Posted on February 20, 2023
Ever since its doors opened 17 years ago, Panera Bread on Clifton Boulevard in Westminster, Maryland, has seen its fair share of managers and staff come and go, something not unusual in the restaurant and hospitality industry where turnover is typically high. On average, a Panera employee stays with the company for a little more than three years, but one exception stands out – Stephanie Carpegna.
A much loved and respected full-time member of the Westminster Panera team from day one of the restaurant’s opening in November of 2005, Stephanie has established herself as an exemplary employee, who early on rose through the ranks to become one of the restaurant’s go-to Certified Trainers.
“She doesn’t like to talk about herself, but Stephanie’s story alone from where she started and how she got to where she is today, was amazing to watch,” said Tonya Stonesifer, Penn-Mar West Job Developer. “I had the privilege to job coach her for the position, and to see her take ownership of her job and grow.”
Stephanie, 39, was born with Fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition which causes mild to severe intellectual disabilities. It affects both males and females, but females usually have milder symptoms.
When Stephanie’s younger brother Frank, 37, was born, he too was diagnosed with Fragile X. By the time he was two, both siblings began receiving supports from Change, Inc., in Westminster (Change became part of the Penn-Mar family in 2019).
Karen Koenigsberg, Stephanie’s mom, said that all in all she and her family have been connected to Penn-Mar for the past 35 years. Four years ago, she took on a position at the nonprofit as a Family Support Manager and Peer Mentor, a job that came easily to her given her long-time advocacy for services and supports for her children and other families.
After Stephanie graduated from North Carroll High School in 2002, she entered the workforce and held two consecutive jobs before landing at Panera, where her first role was dining room attendant, clearing and wiping down tables, and making sure everything was in order.
While job coaching, Tonya noted that Stephanie had a hard time making eye contact with guests (two common traits of Fragile X are avoidance of eye contact and difficulties in social situations), so she recommended to Stephanie that she pick out an object, a window, plant, anything that was within the area of a person’s face and focus on that. As Tonya pointed out, “It looks like you’re looking directly at the person.”
“It took her a little bit of time, but slowly she began interacting more and more with the regular customers, and mastering her job as she went along,” said Tonya.
After only about two months, Stephanie began training new hires in the dining room, and not long after that was moved to the kitchen, where she began training in food prep. From there and over the course of two years, she moved on to cashier, and then barista, making specialty drinks. Her last promotion came when she was sent to a Panera Training Center to become a Certified Trainer.
“Stephanie just flourished socially,” Tonya said. “Once she was comfortable in her surroundings, she blossomed. Everything she’s accomplished over the years, has been all her and the natural supports she’s had at Panera. They’re a great company to work for.”
“I’ve watched such major growth in her since having this job,” said Karen. “She gives it 110 percent. It’s been phenomenal for her. God help me if they ever close – it would decimate her. She loves the job and has made some awesome friendships that she continues to have now even after they’ve left Panera.”
When Stephanie isn’t putting in 40 to 45 hours of work in a week (she often picks up extra shifts), she said she enjoys hanging out with friends, reading mystery and adventure novels, and going on cruises. Their last cruise was before COVID, and come November, she, along with her family and a group of 20, will be cruising to the Bahamas. The trip will be an occasion to celebrate her 40th birthday, which is in September.
Sadly, Stephanie’s dad Frank isn’t around to see his daughter turn 40. He passed away in 2020. To honor him she got the first of her two tattoos.
“It’s in memory of my dad, who loved fishing,” said Stephanie. “It’s a fishing rod and line in the shape of a heart, and in the center is ‘Dad,’ the year he was born and the year he passed.”
Her second tattoo is of Tinkerbell and the words, written in fairy dust, “Wish, Dream, and Believe.” Inspiring words that you can say have guided her on her journey of growth towards independence and employment success.