The Nation's Premier Autism and Disabilities Conference

November 16-18 | Columbus, OH

The Nation's Premier Autism and Disabilities Conference

November 16-18

Columbus, Ohio

Tim Harris Keynote


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Video Transcript:

Our mission of supporting families promoting community involvement and encouraging a lifetime of opportunities for people with Down syndrome couldn't align any better with the man I'm about to introduce. His life has been defined by exceeding expectations and inspiring those around him. In his teen years, he dreamed of owning his own restaurant.

After graduating from Eastern New Mexico University in 2008, he gained work experience that supported his goals and vision. And in 2010, his dream of owning a restaurant came to fruition when Tim's Place opened for business. Most recently, has pushed himself beyond being a business owner and inspirational speaker. In August of 2014, he started his own nonprofit, Tim's Big Heart Foundation that aims to inspire people all over the world to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives via entrepreneurship and inclusion in their communities.

His determination is truly inspiring. And I hear his hugs are legendary. A man who shares my belief that anyone with the right support can achieve their dreams. I am happy to introduce to you Tim Harris.

[APPLAUSE]

I wake up at about 5:30, get in the shower, and do my morning routine and go around 7:00 to come to work. I am so excited to go to work, so I do a dance-off in the parking lot. It's a dance of magic. We serve breakfast, lunch, and hugs. The hugs are the best part. I am Tim Harris and this is my place. Oh yeah.

Hi guys. Welcome to our place. How are you doing today? The hugs are the best part, buddy. I love you.

Have you been here before?

No, I've never been here before.

Well, I'm Tim. I'm the owner. Tim's Place is the special place to be at, because it's run and operated by me. You guys are doing a great job back there. I love you guys. You guys are the best cooks ever. Since I was a kid. I wanted to own a restaurant. And I asked my dad to help me out. And I'm very glad I did. Thank you, Dad. I love you so much.

I love you too, buddy. I'm very proud of you.

When he was about 14 years old, he told us that someday he was going to own a restaurant. After we all gulped and gasped, we began to take him seriously. And the result is history in the making. They supported me so I can live out my dreams.

I'm amazingly proud of my brother. Just what he's accomplished in his lifetime, people can only dream.

I love you, Mom.

I love you too, honey.

As far as we know, we have not yet found another person with Down Syndrome in this country that owns their own restaurants. We hope that other people will, though.

My favorite part of all is the people coming through the front door.

How are you doing today?

Good, how are you?

Sometimes, customers get sad. I give them a hug and then they feel a lot better.

Oh, thank you, Tim.

hugs are way more important than the food. The food is food, so. Ha ha.

I double hug.

Yup, double hug.

[INAUDIBLE]. I am a lean, mean hugging machine. Oh yeah.

So let me get this straight. So you're a restaurateur and--

A Special Olympic athlete--

A Special Olympic athlete, and you've won a good medal?

I've won more medals than Michael Phelps. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

I do not let my disability crush the dreams. With people who have disabilities, they can get anything they set their minds to. They're special. We are a gift to the world.

[MUSIC - PHARRELL WILLIAMS, "HAPPY"]

Oh yeah!

Yeah.

[AUDIENCE CHEERS]

Hello, Ohio!

[AUDIENCE CHEERS]

I can't hear you. Hello, Ohio.

[AUDIENCE CHEERS]

That's more like it. My name is Tim Harris. I am 29 years old. And I'm living the life of my dreams. Oh yeah.

[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE AND CHEERS]

When I say, oh yeah, you say, oh yeah.

[LAUGHTER]

Let's try it all together. Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

That's better. Don't leave me hanging, OK? Especially to my friend, Jill, too. I was born in January of 1986. A few hours after I was born, a doctor told my parents that I had Down Syndrome. My parents were very scared that day. A lot of people told that they were very, very sorry.

I guess none of them knew then just how totally awesome I would turn out to be. Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

I love going to school. I always try to meet people and make friends. Most people would tell you I was very social.

