Just about anything can be accomplished with a little belief in yourself and a great support system. Paul Stout knows this first-hand. After graduating from high school in 2005, Paul was unable to find and keep meaningful employment. He struggled to find the confidence to overcome the low stress tolerance and nervousness he constantly faced as a part of his developmental disability. That’s when Paul turned to MERS Goodwill for help.
“Despite his shyness, Paul exemplified motivation and dependability from the very first day at MERS Goodwill,” said Leslie Quarles, Director for MERS Goodwill. “He just needed a boost of confidence in the skills he had to contribute.”
Paul was referred by Missouri’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to MERS Goodwill in July 2012, where he started the Job Exploration Program, which allowed him to explore jobs of interest.
Upon completion of his Job Exploration Program, Paul was referred to work with a Job Developer with MERS Goodwill to begin his actual job search. The biggest obstacle Paul would face was that he lacked paid employment experience and confidence in interviews; but he was excited about the possibility of working in a health care facility performing cleaning and/or dietary tasks that he learned through the exploration process.
Paul began attending weekly Job Readiness Training classes at MERS Goodwill, where he learned how to fill out job applications and what employers expect in a job interview. He learned how to apply for jobs online and was able to complete some applications independently. Just when Paul was starting to break out of his shell, devastation struck in September 2012 when his father passed away.
“When Paul suddenly lost his father, he could have easily given up on his job training and search for employment,” said Leslie. “That certainly was not the case. Paul was learning how to cope with his anxiety and continued going to his classes while caring for his mother. The perseverance he showed during this tragedy is a remarkable indication of his improved interpersonal skills and self-advocacy.”
Paul went on six interviews before landing a job as a Laundry Attendant at The Quarter of Des Peres. On July 23, 2013, Paul started his job at the facility working with a team to collect and clean laundry, dry and fold clothes, sheets and towels, and deliver the clean laundry to the respectful places.
Paul faced some initial obstacles when he started his job, largely the initial fatigue related to transitioning to working and being on his feet all day. Despite that fatigue, Paul would cheerfully report to his Job Developer that he was tired but happy. The new obstacle for Paul was that he was inexperienced in using public transportation and would get nervous with which bus he needed to take to ensure he gets to and from work. With the help of MERS Goodwill, Paul had someone tag along on his bus route giving him the confidence he needed. Paul now frequently uses public transportation, even on his days off.
Since starting his job at The Quarters of Des Peres a little over six months ago, Paul continues to grow in his independence and have increased self-esteem. Leslie sees this in Paul every time he stops by her office to check in on his way to the bus stop.
“I’m happy and more active than I used to be before I came to MERS Goodwill,” said Paul. “This job is what I needed and I know my dad would have been so proud of me.”
MERS Goodwill Hometown Hero Story ~ Lorraine Orr
Those who have had the pleasure of crossing paths with Lorraine Orr remember her as a true hometown hero; a wife, mother, grandmother and friend who devoted an entire lifetime to volunteering in the St. Louis community. Her passion for helping others was undeniable; she served on the Volunteer Board of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Girl Scout Council of Greater St. Louis where she received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
For Kathy Smith, the fondest memories of her mother, Lorraine, include her involvement with Goodwill. “Since I was little, my siblings and I would often hear my mother talk about the benefits of Goodwill,” said Kathy. “She wanted to make sure we knew the value of donating to Goodwill; it’s not just about giving, it’s about creating opportunities and changing lives through its programs.”
In 1953, Lorraine started volunteering for various organizations, including MERS Goodwill, where she served on the Volunteer Board of Goodwill Industries Services (GIVS) as Vice President of Membership. Even as a stay-at-home mom with four children, Kathy remembers her mother worked harder than anyone she had ever met.
Giving to Goodwill became a focal point in the Orr household that would soon spread to neighboring families. “Mrs. Orr was one of the most enthusiastic door-to-store supporters for Goodwill,” recalls Sharon Summers, Donations Coordinator for MERS Goodwill. “A typical door-to-store pickup requires a certain amount of donations so, on her designated donation day, she would rally people on her street to donate enough items that we needed to schedule a truck for multiple pickups in her neighborhood.”
Kathy’s memories of her mother at home read like a donation workshop; there were always designated Goodwill bags and boxes scattered throughout the house, a tradition that Kathy, her sister and her brothers continue to this day. Lorraine would spend her afternoons hand-writing detailed itemizations of each and every donation to Goodwill, a tedious process that Kathy and her siblings found annoying but would soon grow to appreciate.
