Local News

'Huge impact:' NC General Assembly intern with Down syndrome succeeds, inspires

Posted June 29, 2018 7:44 p.m. EDT
Updated June 29, 2018 8:06 p.m. EDT

— Legislative interns are integral part of how the General Assembly functions, including one intern who brings joy to many during the often stressful session.

While walking around the Legislative Building, Matthew Schwab never meets a stranger.

The 20-year-old from Holly Springs is an intern for Rep. John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg.

“Matthew’s a big hit. People like to see Matthew around the building,” Bradford said. “He brings a lot of smiles to this place.”

Schwab has Down syndrome, but he doesn’t let his differences get in the way of his goals.

“When I first got into politics with this internship program, I felt in awe,” Schwab said.

In order to work as an intern, Schwab enrolled at Wake Technical Community College through the ABE TOPS program.

“Matthew is always within 20 feet of me, and he’s right here whenever I need him,” Bradford said.

As part of the job, he - Schwab prepares letters, sits in on committee meetings, delivers mail and makes phone calls to constituents.

“I’ve always felt that individuals with Down syndrome are pure happy, and they’re capable,” Bradford said. "This is not charity. He's here working, he's working hard."

Schwab is a paid state employee and works 12 hours a week during this session.

Bradford has advocated specifically for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities during his four years in the General Assembly.

“It’s important to me that we’re giving everyone an opportunity, and that’s really what we’re doing, and we’re not just talking, we’re doing.” Bradford said. "You have to lead by example, and we're going to advocate to private employers to hire people with (disabilities).

He has sponsored bills and persuaded his colleagues to appropriate funding, and all three of his interns have Down syndrome.

“There is no doubt about that, this has nothing do with partisan politics. It’s about doing the right thing,” Bradford said."I feel like I've done a lot of great legislative work, but I don't think there's anything great that I've done than this, (being) really involved in the Down syndrome community."

Schwab also has a part-time job at Chick-Fil-A in Holly Springs but wanted to intern be a more productive citizen. He also volunteers at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and is a member on the youth advisory board of Gigi's Playhouse.

“Only knowing John for a year and doing this is a huge impact on my life,” Schwab said.

He wants people to know those with Down syndrome and other intellectual or developmental disabilities can be just as loyal and passionate about their dreams and interests.

“I just want to say that everyone can be a part of society,” he said.

Schwab said that, while he has completed his internship with Bradford, he isn’t done with politics and hopes to run for office in the future.

Bradford already has two candidates to be his intern for next session, should he win re-election in November.