The famous quote from Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it” applies to Tim Harris. Born in 1986 with Down syndrome, Tim has lived a life defined by exceeding expectations
Today he owns Tim’s Place, a popular restaurant in Albuquerque, N.M., where he serves hugs and a hopeful message. “People with disabilities can do anything they set their minds to.”
Tim has been featured in People Magazine and on CBS’s On the Road with Tim Hartman. CNN Headline News picked up a story about Tim from KRQE New Mexico Works. He has also been featured on the KOAT Evening News and in Albuquerque The Magazine. His motto is “I’m More like you than different.”
Here’s a story about Tim and how he influences others, written by his brother Tommy.
Disability is a funny word
My older brother Tim has Down syndrome. We come from a family of four boys. Dan, Tim, Tommy and John, in that order, all two years apart in age. All families that have a child with a disability have a fascinating story to tell, some of these start heavy-heartedly, but most often, they turn out absolutely wonderful. I want to tell you the story from a voice not often heard, the voice of a sibling.
From the outside looking in, some might think that because of Tim, our lives are not “normal.” I couldn’t begin to say how wrong they would be.
Being two years younger than Tim, I don’t remember too much from the early years, he was just my brother, no different from the others. We were all very close, and we did all the things brothers do: built forts, played video games and ran around in the backyard all day wrestling and wreaking havoc.
Only when I started going to school did I notice that Tim was any different. My parents, like most others at that time, fought fiercely and moved a mountain to get him the education he deserved.
He was in different classrooms than I was though, and people called him names just because they didn’t understand; just one silly thing that kids do to others who are outside the “circle.”
That wouldn’t faze Tim though. By middle school, his infectious happiness started gaining him popularity, and people began to look past his shell that was different than theirs. When he got to high school, he was already well known, but after his Special Olympics team was introduced at the school’s sports assembly, he was famous. He was so famous that in his senior year he was voted homecoming king, and by a staggering margin of votes I might add.
I wasn’t ever in Tim’s shadow, but I was known through school as “Tim’s brother.” My friends would tell me how they saw Tim between classes, and maybe Tim told them they were his best friend, or that he gave them a piggy-back ride to their class, or some other way he made their day better. I later found that it wasn’t just my friends that had these experiences though, it was everyone.
Tim, like all people with Down syndrome, lives with laggard motor skills and cognitive processing. That certainly makes a lot of things difficult, but with that package also comes a rare set of gifts. One of Tim’s most marvelous gifts is a complete lack of prejudice. Most of us learn it at a very young age, and sometimes with a strong mind, it can be suppressed, but in Tim it simply doesn’t exist.
Because of his gifts, he was friends with everyone at school. The jocks, the nerds, the skaters, the Goths… name any group, they all called him friend. He went from being “out” of our proverbial circle to “in.” He did come across the occasional bully, people that claimed to be his friend but had malicious intentions, but they were vastly outnumbered by friends and the bullies never got the best of him. At school, I was terrified to meet people, I didn’t want anyone else to think I wasn’t cool, a self-consciousness that quickly faded from being in close proximity to Tim.
After high school, while I was back home slowly figuring myself out, Tim went off to college. He had worked as a host in a restaurant in Albuquerque where we live, and he discovered his passion for people and the restaurant business. That’s where the idea of “Tim’s Place” sprouted, a restaurant that he would open where he would not only serve food, but give out free hugs as well. He went to college in Roswell, N.M., for four years and took many different programs including food service and Office Skills, as well as classes to help him manage his life. Things like paying the bills, practicing good hygiene, or managing a budget can be hard for someone like Tim, but with the help of these programs, he made notable progress in that regard.
I remember thinking to myself how insane the idea was of Tim owning a restaurant, but as time went on and Tim came home from college, the idea went from a dream to reality, and my doubts were dissolved. In October of 2010, doors opened at a new restaurant in Albuquerque.
“Tim’s Place – Breakfast, Lunch, and Hugs,” open seven days a week serving traditional New Mexican food as well as other standard breakfast and lunch items.
One not so usual thing on the menu though, is a free “Tim Hug.” A hug is one of the most sincerest gestures of affection, and Tim understands that better than anyone I know. He knows how to connect with people and make them feel truly welcome and appreciated, even if they aren’t comfortable with a hug.
Tim really likes to give hugs, and when the restaurant first opened, we were worried that he would push people past their comfort zone. Our worries were pointless though, Tim has an acute awareness for that kind of thing and perfectly respects their boundaries.
His role in the restaurant doesn’t exactly include cooking, serving, or even managing, but rather he creates an environment that no other restaurant has. We call it “The World’s Friendliest Restaurant,” and Tim uses his gifts to make it just that. His staff is getting ever better at putting the prejudices aside and taking people for what they really are, and engaging them with that mindset, Tim’s mindset. The result is phenomenal, it’s something that I wish everyone could see with their own eyes.
Looking to the future, my hope is that Tim’s Place will provide him self-sustainability for the rest of his life. One day, hopefully many years from now, my parents won’t be in the picture. I would do anything it takes to help him with whatever he needs when that time comes, but because of his restaurant, I just don’t think he’ll be needing my help.