Working the checkout line at Stauffers of Kissel Hill in Lititz, Jason Hines keeps up a steady stream of chatter with every customer who comes through his line.
For some, he takes the numbers from their bill and references a date in history (he’s a history buff).
“You learn a lot of history here,” one woman told him.
For others, he’ll share something about himself.
“This is the third anniversary of my becoming a standup comic,” he told another woman.
For every customer, he found some way to add a little extra bit of service.
“You saved 299 pennies today,” he said to one couple. “Have a great day.”
He’s 18 years old, a high school graduate working and taking classes at the Lancaster campus of Harrisburg Area Community College.
The Jason the folks at Stauffers know now is a long way from the Jason who came to Schreiber at age 3. Even before starting at Schreiber, Jason had been diagnosed with autism and was receiving Early Intervention services. Jason’s specific diagnosis, said his mom Jackie, was PDD-NOS: Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.
“I had some problems talking and had some motor delays,” Jason said.
Jackie is a special instructor at Schreiber. She knows her way around education and kids with autism and other learning disabilities. Even for her, choices could be hard. When Jason was 5 and it was time to decide whether or not to start school, Jackie was torn.
“I struggled whether to keep him in early intervention or have him start kindergarten,” she said. “Cognitively, he was ready. But his expressive language with that of a 2 year old. Ultimately we decided to send him to kindergarten, and we had plenty of support services in place.”
Initially at Schreiber, he received all threee services and special instruction from Jay Graver in the S.T.A.R.S. Preschool. Eventually, he concentrated on occupational therapy, attending Schreiber until he was 8 to work on his sensory integration, fine motor skills and attention and focus.
By middle school, he had made a lot of progress, but he still worried that he wasn’t always speaking correctly.
“Once ninth grade hit, kids stopped being jerks, and I started making more friends,” Jason said.
In high school, he flourished. He was involved in an anti-bullying program, he did plays, he sang in the choir. He joined the Unite Club, Warwick High School’s Mini-THON in support of the Four Diamonds Fund.
“I raised the most money, which made me King of Mini-THON,” Jason said.
All of his success helped him become senior class vice president and gain enough confidence to start trying to become a performer. He has dabbled in stand up comedy, telling jokes and doing impressions. He made news this month when Lancaster Online noticed that his witty patter with customers included an impression of Philadelphia Eagles play-by-play announcer Merrill Reese.
That’s how he is every day on the job at Stauffers, always a willing performer, especially for little kids. He will talk like Mickey Mouse or do voices from “Monsters Inc.” or “Frozen.” He will ask them about their favorite characters. Kids will ask moms to go to Jason’s line when they check out.
Toni Lutz, a shift supervisor for the cashiers at the Lititz store, said she knew Jason before he even started working at Stauffers. He and her daughter Madeline went to school together at Warwick.
“He’s naturally that way,” Toni said. “He’s nicer than most people. He’s just kind. It’s refreshing.”
“We Delight Shoppers” is a lyric in the Stauffers jingle, and Jason said he sang that at the end of his job interview back in 2015.
“It helped me get the job,” he said. “My charm wins people over.”
At HACC, he’s taking classes with an eye on becoming a teacher, probably an elementary school teacher. Which means he would be working with little ones on their writing and speaking and making sure they were paying attention.
And that feels just about right.