Client Success ~ Pam Nowacki ~ Supported Employment Job Development
For Pam Nowacki, each day is a celebration of her life’s motto, “never give up.” Pam faces the world with a disability, and less than a year ago she was let go from her job at a local nursing care center after being there for nearly 25 years. With bills piling up and an ailing father that needed care, Pam was referred to the Missouri Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) by a friend and her devastation quickly turned to determination.
Through her assessment with VR, Pam was eligible for Supported Employment Job Development through MERS/Goodwill and started the program in August 2012.
The MERS/Goodwill Supported Employment Job Development services offers job opportunities in integrated work settings where individuals work toward competitive employment. Through the program, Pam attended weekly classes where she learned job searching techniques, how to interact in an interview with a potential employer, how to relate to customers, and how to work as a team with coworkers. Pam’s determination only grew stronger.
“If I had money in my pocket, I’d get a bus pass and would go to classes even if I didn’t have to,” said Pam. “I really wanted a job and to get back up on my own two feet.”
Despite Pam’s motivation, she had struggled landing an interview. Even with 25 years of experience working at a nursing home, Pam was unable to secure an interview with any nursing home in the St. Louis region. It seemed the field Pam had built her career experience around was saturated.
It wasn’t until March 2013 that Pam met her new Employment Specialist, Tom Lemon, who gave her hope. Looking back at the first time they met, Tom reveals, “Pam’s dedication is exceptional. She had over 40 paper applications in hand and business cards to accompany them. When we began to review her case for the first time, I was amazed with how driven she was from the get-go.”
Tom reviewed Pam’s applications and resume to determine what could be done differently to better her chances of landing an interview. Tom noticed that Pam had applied several times in person for the same position at numerous places without any interest from potential employers. So, one of his first tasks was sorting through the piles of Pam’s applications and determining which jobs she would be most successful at obtaining an interview.
Next, Tom tackled Pam’s resume and cover letter, where he corrected a few misspellings or errors in Pam’s email address – little details that made a difference between going unnoticed and landing an interview. Tom showed Pam how to search for jobs on the internet, including taking her old applications and revising them to submit online. He additionally set up a joint email account so they could both track the status of each submitted job application online. This became a good way to pool information together and stay organized and on track in the job search.
Because Pam needed to take the bus to work, Tom would look for employers that would be an easy commute while also taking advantage of Pam’s upbeat, energetic personality. He noticed the Maplewood Walmart was hiring and thought it would be a good fit for Pam.
Tom helped Pam reapply to Walmart on March 21 and by April 4, Pam landed her job interview. Coincidentally, Pam had also been participating in another program at MERS/Goodwill while she was working with Tom. That program is Beyond Jobs, which is funded by the Walmart Foundation. As a part of the program, Pam was working with Rebekah Patterson, Support Specialist through the grant. Rebekah acts as an advocate for Pam, providing continued skills training and ongoing financial education. In their time together, they have focused on Pam’s particular interests in developing her computer skills and budgeting to decrease some expenses.
To prepare for the interview, Tom helped Pam understand how to approach interview questions so she could learn from her experiences and gave her a few helpful hints to put the odds in Pam’s favor. When it came time for Pam’s interview, Tom knew she was ready and could do it by herself. He sat in his car and waited in the parking lot while Pam had her interview with Walmart. The longer Tom waited, the more confident he felt that Pam was doing a great job.
Tom remembers the moment Pam returned to the car, an experience he won’t forget: “She came back to the car with tears down her face saying she got the job – she was hired on the spot!”
Today, Pam is enjoying her busy schedule working over 35 hours per week at Walmart, where she is in charge of the fitting rooms and organizing and sorting clothes. Pam continues to be a role model for individuals faced with disabilities and barriers to employment. She speaks to her former classmates in the MERS/Goodwill class about what to expect when applying for jobs, including how she got her job and answering questions from her peers on her success.
