickets on their way into theaters on Thursday afternoons.
Hoey means what he says; for the friendly disabled man, Galaxy Theatre is a place where many of his dreams have come true.
Before he came to work there, he had only been able to dream of working in a movie theater where he could see lots of movies, make lots of friends, progress on toward his ultimate dream of being a sous chef, and most of all, do well at a job of his own.
Hoey, 29, began life with a dream of being a chef, because he loved his mother’s cooking. But when he was a child, he had a series of very serious setbacks.
At 13, he was struck in the crosswalk by a car while riding a bicycle. The resulting injury nearly took his life, and left him with permanent brain damage. He is wheelchair-bound and has very limited use of his left arm. While articulate and educated, he also struggles with speech and short-term memory.
According to family friend Adrian Hulbert, whose son was Hoey’s roommate at Children’s Hospital during his recovery, Hoey continued to go through hard times.
When he was still a young teen, his beloved mother died.
His living situation in the Burien area became increasingly difficult, until finally he was moved into the state system.
In recent years, his situation has improved a lot. He lives in Everett, and said that he was able to study cooking at Highline Community College.
But for a long time he wasn’t able to find a job.
Then, through the Vocational Rehabilitation Department in Everett, he made a connection with CARES of Washington, a Monroe non-profit based in the Fryelands that helps disabled people like Hoey find and keep employment.
“We did what we call a community-based assessment to see if Mike could hold down a job,” said Diana Hackett, who is Hoey’s job coach.
First, Hoey served for two months as a volunteer in a Lynnwood thrift store that benefits battered women.
That went very well; Hoey remembers his time there very fondly, and Hackett, who accompanies him to work every day and helps him perform his duties, said that she found Hoey to be a great employment candidate.
“He is very motivated, he’s got a good work ethic, an awesome personality and outlook on life, and he just wants to help, to contribute, so we started looking for entry-level jobs,” she said.
Hoey loves movies and hoped to find a theater at which to work. But a lead at Alderwood in Lynnwood came to nothing.
Hackett started working in ever-widening circles out from Hoey’s Everett home, but found nothing.
She finally decided to try Monroe’s Galaxy Theatre. That was as far from Hoey’s home as seemed practical; if Galaxy didn’t work out, Hoey would have to let go of his dream of working in a movie theater.
To Hackett’s surprise, when she reached manager Shannon Boyovich, she learned that not only was Galaxy open to the idea of having a disabled employee, the theater had been employing disabled workers for a long time.
“I have a real passion for it,” said Boyovich. “I have an uncle with Down’s Syndrome, and the battle he went through was ridiculous. I had disabled people asking about employment, and it just started to happen.”
Some of those relationships have been long-lasting; Steven is a disabled employee who has worked at Galaxy for 12 years now.
Ryan Fox, a renowned musician from Sultan with autism, has also worked at Galaxy for quite a while.
“He has difficulty speaking quickly and receiving quick speech, so he sent a letter saying he just wanted to be here. I called him in for an interview,” said Boyovich. “He works every Friday night for four or five hours. He’s great.”
Then the theater started working with a transitional program at Monroe High School, and was able to employ more disabled young people.
“They just want to be functioning people,” said Boyovich, who added that the company supports her hiring practices completely, and that it costs the company nothing, as their differently-abled employees all do valuable work.
Hoey applied for the job, and now he works two hours a week, tearing tickets and directing people to the correct theater, with Hackett helping him do the things that he can’t, such as tasks that require the use of two hands.
Hoey is getting therapy on his left hand, and Hackett’s goal is that he eventually be able to his job without any assistance.
“I love it,” said the affable and mannerly Hoey. “The people are nice. You get to see all the different people who come in. I take their tickets and rip them, and I treat everyone with kindness.”
He makes a little spending money, but that’s not the part he likes best, he said. He loves getting to watch movies, a perk of the job, and he also enjoys the friendships he has made.
He also got his food handler’s permit in order to work there, which he sees as a step toward his dream of working in food service.
But even if he gets a job in restaurant work, he will still work at Galaxy, he said.
“I will work here as long as they want me to,” he said. “As long as I’m needed here, I will work here.”