As the years passed, Lorraine’s generosity kept growing and her passion for giving was contagious. When Lorraine’s husband retired, he wanted to spend his time helping his wife get organized, but Lorraine had a different plan in mind; she was adamant about continuing to work with Goodwill. “My mother told my dad to find himself a hobby, so he became her assistant!” laughs Kathy. “Being involved with Goodwill became my dad’s passion as well and he spent the rest of his life by my mother’s side helping her.”
When Kathy’s father passed away, the donations continued in his memory; today, a plaque honoring him sits in a garden above a bench at the Goodwill International headquarters.
In 2001, Lorraine traveled to a Goodwill convention in Dallas to receive the Goodwill Lifetime Achievement Award. The milestone was more than just a commemoration of her lifetime of service to the community; it also celebrated Lorraine as a one-year breast cancer survivor.
In June 2013, at the age of ninety-two, Lorraine Orr passed away; yet, her generosity and devotion to Goodwill continued. Lorraine made sure her commitment to Goodwill would help others she couldn’t reach in her lifetime and designated MERS Goodwill as one of her heirs.
For Kathy, the impact her mother has had on individuals and communities is priceless. “Service mentality was where her heart was,” remembers Kathy. “It warms my heart knowing her legacy is helping to build a stronger community.”
MERS Goodwill ~ Michael Penny/Veterans Client Success Story
It’s not every day you find someone who has been called “every employer’s dream” – and that’s just the case if you happen to meet Michael Penny, a maintenance custodian for Carr Square Tenant Corporation in St. Louis. Michael, a veteran of the Vietnam War, heads to work every morning with a smile that is contagious.
After 28 years in the maintenance and warehousing industries, Michael retired. While at home, he found that retirement wasn’t made for him. He took on temporary odd-jobs to fill his time. When his last place of employment shut down its plant, Michael was back at home with bills piling up. He was unemployed, alone and depressed, and it grew worse over time.
One night, Michael saw a television ad for MERS Goodwill’s senior employment program and jumped at the opportunity to apply. The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) is a federally funded program administered by MERS Goodwill. The program provides subsidized, work-based training to low-income persons age 55 or older that need help finding a job.
“As a veteran, I want other seniors to know that there are career centers out there for you and people are hiring!” said Michael. “The opportunities are there, we just need to take advantage of them.”
In October 2012, Michael was accepted in the SCSCEP program, where he met Madge Witt, a Case Manager for the program. As a Case Manager for SCSEP, and a senior herself, Madge sees age as the biggest obstacle her clients must overcome when she first meets them. Seniors reentering the workforce, especially after the age of 65, often deal with low self-esteem, with a feeling of defeat or lack of purpose. When Madge met Michael, his confidence was low but he was determined and willing to do anything.
“Michael was definitely job-ready, even while he was feeling down,” said Madge Witt. “Michael is polite, he asks questions, and gets a clear understanding of what he needs to do before moving forward.”
Once he qualified for SCSEP, Michael learned how to make a resume, how to apply for jobs, and the basics of how interviews are conducted. He was prepared for what to bring to interviews and what questions to expect. At the age of 67, Michael was soon placed at Carr Square Tenant Corporation for 20 hours of work experience per week, where he excelled in maintaining the entire facility, including two daycares, three bathrooms and event rooms.
Due to his success and determination, Madge challenged Michael and wanted him to apply for other jobs to broaden his skills and find new opportunities. The ultimate goal of the program is for participants to be employed in unsubsidized positions. Just as Madge lined up a new interview opportunity for Michael, she got a surprise from Michael’s temporary employer. After learning that Michael was applying for other jobs, his manager offered him a permanent position outside of the SCSEP Program.
On October 7, 2013, Michael was hired full time by Carr Square Tenant Corporation as a maintenance custodian. Michael not only loves his job, he feels younger each morning he wakes up for work. In fact, Michael is up at 5am for his 9am shift, eager to get into work – always early, of course. Madge is proud of how far Michael has come, using her favorite quote of his to inspire her other clients: “I woke up today and things have got to get better.”
Michael is grateful for Madge and MERS Goodwill’s guidance in helping him find a job. “Without this program, I’m not sure where I would be,” said Michael.
Hometown Hero ~ Yolanda Featherson, Domestic Violence Program
When most people think of Goodwill, they think of the retail stores, but Yolanda’s role resides on the other side of the organization in employment and rehabilitative programs. Yolanda Featherson joined MERS Goodwill in October 2011 as a part-time Retention Specialist and was hired as an Employment Specialist with MERS Goodwill’s Domestic Violence Program in January 2013 after seeing a job posting online.
“Yolanda is such a special addition to our program,” said Christina Holmes. “It’s rare to find an individual who can connect on a personal and professional level with victims of domestic violence, and Yolanda has helped so many women redefine themselves through the job placement process.”