Tom consistently receives positive feedback on how Pam is doing from her employer and fellow MERS/Goodwill employees. “There is a sense of rejuvenation making a difference in someone’s life,” said Tom. “Everyone deserves a second chance and Pam’s making the most of it, that’s for sure.”
Client Success ~ Glenda Leicht ~ Senior Community Service Employment Program
Glenda Leicht, a proud grandmother and hard-working mother of five adult children, heads to work every day with a smile on her face. It may seem as if she has the world in the palm of her hand, but for years, the weight of the world rested on her shoulders. At the age of 60, Glenda was unemployed and busy helping to raise her special needs grandson, while also assisting two of her children and struggling financially following a divorce. Glenda had plenty of experience in accounting and administrative skills, but felt her age was a barrier. Glenda was intimidated and reluctant to seek out job opportunities. Her lack of modern computer skills and confidence in her own abilities led her to seek the help of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) with MERS/Goodwill.
SCSEP is a federally funded program administered by MERS/Goodwill, providing subsidized, work-based training to low-income persons age 55 or older that need help finding a job. Volunteers are placed at non-profit and government agencies, called a Host Agency, to assist in the organization’s operations working an average of 20 hours per week. SCSEP is meant to act as a bridge to unsubsidized employment opportunities, learning on the job skills needed to find permanent employment.
Glenda ran a decorating and reconstruction business with her husband for 32 years, until financial troubles forced them to close their business. She and her husband separated shortly after, leaving little time and money to care for herself and to help her family. Glenda read an article in her local paper highlighting SCSEP and felt the program may be the answer to helping her return to the job market.
“Glenda faced barriers in the workplace because of her age and she didn’t have the computer skills needed for many work environments, but her biggest barrier was her lack of confidence,” said Constance McCord, case manager for SCSEP.
As soon as Glenda qualified for SCSEP, she was placed at Nazareth Living Center for 20 hours of work experience per week. She began working with Constance and quickly completed skills training provided by SCSEP, perfecting her computer skills and boosting her confidence. Although Glenda started as an ice cream parlor attendant, she had opportunities to demonstrate her administrative and accounting skills. She was quickly given more responsibility including ordering shipments of ice cream, managing the stand and entering key data. She eventually became the part-time receptionist for five different departments within Nazareth.
Well liked and efficient in her duties in the business offices, Glenda became a valued employee at Nazareth Living Center but needed more hours and pay to support her family. Constance contacted Nazareth on Glenda’s behalf, but at that time they were not in a position to offer her unsubsidized employment. Glenda then had to move to another Host Agency to pursue unsubsidized employment; however, she was pleasantly surprised to be contacted two weeks later by Nazareth offering her a job.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today were it not for SCSEP and Constance’s encouragement,” said Glenda. “She really pushed me to break out of my shell.”
Glenda successfully exited from SCSEP in November of 2011, after receiving her first unsubsidized paycheck. Today, Glenda works an average of 38 hours per week as the assistant to the admissions coordinator at Nazareth. She assists in numerous departments at the Center, helping to arrange dinners, the golf tournament and other fundraisers, as well as completing general administrative tasks and brightening the faces of the nurses, residents and visitors she works with.
“I couldn’t be happier for Glenda,” said Constance. “Everything is just falling into place for her. She worked so hard to get this far and it is so encouraging to see that smile on her face when she talks about her career.”
From Left to Right: Michael McMillan, License Collector, Lolita Ramos, Darius Chapman, Department Manager of the Office of the License Collector, Heather Narx, Marnell Strickland, Shonisce Mure, Jahylyn Tillman
Roosevelt High School Graduates Take Future Success Seriously
While many high school graduates are enjoying the summer with trips to the lake, parties and days out in the sun, a very special group of Roosevelt High School graduates are working towards a brighter future. The MERS/Goodwill WIA Youth Program provides young adults with work experience, group education, job development, placement services and helps them to craft appropriate vocational goals. The initiative with Roosevelt, made possible by a close partnership between MERS/Goodwill, SLATE, and the St. Louis Public Schools, has resulted in 94 of Roosevelt’s 2012 graduating class receiving WIA services.