[LAUGHTER]

I was so excited when I finally got to high school. I did have some problems, though. When I was still a freshman, I had a very bad time. Every day after school, two boys would find me and take my leftover lunch money. I was afraid of them.

One day, my luck changed. After school, when the boys were taking my money, our football team ran on their way out to practice. A couple of guys on the team knew me from elementary school. The whole team stopped. My friends took care of those guys.

[LAUGHTER]

[APPLAUSE]

They dented the lockers with them.

[LAUGHTER]

They told them to never come near me again or they would be in even bigger trouble. I made so many friends in high school. They all loved me back. By the time I was a senior, I was very popular. And I decided to run for homecoming king. I was happy when I won.

[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE AND CHEERS]

It felt so good to be accepted and loved. Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

After a high school, I had a dream to go to college. In the fall of 2004, I moved to Roswell, New Mexico, to attend Eastern New Mexico University. And yes, it is true, there are aliens in Roswell.

[LAUGHTER]

I was very scared the day my parents dropped me off. I never lived away from home before. When it was time for them to leave, I stood on my balcony and waved goodbye. I cried. They told me later that they cried, too.

I went to my room, and I cried in my pillow. My pillow was soaked with tears. A while later, I made a decision. I decided to knock it off and go meet some new people.

[LAUGHTER]

It didn't take long until I had a new group of friends. We called ourselves the Down Syndrome Five.

[LAUGHTER]

College life was very fun for me. I graduated in 2008. I'm a college graduate. Oh yeah!

[APPLAUSE]

Oh yeah!

During college, I had a lot of problems with my weight. When I'm not being careful, I eat too much and spend too much time in front of my television and my computer. Anybody else have that problem here? Anybody? Is it hard? It is hard a little bit.

Every year, I gained more weight. Every year, I got sadder about how I felt. A few years ago, I made the decision to work out regularly and eat healthy. Over the last several years, I lost about 70 pounds.

[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE AND CHEERS]

Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

I am very active. I work out almost every day. I go to the gym with my friend Steve. Check out these guns.

Whoa!

Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

I started competing in Special Olympics when I was 13 years old. My Special Olympics sports are basketball, track and field, poly hockey, and golf. I have way over 50 medals.

Golf is very special to me, because it was the first ever sport for me in Special Olympics. And my dad and I were a team. We won a gold medal in our first ever state competition. Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

This is my dad. I am a very lucky guy, because my dad loves me and always believes in me [SNIFFLES] and has always been there to help me reach for my dreams. He has supported me my whole life. My dad is my superhero. I love him a lot.

[APPLAUSE]

Since I was 13 years old, I had a dream to start my own business. Lots of people thought that we were crazy. Well, they were wrong. I'm here to tell you that dreams do come true. I am the proud owner of Tim's Place.

[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE AND CHEERS]

The world's funniest restaurant. We're open seven days a week, serving breakfast, lunch, and hugs.

[LAUGHTER]

Tim hugs are on my menu, and most important, people order at least one. So far, I've given over 75,000 hugs.

[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE AND CHEERS]

I guess you could say I'm a lean, mean, hugging machine.

[LAUGHTER]

[APPLAUSE]

Want to know how I keep track of all these hugs? This is my clicker, right here. I'm over a hundred hugs, right now. Hope I get more. Let's put a lot on this clicker today, Ohio.

[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE AND CHEERS]

Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

I always been a hugger. When I hug someone, I am letting them know that I accept and love them just the way they are. People all over the world come to my restaurant to meet me and get one of my famous hugs. Even this guy.

[LAUGHTER]

[APPLAUSE]

[VIDEO PLAYBACK]

[APPLAUSE]

And his wife.

[END PLAYBACK]

[LAUGHTER]

[APPLAUSE]

Last year, we started a new non-profit, Tim's Big Heart Foundation. The mission of my foundation to help other people all around the world find the courage to reach for their dreams, just like I did.

