The ability to help an 84-year-old learn new computer programs or teaching at-risk youth the basics of a job interview is just another day in the life of Linda Woodward. Linda, a Job Retention Specialist for MERS Goodwill, is celebrating her 20th anniversary with the agency this summer. For Linda’s colleagues and clients, the celebration is bittersweet; she will officially retire at the end of July.
“Linda is truly an unsung hero,” said Leslie Quarles, Director for MERS Goodwill. “She is such a team player and is always thinking of each and every MERS Goodwill client. Plus, her fashion-sense is on-point and she can rock a fedora like no one else!”
Linda began her Goodwill career in June of 1994 as a temporary Support Staff Supervisor with Metropolitan Employment Rehabilitation Services (MERS) prior to its merger with Goodwill in 2001. The new job was a breath of fresh air for Linda who had wanted a change from working in a corporate environment. Just one week into the job, Linda was recommended for the permanent position and has been a pillar in the organization ever since.
“I decided to take the job because I’ve always been a people person,” said Linda. “I preferred MERS Goodwill because of their humanitarian focus, rather than working to support product development in the corporate world.”
Linda has seen the organization transform from a retail and donations-based non-profit into an organization than annually serves over 50,000 individuals who have barriers to employment through disability or economic advantage. She has held a variety of positions with MERS Goodwill; every time she changed positions with the organization it was at the request of someone within Goodwill who knew Linda’s skills and strengths would be a valuable contribution to their program’s goals.
When Linda took the permanent position as an Administrative Assistant with MERS Goodwill in 1996, she took it upon herself to learn Bosnian, Russian and Yiddish phrases while working for a Director overseeing five programs. In 2005, Linda took the job as a Transition Specialist for high school students with disabilities. There she worked side-by-side with each student to discern their work strengths and obtain appropriate employment opportunities. In 2007, Linda changed programs and was named Job Readiness Instructor where she served clients with various barriers to work to prepare for the job searching process and obtaining employment.
“She has a gift of being able to build rapport and trust with clients, family members, other service providers and employers,” said Carrie Sheahan-Pernsley, Coordinator/PLB Services for MERS Goodwill. “It’s so nice to see her encouraging smile and words motivating someone during a learning curve.”
When Linda was working as a Computer Instructor for MERS Goodwill, she spearheaded the need for a program that would help seniors expand their computer skills. Through a grant from the Simon Foundation, MERS Goodwill started a pilot program in 2006 to provide basic computer skills to seniors.
The program caught the attention of the local community as individuals from very diverse backgrounds were seeking computer skills training for a work-based setting. Linda’s advocacy for her clients didn’t stop there; she personally obtained the necessary computer program and keyboard to teach a veteran and former railroad car tender, with the use of one hand, to type. She also obtained assistive technology to help persons with vision and hearing issues operate a computer.
Linda recalls how she taught her oldest student, age 84, how to do her monthly budget in Excel, set up an email account and send pictures back and forth to her grandchildren in New York. She helped a self-employed importer of goods from Ecuador set up an email address, make his own business cards, and set up a website. Linda helped two sisters who were making sewn garments for their business to better understand how to use their new computerized sewing machines; she helped an elderly woman meet her employer’s new computer accounting standards by adding an extra program piece just for her to practice; the list goes on.
Today, Linda is a Job Retention Specialist with MERS Goodwill, where she assists employed clients with disabilities to interact with supervisors, co-workers and fulfill requirements of their job position through regular visits, goal-setting and coordination with natural supports. Her clients come from all walks of life. Linda supports up to 21 clients at any given time, yet her passion for serving her clients never wavers.
The stories of how Linda has helped others are endless. You may notice Linda wears a heart-shaped brooch on her shirt – she literally wears her heart on her sleeve, serving as a reminder of the wonderful clients she has encountered.
The memories she made and impressions she left during her 20-year tenure with Goodwill makes Linda a true hometown hero.