The WIA Youth Program, funded by the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE), was developed for youth 17-21. The program gives individual attention to each youth, providing the trust and support needed to succeed. This is the first year that WIA has partnered with the Office of the License Collector. Through MERS/Goodwill and the Office of the License Collector, students in the WIA Youth Program are working with the City of St. Louis to gather experience and knowledge for their future careers.
Michael McMillan, License Collector, and Darius Chapman, Department Manager of the Office of the License Collector, are constantly looking for jobs, internships and volunteer opportunities for the young adults in the WIA program. They also serve as a steady source of advice and counseling for the youth they have taken under their wing.
“When we received funding from SLATE for Roosevelt High School, I immediately remembered Darius’ past work with the SLATE program and knew that the Office of the License Collector would be a great fit for the Roosevelt High School Students,” said Rosalind Mack, Case Manager for the WIA Youth Program.
For McMillan, giving back and helping children and youth of all ages to achieve their educational aspirations has been a 25-year commitment.
“I want to give our interns educational experiences that reinforce good work ethics, expose them to professional role models that will coach and mentor them and emphasize the importance of values and accountability in everything they do,” said McMillan.
The MERS/Goodwill interns have the opportunity to benefit and learn firsthand in the Office of the License Collector. A vast majority of the students over the years, who have this experience, continue their education and secure jobs.
“This is one of the best groups of interns I have ever seen,” said Chapman. “I hope to provide them with an experience so they can become successful within our society. Our youth are very well prepared for the St. Louis workforce.”
On an average day the students are kept very busy. They are gaining a lot of experience, from working in a professional environment to harnessing professional communication and working to stay on top of their tasks. These graduates have bright outlooks on their future, including careers in health care, psychology, working with the City Hall and attending college programs.
“From the WIA Youth Program, I have learned how to tackle the work environment and how to stay ahead of the game,” said Jahylyn Tillman, a student with the WIA Youth Program. “After the program I am going to Harris-Stowe State University and taking classes in Health Care Management.”
Congratulations James Elliott!
It’s a rare occasion to spot James Elliott, MERS/Goodwill Case Manager and Employment Specialist, without a smile on his face. Recently awarded as MERS/Goodwill’s top placement person in the 61 bi-state offices for the past four years, he has lots to smile about.
”James is the epitome of a model employee,” said Dr. Lewis Chartock, MERS/Goodwill President and CEO. “He is constantly working to provide his clients with gainful employment, while creating meaningful and lasting connections with employers. We are proud of James’ accomplishments and excited to see his continued support of our organization.”
Serving MERS/Goodwill Industries of Missouri for more than 12 years, James loves his job and the organization he works so hard for to help its programs become a success. Since 2008, James has successfully helped more than 65 clients find employment each year; boasting a record year of 86 placements in 2010. James contributes his success to his clients and co-workers who continue to inspire and motivate him.
“James and I have been working together for 10 years,” said Erin McCuan, MERS/Goodwill Director of Aftergut Center. “He is respected by his clients, co-workers and Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation. James is tenacious in seeking out employers that want to partner with MERS/Goodwill and offer employment opportunities to our clients. His numbers speak for themselves!”
James is looking forward to another successful year, new opportunities and many more client placements. Congratulations, James, and thank you for your continued dedication and hard work!
Tori Long – Client Success Story – After her high school graduation and wanting to purchase her own car, Tori Long knew obtaining employment was the essential next step. With no work history and unsure about the application process, Tori knew she needed help. Tori learned about MERS/Goodwill’s Employment Services and decided she would give MERS/Goodwill a try.
MERS/Goodwill’s Employment Services, funded by Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation, assist persons in learning new skills and work behaviors that will lead to success in training or finding and keeping a job. The organization provides opportunities to develop employment interests and potential employment by providing employer-based, realistic training in the vocational area of choice.
