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Lompoc city staff help autistic high school graduate experience his dream job as a sanitation worker

Michael approves experience
City of Lompoc
Michael gives a thumbs up to show how much he's enjoying himself.
Michael in Truck
City of Lompoc
Michael sitting inside the garbage truck.
Michael Tours Truck
City of Lompoc
City staff gave Michael a tour of the refuse truck.
Michael and Truck
City of Lompoc

LOMPOC, Calif. - Lompoc city staff worked together to help one local high school graduate get a taste of his dream job: sanitation worker.

Michael Mendek has autism and recently graduated from Lompoc High School.

The City of Lompoc said Michael has always been fascinated by refuse trucks, or garbage trucks, and waits outside his house almost every day to watch his trash get taken away.

Treasury/Utility Billing Supervisor Brandy Flint learned about Michael's fascination from a social media forum dedicated to “adopting” local high school seniors. Flint decided to get in contact with other city staff to fulfill Michael's wish to ride inside a refuse truck.

When Monday arrived, city solid waste staff arrived outside Michael's home in a refuse truck. The staff brought gifts for Michael along with them including a city sanitation logo T-shirt.

During the visit, Michael was allowed to climb inside the refuse truck at the city's sanitation yard and received a private tour of the sanitation facilities.

The City said that while Michael's smile was hidden by a mask, he gave lots of thumbs-up gestures to show his approval.

Michael Mendek’s mom, Cara Mendek, said her son has worn the gifted T-shirt every day since he received it. “He was amazed. He’s been talking about it forever, he’s just really happy,” she said. “I really am thankful for the city, and Brandy and everybody that made that happen for him,” Cara added.

City of Lompoc Senior Sanitation Worker Reno Pantoja is familiar with Michael, as he is the regular driver on the route that visits Michael’s house. “He hears the truck and waves and asks me to honk the horn,” Pantoja said.

Pantoja said he is happy to hear that Michael finally had a chance to see the refuse trucks up close and personal in a safe way.

Pantoja has worked with the City of Lompoc for more than 20 years, and loves when kids come out to greet him. He has watched some regular visitors grow up.

Pantoja’s now-teenage son was one of the many kids who loved garbage trucks, and Pantoja recalled giving his son a custom-made shirt that resembled his work uniform when he was only three years old. “I love to see the kids,” Pantoja said.

Flint also expressed gratitude for how the city and solid waste department helped some of Michael's dreams come true. “I’m fortunate to have amazing coworkers, and it was a group effort all the way around. I’m so glad that the city did this for him, and I think it’s awesome. It warms my heart knowing how happy it made him.”

Article Topic Follows: Community

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Jessica Brest

Jessica Brest is a digital journalist and assignment editor for NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Jessica, click here.


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