So here's my next big dream. I want to deliver a Tim hug to every person on the planet, every person. I can't do this alone. I'm going to need your help. Next year, I'm launching my first ever global hug-a-thon.

Please find Tim's Big Heart Foundation online and sign up to help me. Together, we can change the world.

[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE AND CHEERS]

Thank you for letting me to share my life and my dreams with you. I love you all. Thank you very much. Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

[APPLAUSE]

Ha ha ha.

[APPLAUSE]

Oh yeah.

Pretty awesome, huh?

[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE AND CHEERS]

Well, we know that you probably have plenty of things that you'd like to know from Tim. So we have placed a few microphones in the aisle and have some time for a question and answer. So if you have something that you'd like to ask Tim, you can step into the aisle.

And also on the stage, we will have Zac and Laurie join us. They also are here to help answer questions about his business and the foundation.

Here they are!

[LAUGHTER]

This is my team.

Thank you, Mo, very much for having us here. My name is Zac Perez. I'm the Director of Global Outreach for Tim's Big Heart Foundation. And I'd like to introduce Laurie Fierro. And this is Tim's personal manager and life coach. So we're open for questions. So if anybody would like to come up and address us, we'd be happy to answer what we can.

[INAUDIBLE]

I don't have a question, but I just wanted to say that New Mexico loves you, Tim.

Oh yeah.

Well, thank you very much.

You've been a great role model for children and families in our state. And I am excited for what you can do around the world.

Thank you very much.

[APPLAUSE]

Hi Tim. I have a question. Can I have a hug?

Oh yeah, in a minute. Or I can come now.

[LAUGHTER]

And just to let you folks know, we'll actually be having a meet and greet with Tim out in the lobby afterwards. So you can come and get your Tim hug [INAUDIBLE].

I love you.

[APPLAUSE]

Tim. Hello.

Hi. Given the bullying experiences that you had in high school, do you do any bullying outreach for kids or teens who are also going through that? Because you've obviously overcome so much, and I think your message would be really helpful for some people who are struggling in high school or middle school or any school.

[INAUDIBLE]

What would I say to people?

Yes. [INAUDIBLE]

Um, don't know.

I can answer that one, please. Currently, the anti-bullying doesn't make up a part of our program. Most of the time, the kids and people and families who come to the restaurant, Tim speaks to the children and the families directly on how to intervene. That seems to work best on a one-on-one. We actually have not entered into an anti-bullying campaign, or anything like that, on the road.

I can answer that, too. I can answer that. We are getting rid of a nasty word. And it's hurtful to other people with disabilities. It's the R word.

Yes.

[APPLAUSE]

And we're trying to get-- we want your help to help us to spread the word to end the word. And use that word as respect.

[APPLAUSE]

Tim, congratulations on your college degree and experience. Can you tell us, what did you study in college, and what type of accommodations did you receive?

I studied food service, restaurant skill, restaurant hosting, and office skills.

[APPLAUSE]

And to further answer your question, Eastern New Mexico University is a collegiate-level hospitality program for adults with intellectual disabilities. Each of them who have a IEP evaluation. And they pair them with specific needs and specific goals at the program. It's the only adult-level disability program at a college level in the state of New Mexico.

Tim, hello. Look to your right. I'm vertically challenged. First of all, I just want to say that you made me laugh. You made me cry. Oh see, I am so-- Hello. Come here.

Right there.

If you hug me, you could see me.

Now I see you. Yeah, I see you right there. Now I see you. Ha ha.

I want to tell you, you made me laugh. You made me cry. Mostly, you made me hope for the generation that you're influencing. When you went to college and you had that reaction of waving from your balcony and crying, my daughter also was able to go to college and had that reaction, too, when we had to leave. We just left. And I panicked, and said, let's go back. This is so stupid. But we left here there. But did you have people that you already knew at the school, who you could go to when you were so scared and sad?

