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Nicole McManus is a 20-year-old cafeteria worker at Flowing Wells High School. An accident as a child left Nicole with a brain injury, yet that didn't keep her from helping her classmates. While still a student, Nicole was offered a position as a cafeteria worker, which she continues to do several years later in Tucson, AZ. on December 12, 2017.

Nicole McManus dreams of working with plants some day.

But for now, the shredded lettuce and sliced tomatoes in the Flowing Wells High School cafeteria will have to do.

McManus, 20, graduated from the school in 2015 and stayed on as a cafeteria worker, where she has a reputation for serving smiles along with salads.

What she does

“She was always a friend to someone in our class if they drove a wheelchair or was blind,” said life skills teacher Mimi Lawton. “She was the first to say, ‘I can help.’”

McManus served her classmates while living with a brain injury of her own.

That didn’t stop her from competing with the high school’s Special Olympics team or working as the team manager for the school’s tennis squad. Her love of growing things compelled her to join Future Farmers of America and she never missed class, Lawton said.

“She did all of these things on her own and would just come and say, ‘I’m going to do this,’ in spite of having a different way of learning,” Lawton said.

Why it matters

McManus’ persistence and kindness are examples for all students.

“I help others,” she said. “If they don’t know how to do something, I’ll help them.”

Every day, McManus bikes to work. For the last several years, she has also volunteered at Flowing Wells Library, which is currently closed for expansion.

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Nicole McManus, a 20-year-old cafeteria worker, works the sandwich line at Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, AZ. on December 12, 2017. An accident as a child left Nicole with a brain injury, yet that didn't keep her from helping her classmates. While still a student, Nicole was offered a position as a cafeteria worker, which she continues to do several years later.

“That’s what we hope for students in life skills, that they are employed and that they are happy.” Lawton said. “And Nicole stayed in our own community. She works at the school she went to and gets to and from work independently on her bike. She doesn’t rely on a parent to drive her.”

McManus is dependable, Lawton added. And that counts for a lot.

Encouraging peers

“Just be nice and help other people out,” Lawton said.

It’s that simple.

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at jwillett@tucson.com or 573-4357. On Twitter: @JohannaWillett