Josh Payne: MERS/Goodwill success story

Josh Payne knows first-hand that just about anything can be accomplished with faith in yourself and a great support system.

As a student at Pattonville High School, Josh made great strides. He never missed class and earned the highest community service hours in his class. Josh received support through the Special School District (SSD) of St. Louis County as a result of his diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Through the SSD program, Josh volunteered as a freshman and sophomore with The Woodlands retirement community. Josh also volunteered through school at the St. Louis Outlet Center (The Mills) and the St. Louis Zoo where he helped with bussing tables, mopping, sweeping and other janitorial tasks. Josh even volunteered as a senior at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital, which positioned him for work after school.

After graduating from high school in 2007, Josh was eager to find and keep meaningful employment. But in 2008, just as Josh was gaining momentum, he needed surgery on his hip which would require months of rehabilitation. Devastated by the news, and feeling overwhelmed, Josh turned to Missouri’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and MERS/Goodwill for guidance.

In 2008, Josh was referred by his Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to participate in Goodwill’s Assessment Program to explore his interests and identify any barriers that could interfere with his success on a job. There, it was determined that Josh would be a good fit for Goodwill’s Sheltered Employment program in order to build his stamina back up. The Sheltered Employment program provides employment and case management services to individuals choosing a supported setting, offering piece rated work experiences including packaging, assembly, collating and machine operation.

Josh enrolled in the Sheltered Employment program in 2010 and maintained employment there until he was ready to take the next step in his journey to independent employment. In 2013, Jennifer Ansel, Job Exploration Specialist, spent time with Josh to consider competitive employment options. Josh told Jennifer that he enjoyed his volunteer experiences in high school, and after trying out positions at area employers he began working with a MERS/Goodwill Employment Specialist, Kathy Piloski. Kathy recalls, “From day one, Josh made it clear he would do whatever it takes to get a job and he stuck through it despite some speed bumps along the way.”

Josh’s resume is an employer’s dream: extensive volunteer service throughout high school, impeccable attendance and solid references. Josh’s goal was to work in the food service industry and Kathy helped him prepare for the interview process by practicing how to respond to questions in a conversational tone.

Soon, Josh was able to answer any question that Kathy threw at him, whether they were practicing or not. Kathy identified nearly 50 potential employers for Josh and together they applied to every single one. Josh continued to work at the Sheltered Workshop during his job search, and even kept his interview clothes there just in case an interview opportunity came up while he was working there.

Many of the employers that Josh applied to were impressed with his resume and called him in for an interview. Josh had over 10 interviews during the summer of 2014. Unfortunately, most potential employers didn’t ask Josh back for a second interview, possibly due to the limp caused by his diagnosis.

In September, Josh attended a job fair at the Moonrise Hotel in the Delmar Loop with Kathy. He learned about a new restaurant called Peacock Loop Diner that was looking to hire employees and was holding open interviews. Excited about the opportunity, Josh was ready to interview on-the-spot and waited in line with 20 other candidates to be considered.

It’s no surprise that Josh hit a homerun during his interview; waiting for a call back from the potential employer was the hard part. A few weeks later when Josh was walking home from the bus stop, he got a call from Peacock Loop Diner asking him in for a second interview. They interviewed Josh for only a few minutes before he was hired on the spot.

“The Peacock Diner is a perfect fit for Josh,” said Kathy. “They want to hire long-term employees and are open to job coaching. They made it clear that there were no limitations to Josh achieving success.”

It’s been nearly seven years since Josh first came to MERS/Goodwill. Josh is celebrating four months working at The Peacock Diner; his dedication and perseverance is an inspiration and truly a success story.