I really was really afraid to go out, outside of my dorm at first.

What she's asking you is, was there anybody at the school that was there for you to go to if you needed help.

If I needed help, I had some help from the staff. I have a personal friend that has been there for me. His name is Patrick [? Burris. ?] He's been like a college dad for me. It was really cool.

I think that's wonderful. Congratulations, and we love you.

I love you, too.

Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

Well, you may have noticed that I seemed to forget to thank people when I got my award. In fact, I chose that, because I didn't want to thank everyone that helped me without thanking you, as well, for the amazing presentation that you have given. And I wanted to say something.

Your restaurant and her story will be a breath of fresh air to so many people with disabilities, who like hugs, just like you, but have been misunderstood in so many communities for doing so. So thank you for using that restaurant to teach awareness for so many people who have been misunderstood. And thank you. And thank OCALI for helping us all lead the way.

Oh yeah.

[APPLAUSE]

Should I tell them?

[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE AND CHEERS]

No, we'll wait. Hold on. You've got someone, right there, big guy.

Hi Tim. I know that I want to visit New Mexico, at some point. I want to come to Tim's Place. Is there any option, though, that you want to franchise and maybe open up more restaurants?

Now, I have to tell everybody. It's a good time to tell all you that we are closing Tim's Place next month. But we are relocating Tim's Place to Denver, Colorado.

[AUDIENCE APPLAUSE AND CHEERS]

Do you know why? Because this year, I have a new girlfriend.

[AUDIENCE MAKES SOUNDS OF AWE]

And her name is Tiffani. And I love her. And she's the reason why I am moving. And I'm bringing Zac with me.

[LAUGHTER]

Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

So on December 20th of this year, we'll be closing Tim's Place. And we will be moving Tim's Place to Denver, Colorado. Over a year ago, Tim had the opportunity to meet Tiffani at the National Down Syndrome Congress. And they just hit it right off. So after about a year of visiting and dating, they decided that they're going to start their life together. And they chose Denver as the place to do that.

So because of that and the restaurant-- there's only one Tim currently--

[LAUGHTER]

because of that, we thought we'd migrate to Denver. And it's a little easier on travel for us, too. So all in all, it's a really exciting development. And we're due to open in Q4 of 2016. So check the website. And of course, come and visit us. We'd appreciate it.

[APPLAUSE]

I want you to know that the hugs will not disappear. The hugs will still be with me. Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

You've got some more people over there, big guy.

Hi. How did you manage to get so popular, that you were able to hug the president?

Actually, I got invited by Special Olympics, by Tim Shriver himself. He invited me with two other people. I brought my parents. And I got to eat dinner with the president in the White House.

Wow, you really managed to make many peaks with your life, and I'm very happy to hear that.

Yeah, I was afraid that if the Secret Service would attack me, but did not.

[LAUGHTER]

And for anybody who doesn't know, Tim Shriver's the head of Special Olympics International. And that's who invited Tim to the White House. Well, does anybody else have any questions, folks? I knew we had one more. There we go.

I was just wondering, I work with 18- to 22-year-olds who are trying to transition into work. And they get very disappointed. They get out in the workforce, and they might get fired from a job. What would you tell someone who had been fired from a job and was disappointed in looking for how to start again?

Oh, I want them to dream big, be inspired, so they can be who they are.

Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

Do you want to know how I met Michelle Obama? I was one of the MCs. I got invited to the Special Olympics World Games this year. And I got to introduce Michelle Obama. And she cleared the games open with two hugs.

[LAUGHTER]

Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

[APPLAUSE]

Hi Tim. I'm a career change person, midlife through. And I'm at the middle school this year, where hugs are not so cool. And I have a hugger who could about knock me over sometimes with his hugs. And I am reconsidering that the hugs are not so bad. Thank you.

The hugs are awesome. Oh yeah.

[APPLAUSE]

Hi Tim.

Where are you?