The Domestic Violence Program through MERS Goodwill is the first of its kind in the St. Louis area, and has served more than 100 women this year. Yolanda has worked with nearly half of those individuals, and so far this year she has secured 26 job placements for victims of domestic violence.
“The biggest obstacle that women face coming through our program is that they’ve been broken,” said Yolanda. “Some of these women haven’t considered a type of employment and all they know is they need some income to escape their situations.”
Working with victims of domestic violence is intensive and requires a true balance of understanding the victims’ strengths and employment skills and advocating for their safety to employers. As a partner organization of St. Louis Ending Violence Against Women Network (SLEVAWN), MERS Goodwill has access to a network of individuals, agencies and organizations who provide a variety of additional services in the interest of victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Studies show that access to shelter services leads to a 60-70 percent reduction in incidence and severity of re-assault during the following 3-12 months, compared to women who did not access a shelter. For Yolanda, earning her clients’ trust is one of the greatest challenges of her job. Building trust and a rapport with victims of domestic and sexual violence is crucial to the success and well-being of their future; Yolanda stresses the importance of immediately treating her clients professionally to give them hope to excel in life outside of violence and abuse.
As an Employment Specialist, Yolanda helps her clients properly fill out applications, develops cover letters for potential employers, conducts interview training, and even facilitates outfits and transportation to interviews. Sometimes she’s just needed for a few encouraging words from her clients, but she’s always there for assistance after her clients have found work.
One client, who Yolanda regularly keeps in contact with, came to the Domestic Violence Program after being unemployed for two years. This individual was not a resident of Missouri when she was looking for jobs, and obtaining her diploma from Oklahoma was a major roadblock in finding secure employment. Within a week of working with Yolanda, this individual had a part-time position at Wal-Mart. Her new position inspired her to persevere even more and she is now training to be a general manager at a local food service company. If it wasn’t for Yolanda and the Domestic Violence Program through MERS Goodwill, this individual has said she would have had to go back with her partner and live in a very dangerous situation.
“Goodwill is truly a community-based organization that cares about improving the lives of its neighbors,” said Yolanda. “I am honored to be able to have an impact on someone’s life by giving them hope outside of a life of violence.”
Hometown Hero ~ Brenda Meyer
Brenda Meyer may not be an employee of MERS/Goodwill, but her determination to help others succeed is the epitome of what the organization strives for every day. Brenda is the Customer Service Manager at the Schnucks South City location and has been referring clients of MERS/Goodwill for employment for more than a decade.
In just the last nine months, Brenda has hired six clients from Innovative Concepts Academy (ICA), the only school in the country overseen by a court system dedicated to the education and rehabilitation of delinquent teens. A collaborative partnership with the Saint Louis Public Schools, MERS/Goodwill, and the Family Court-Juvenile Division, ICA’s mission is to increase the protective factors available to these youth aimed at eliminating at-risk behaviors that negatively impact the St. Louis community.
“She has been a blessing to our kids and the program,” said Michael Noll, Job Development & Youth Recruitment Coordinator for Innovative Concepts Academy. “Five of the six ICA students successfully completed their 90-day employment goals primarily because of Brenda’s communication with me and her ability to translate client issues into solutions.”
When Michael connected with Brenda nearly a year ago, he saw an opportunity for his students at Innovative Concepts Academy to not only gain employment, but learn how to build a productive and meaningful life.
“You can tell who has guidance outside of work and who doesn’t,” said Brenda. “These kids want someone who is going to be real with them and a lot of it is just giving them a chance to be themselves.”
Brenda’s brother has a developmental disability as a result of a motorcycle accident and is currently employed through a supported employment program. Witnessing her brother’s success has served as an inspiration for Brenda to be a mentor to individuals with disabilities or other barriers to employment. There are several long-term MERS/Goodwill clients employed at Brenda’s store whom she met through Missouri’s Vocational Rehabilitation services over the last 14 years. When asked about her most memorable employee, Brenda lights up thinking about Richard, who, after 10 years with Schnucks, unexpectedly passed away in his sleep in February 2011.
“Richard had a heart of gold,” said Brenda. “Even though he was older than me, it felt like losing a child when he passed. I was devastated because Richard reminded me so much of my brother.”
Brenda has a letter that Richard’s parents wrote after his passing thanking Brenda and the store for being an extension of their family for so many years. The letter is a constant reminder of the impact both Brenda and MERS/Goodwill have on individuals that need guidance. In fact, Richard’s brother, Tim, stops by the store every week to visit with Brenda.
“Many people don’t realize what MERS/Goodwill does for the St. Louis community,” said Brenda. “I speak to customers all the time who have criminal backgrounds or other barriers to finding a job. When I tell them about the programs that Goodwill offers, they’re blown away at how involved the organization is beyond its stores.”
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.