LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Anna Gilbert, a 29-year-old hospitality associate at Pure Salon in Louisville, was born with Down syndrome and a contagious smile, as her coworkers describe. She joined the team in 2014.

What You Need To Know

  • Anna Gilbert has been working at Pure Salon in Louisville for seven years

  • She recently returned to work after a 14-month break that began at the start of the pandemic 

  • Gilbert mentored students with down syndrome when she was not working 

  • Kentucky is an Employment First State that supports individuals with disabilities obtain employment

She’s just getting back into the routine of work after a 14-month break following mandates that forced the salon to shut its doors last spring.

“I missed all of my coworkers. They are really happy to see me. I'm part of the team,” said Gilbert. 

Gilbert considers the salon team family. 

“It makes me want to cry when she says that. Our team would not be the same without Anna. Wednesdays are special days because we know Anna is going to be here and you cannot know Anna and not just smile from ear to ear when you see her,” said Pure Salon owner Laura Watkins. 

That’s a mutual feeling for the salon customers who were used to Gilbert's presence.  

“They have also gotten very familiar with Anna, and they look forward to seeing her, and I think they formed relationships with her as well, so when she wasn’t here over the pandemic, they would ask about her,” said Watkins. 

Kristen Falcone, a career solutions specialist with Down Syndrome Louisville, is also happy about Gilbert's return to work.

Falcone said for people with disabilities, employment is more than just a job. It boosts independence and confidence. 

“Anna wants to make her own money. Anna wants to make her own financial decisions. Anna is a grown woman with her own dreams, and working is part of that,” said Falcone. 

Falcone helps dozens of people with Down syndrome get jobs in the community. 

Finding positions that fit her clients’ skill sets can sometimes be a challenge.

She said businesses that partner with organizations like Down Syndrome Louisville to create customized employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities make the difference. 

It’s been almost a year since Kentucky recommitted to being an Employment First State and committed to supporting individuals with disabilities obtain competitive and integrated employment in the community. 

The state first joined in 2018, and an executive order signed by Gov. Andy Beshear last year continues the pledge. 

“Pure has been a wonderful place for Anna. They have been accommodating for any challenges that she may have, anything that we need to train her on specifically,” said Falcone. 

While her part-time job was on hold, Gilbert helped her mom at home, spent time with family and mentored full time. 

“I’m a role model for people like me. I'm a mentor for them if they need some help,” says Gilbert. 

While she enjoys mentoring local high schoolers with Down syndrome, she still missed working at the shop. 

Though it looks a little different than it did when she left last spring, Gilbert is happy to be cleaning shelves, doing laundry, watering plants and spreading joy around the salon again.

“My favorite part is meeting customers. I'm glad I'm back,” said Gilbert. 

Pure Salon was named Down Syndrome Louisville’s Employer of the Year for valuing the contributions of Anna as an employee in 2016.