Hometown Hero: Bucks County nonprofit aims toward a more inclusive community

Joshua Fields, 24, co-founded "The Next Step Programs" in Doylestown when he was a teenager.

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Thursday, December 1, 2022
Bucks County nonprofit aims toward a more inclusive community
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A Bucks County man is trying to change the way his community treats people with disabilities.

DOYLESTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- A Bucks County man is trying to change the way his community treats people with disabilities.

Joshua Fields, 24, co-founded "The Next Step Programs" in Doylestown when he was a teenager.

"In 6th grade, I can remember, I met my first friend who has Down syndrome and we were just naturally paired together in the classroom to sit next to each other," said Fields.

That middle school seating arrangement led Fields to his best friend Meghan Kensil and a pivotal conversation about their futures.

"We were talking about what our lives were going to be like after high school and what we planned on doing," he said. "The more people I asked about what happens to my friends with disabilities once we leave, the more 'I don't knows' I got."

Instead of waiting on the uncertain, the two started "The Next Steps Program." Fields was 16.

"What we're trying to do is show the community we're here; we want to be part of the community," Fields said.

The nonprofit has grown into a place where people with disabilities can come and learn life skills and even find a job.

"Within our community, over 80% of our young adults are employed," he touted.

That includes 22-year-olds like Julie Shirey.

"I love it. I love the people. I love being who I am," said Shirey who works at the nonprofit as well as four other places. She dreams of being a chef.

"Yes. 100% yes. Josh put me through it. He pushed me through," she said.

Since Fields is already seeing great results with employment opportunities, his personal next step is housing. He wants to build an inclusive community where people with disabilities will have sustainable housing.

"It's important to create a sustainable system where these young adults can become independent adults in society, where they have a place to live, a place to belong, a place to work," Fields said.

As he builds that place, Fields is including his friends every step of the way.

"We love you too," he told Shirey.