I'm right here. I'm a little bit taller, no offense.

I can see you, right. I can see you. I can see you now.

Hi. I was hoping that you could talk a little bit more about your foundation and what you're doing with that.

It's an outreach. It's an outreach. We want to help people with disabilities to be inspired so they can have their own dream job. And we want to help pursue that. With help of my friend, Laurie, anything is possible.

[APPLAUSE]

So I'll expand a little bit about the global outreach. And what we've tried to do is-- Tim's motivation, not only transcends typical, but also-- I'm sorry, nontypical, but it really transcends with typical people. Because our whole goal is to, well, I guess from our standpoint, a lot of people-- we're either have direct contact or fringe contact with somebody who has a disability.

I have two sons with autism. And obviously, and I work with Tim. So we're in a highly enriched environment with people with intellectual disabilities. Sadly though, the majority of people do not have a really-- they don't have any experience with people with disabilities.

So Tim speaks to all kinds of different people. And you would think that-- I always find the most impactful thing is when people meet Tim for the first time, they're like, wow, you know what? I've never met anybody with a disability. How cool is this guy.

And a lot of times, business owners will be, well, I don't understand why I don't have anybody with disabilities working for me. And that's an opportunity. So every time we go and speak, it's an opportunity for empowerment for people with disabilities to achieve their dreams; but also, for people who are typical to meet somebody with a disability and realize what's possible out there for our kids.

A lot of times, parents-- as a parent, we've all been told that our kids will only do so much. Then I meet this guy, and, well, frankly, they can do a lot more than that. And that's our goal, is to go out there and go out and speak to people directly in the public and make them aware of what people with disabilities are capable of. And to put it in perspective, Tim's been to, oh, five different countries so far. We're at 31 speaking events this year. And we just got back from Brazil. And we do--

Woo-hoo!

We do a lot of the TV. And we're cued up to do another 25 events next year, 20 domestic, 5 international. So please look out. Take the hug-a-thon seriously. It's a big deal. We'd love for you guys to be involved. Cue to the website, and sign up. And we'll send some information out to you.

And thank you for being here today. We really appreciate it.

Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

[APPLAUSE]

[MUSIC - PHARRELL WILLIAMS, "HAPPY"]

Thank you very much, Ohio.

[MUSIC - PHARRELL WILLIAMS, "HAPPY"] 

Thursday, November 19, 2015 | 9:45-11:15 am | Keynote Stage

The famous quote from Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it” has been the driving force behind the life of Tim Harris. Born in 1986 with Down syndrome, Tim’s life has been defined by exceeding expectations and inspiring those around him. In his teen years, Tim began to dream of owning his own restaurant. He began working in local restaurants, including Red Robin, where the management had tangible proof that revenue went up during Tim’s shifts. In the fall of 2004, Tim moved to Roswell, New Mexico to attend Eastern New Mexico University. Tim lived in a college dorm and graduated in 2008 with certificates in Food Service, Office Skills and Restaurant Hosting. After college, Tim worked as a host at Applebee’s restaurant and spent time living aboard a sailboat with his parents and traveling throughout the Bahamas.

In October of 2010, the next chapter began and with the help of his family, Tim’s dream of owning his own business came true. Tim’s Place opened its doors in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as one of the first and only restaurants to be owned by a man with Down syndrome. Tim’s Place is open daily, serving breakfast, lunch, and hugs.

Tim’s hugs have reached everyone from music legend Stevie Wonder to the President of the United States. To this day, Tim has given out more than 70,000 hugs and has received wishes from over 110 countries. Tim has also launched a powerful speaking career, traveling across the country telling his story and inspiring all those who cross his path.

In August 2014, Tim started Tim’s Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), a New Mexico non-profit corporation that aims to inspire people from all over the world to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives via entrepreneurship and inclusion in their communities. Tim is looking to help other individuals with intellectual disabilities start their own business. Tim believes that anyone, with the right support, can achieve their dreams.