“Tori is the epitome of what our program is all about,” said Tammy Thurman, MERS/Goodwill evaluator. “It would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for her to obtain employment on her own as she was very shy, had no past work experience, had no interviewing skills, and needed someone to encourage her along the way.”
With Tammy’s help, Tori completed the program, receiving guidance for filling out applications, proper interview attire and a series of mock interviews to fully prepare her. Soon Tori was ready to apply for jobs. The pair focused mostly on entry-level work at various retail locations, particularly cashier positions.
When Tammy found out about a job fair hosted by Dollar General she encouraged Tori to attend and apply. “The hiring manager was very supportive of our program,” said Tammy. “Dollar General is a small store with few employees. I felt Tori would receive the attention and training she needed to succeed.”
Tammy’s intuition was right. After a series of interviews, Tori was hired as a cashier.
Now employed for more than a year, Tori truly enjoys working for Dollar General, and has proved to be an essential member of the team. “I was Employee of the Month my second month working,” said Tori. She has also taken on responsibilities outside of her cashier duties, including training as Manager on Duty. If a situation would arise, she is prepared to fulfill the position.
“Since joining the Dollar General team, Tori has been a true asset to the store,” said Jon Fakes, Dollar General district manager. “Her experience, training and strong work ethic make her a model employee. In fact, she was recently promoted to lead sales associate.”
In her free time, Tori enjoys reading, hanging out with friends and leading a high school youth group. She plans to attend college in the future and enjoys theology and philosophy studies. She is a true supporter of MERS/Goodwill and would recommend the services offered by the organization to anyone.
“I saw Tori blossom into a confident young woman,” said Tammy. “I am proud that myself and MERS/Goodwill were a part of that.”
Standing at a mere 5’3”, Patria Hill is not the ideal basketball player. Her skills, however, say otherwise. Patria greets challenges, often overcoming them with sheer ambition. Despite her pint-size stature, Patria spent her high school career focusing on one goal, playing basketball at the collegiate level while studying to be an English teacher.
In August 2009, while a student at Cahokia High School, Patria enrolled in MERS/Goodwill’s WIA Youth Illinois Program. The program is funded by St. Clair County’s Intergovernmental Grants Department, which serves Clinton, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair, and Washington Counties in Illinois. Hoping to receive assistance with college searching and applications, Patria also wanted to improve her job skills and resume while working part time through the program. After enrolling in the program, Patria would not only find the aid she sought, but also discover a life-long mentor and friend.
On occasion, Robin Pruitt, MERS/Goodwill Coordinator of WIA Youth – Illinois, would attend group meetings and talk to Patria. Although Robin did not serve as Patria’s main case manager, she took interest in the focus and drive Patria exuded. Their contact was often brief, focusing on Patria’s job readiness training and her employment. Robin, however, was determined to build a relationship with Patria.
One day, the opportunity presented itself. Patria knocked on Robin’s office door and pulled up a chair for a brief chat. After some typical questions, Robin hit the jackpot. “What do you want to do after high school?” Robin asked. “All I want to do is play basketball and be an English teacher,” Patria responded. Patria proceeded to tell Robin about her love for basketball and how she dreamed of playing in college.
Finding a place where Patria could live her dreams became Robin’s quest. There were a lot of options, but Robin’s own alma mater, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana, rose to the top of the list due to her close contacts there. “I gathered Patria’s basketball stats and was persistent about getting her tapes viewed by the coaches,” said Robin. Within a few weeks, Patria attended a scrimmage with the team.
In the fall of 2010, Patria enrolled in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, attending on a basketball scholarship. A permanent bond was formed between Patria and Robin.
“She’s an amazing person,” said Patria. “I always call her for advice, even though I’m no longer in the program, Robin still helps me. I use her as a reference for various applications, including school and jobs. She’s helped me out so much.”
Robin’s guidance has been a great aid to Patria, especially when Patria decided to transfer closer to home. As Robin always tells her clients, “Life’s one big do-over. If it doesn’t turn out right the first time, you just do it over. Plan A didn’t work out, now what’s plan B?”
Now attending Lindenwood University in Belleville, Patria plans to return to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for graduate school. She is playing basketball and studying English education and athletic training. Although Patria’s plan A morphed into plan B, she continues to confidently work toward her dreams. Through her enrollment in MERS/Goodwill’s WIA Youth Program – Illinois, Patria was able to achieve her goals. She continues to utilize the skills she learned and developed through the program.
“Patria’s persistence and ‘never giving up’ attitude make her a great success,” said Robin. “She is a leader among her peers, and seeing her overcome difficulties is a huge inspiration to me.”
Most 9-5 p.m. jobs allow employees to turn off phones, email and thinking caps after hours, enjoying the evening and leaving work for the following morning. Although not required by MERS/Goodwill, Robin Pruitt does not adhere to these social norms. After years of working with teens and young adults, Robin knows the best time for a youth to communicate is when he or she is ready, and that can be any time of the day or night.
“When we get a new client, I always tell them I wake up happy,” said Robin. When the client responds with a questioning look, Robin explains that her phone is on 24/7 and clients are always welcome to call. It is small gestures such as this that make Robin unique and contribute to the tremendous success of the MERS/Goodwill WIA Youth Illinois Program.
“In a field full of compassionate people, Robin stands out,” said Hilary Wagner, MERS/Goodwill Vice President. “Particularly for some young people who may have limited support from family or friends, to have someone like Robin in their corner makes a world of difference.”
Hired in July 2007 as MERS/Goodwill’s Coordinator of WIA Youth Services in Illinois, Robin was to manage programs in Bond, Cahokia, Madison and Jackson Counties. As the years have passed, different grants have allowed Robin and her team to work with various counties in the state. Today the program serves youth in Bond County through funding from Madison County Employment and Training Department, and in Clinton, Washington and St. Clair Counties with funding through St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Department.
In addition to overseeing case managers in each county, networking within communities, building relationships with job sites, businesses and organizations, and increasing awareness of the programs in each community, Robin carries a case load of her own. She focuses on clients who need a little extra attention and encouragement, while working with startup grants, like her latest endeavor, the Belleville in-school grant. Unlike the other three counties, the Belleville grant focuses on students in school. Through the program, students receive job readiness training and college planning assistance including help with FASFA applications. Under Robin’s watchful eye and with a focus on education and community service, similar programs of the past, such as Cahokia, have proved successful.
“She’s like a second mother,” said Patria Hill, WIA Youth client – Cahokia. Patria became involved in the Cahokia program in August 2009, and Robin helped Patria pursue her dreams of playing basketball in college. Now at Lindenwood University in Belleville, Patria is shooting hoops while studying English education. “Even though I’m no longer in the program, Robin still helps me. I always call her when I need advice and use her as a reference for various applications, including school and jobs.”
Robin has dreams of her own that she is striving to fulfill. The success of the current four counties and clients of the past, fuel Robin’s hopes of growth for the WIA Youth Program in Illinois. She recently completed applications for new grants, hoping to expand into additional counties. To display the community support, Robin collected more than 30 letters from various businesses and organizations in Illinois.
“Robin is an absolute pleasure to work with, from a grant writing perspective,” said Ben Williams, MERS/Goodwill Program Development Specialist. “She epitomizes what a social service worker should be. She lives it: it’s not just a paycheck.”
Miranda Prince describes her life over the past few years as a true Cinderella story. Her fairy tale starts at the ball, in Miranda’s case, the Demetrious Johnson Charitable Foundation (DJCF).
Homeless and lacking a high school education, Miranda spent her time volunteering at DJCF. Miranda performed various tasks from secretarial to janitorial work, never complaining and always positive. Her infectious smile and ambition won over the hearts of many at the foundation. Through recommendations from DJCF, Miranda was introduced to her glass slipper, MERS/Goodwill, and the connection to her future prince.
Miranda enrolled in Goodwill’s WIA Youth program under the guidance of Rosalind Mack. The Goodwill WIA Youth Program, funded by St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE), was developed for youth, 18-21, providing appropriate vocational goals, work experience, group education, job development and placement services. The program gives individual attention to each youth, like Miranda, providing the trust and support needed to succeed.
“At first sight,” said Rosalind, “we had serious basics to work on.” But Miranda was persistent, determined and radiated positive energy. She was always on time, never missed an appointment and had goals for the future. Through the program, Miranda received her GED and was ready to find work with the help of Shera Kulow, MERS/Goodwill Employment Specialist.
During her time in Job Placement, Miranda and Shera explored positions from customer service to office clerk. “I was aware of Miranda’s long-term goals,” said Shera. “Miranda told me she wanted to be a doctor one day.” When an opportunity became available with Barnes-Jewish Hospital as a Specimen Transporter, Shera knew Miranda had found her prince.
“Even though she was willing to work anywhere to make ends meet, I wouldn’t let her take just any job,” said Shera. “She’s intrigued by surgery and helping people live healthier lives. The transporter job description included working in close proximity to doctors and nursing staff; as well as being exposed to various surgeries. I knew Miranda would perform exceptionally well in any position, and this job was perfect for her.”
After filling out her application, an interview followed. Using the skills and knowledge she gained from Goodwill, Miranda was hired. She now works full-time transporting specimen from the operating room to the lab. “I love getting to know and work with the doctors and nurses,” Miranda said. “This is the field I want to advance in.”
Always focused on her next task, Miranda knows objectives are achieved through small steps. Miranda’s next venture is enrollment in school, continuing her education and advancement in the medical field. Her continued achievement is inspiration to all who encounter and work with her.
This Cinderella has found her prince, and is successfully working toward her happily ever after.
When Donnie Edwards and his twin sister were born, Donnie was pronounced dead. As the doctor was filling out his death certificate, he noticed Donnie had started to breathe. He was immediately airlifted to Cardinal Glennon where he spent the first several months of his life. Donnie was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, an adversity that hit him before he could blink, remaining a constant in his life every day since. Like his birth, Donnie continues to defy odds, always refusing to give up or give in.
When the BP station of Wood River, Ill. closed down in the summer of 2011, Donnie found himself out of a job. After working with another employment agency that wasn’t a good fit for him, Donnie was referred to Illinois’ Division of Rehabilitation Services in conjunction with MERS/Goodwill’s placement services. With the aid of Ashley Albrecht, MERS/Goodwill Director of Vocational Rehabilitation Services – Illinois, Donnie was eager to find work.
From the beginning, Donnie and Ashley agreed that the management and employees of a company were as important as the position itself. They focused on positions Donnie has previously held, dishwashing, stocking and custodial work. Despite a series of dead-end interviews and networking events, Ashley was determined to get employers to look beyond Donnie’s physical appearance.
“I saw Donnie’s potential from day one, but I also saw what employers would see,” said Ashley. “Employers look at a person’s physical ability just as much as a person’s personality and previous work experience. Donnie does have physical limitations and a communication barrier due to his disability; however, he is much more capable than many people give him credit for. He will ask if he needs help, but that is seldom to never.”
Like Ashley, Donnie was focused, positive and learning from each interaction. Using the resume-writing and interviewing skills that he learned with Goodwill’s job programs, along with networking with former BP co-workers, Donnie secured a job at the Fast Track in East Alton, Ill. as a custodian and stocker.
Just 61 days after entering Goodwill’s Job Placement program, Donnie found a job he truly loves. Already knowing a few co-workers from BP, Donnie already had a sense of comfort and acceptance at Fast Track. He enjoys being around people, and likes that his new job allows him to interact regularly with his boss and co-workers, who he describes as “awesome.”
“The people at Goodwill never looked at me like I was different. They have always treated me like an equal,” said Donnie.