Client Success Stories

Meet Andrew, BJ’s Team Member Extraordinaire and WOU Success Story

(Stoneham, MA) – Andy Jackson loves the fine art of organizing. It gives him great satisfaction to have a place for everything and see everything in its place. Andy also happens to love lending a hand and helping people, so each day when his two passions collide, it’s a win-win for BJ’s Wholesale Club in Stoneham, Massachusetts.

“Andrew is one of the most professional, hard-working BJ’s team members we have at our club,” says Dan Brady, Senior Operations Manager at BJ’s in Stoneham. “He comes in everyday with a smile and a can-do attitude and he gets the job done right, the first time.”

As a person living with autism, Andy thrives in environments that require routine and meticulous attention to the details.  At BJ’s, customer service, carts and recovery are his domain. “We worked to carve out a position for Andy that’s a blend of job tasks that he really enjoys,” says Tom Carr, a Career Resource Specialist for Work Opportunities Unlimited.  Top of the list is helping customers get their purchases to their cars. Andy also collects shopping carts and returns them to the cart carousels, and he recovers merchandise that customers put aside and returns it to its proper place in the store. “Andy likes to have things well organized, he really enjoys repetitive tasks, he’s very schedule oriented and he knows his job inside and out, so when he arrives at BJ’s he hits the ground running.”

Competitive employment is a highly-valued activity in our society; it provides meaningful activity and personal resources. Creating opportunities for success in the workplace is a motivating force for Work Opportunities Unlimited. “We believe that all people can work. We believe in diversity in the workplace and that everyone should have a chance at opportunity, so my job is to work to break down the barriers to employment for people who live with disabilities. I help my clients develop career goals, we work on pre-vocational and job retention skills, often I provide life skills training, and of course I coach them while on the job to help them maximize their success.”

With a little support and guidance from Carr, Andy is a thriving member of the BJ’s team, so much so that he’s now providing employee training for new hires in the Carts/Recovery position.   “Andy is making his mark at BJ’s. He loves to share information and he’s really patient as a teacher.”

“There is a very clear correlation between diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and employee engagement,” adds Carr. “I can’t go a week without a co-worker approaching me to tell me how great Andy is. He’s always happy on the job; the greeters rave about him and how polite and quick he is to lend a hand. He wants to help, he wants to work. Andy’s positive attitude makes a huge difference, he helps people get through their day.”

“What Andrew brings to our team day in and day out is immeasurable,” says Brady. “It’s one of the reasons that he recently earned the “Members First, Team Member of the Year.”

Paula M–Access to more than just movies at Cinepolis

(Jupiter, Florida) – As we head to the movie theaters this holiday season, the common thread among us all is that we’re looking for a truly great story; a narrative that can expand our emotional bandwidth. One of the season’s best stories can be found at Cinepolis Jupiter, but it’s not a film that will appear on the big screen, rather it’s a tale of true grit, determination, compassion and support that’s happened behind the scenes. It’s a reminder of the goodness within.

Paula Mirabella has Muscular Dystrophy. She requires the use of a wheelchair to navigate her world.  Paula has fought long and hard to find a job in her community; one that would utilize her skills and foster her love of people.  “Paula wanted a job,” says Jenni Paine, a Career Resource Specialist with Work Opportunities Unlimited, “and we didn’t think that was too much to ask. Paula is amazing and has incredible skills to share, so we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.”

Jenni Paine spends her days breaking down the barriers to employment for people living with disabilities. “Our goal is to change the world of work. We operate from the premise that people with disabilities deserve to work independently in their communities, just like everybody else. We believe that all people can work, that everyone has something to contribute. Paula was eager to find a job but she was running into a lot of road blocks, says Paine. “She’s in wheel chair at all times so it was limiting the jobs that she could do.”

After months of hard work and opportunities that dissolved or didn’t quite fit, Mirabella was hired by Cinepolis.  “She was hired to work four hours a day as a Box Office Agent. It was the perfect match that utilizes her customer service skills in a genuine way. She loves to engage with customers, she troubleshoots any problems they may have and she works hard to make a visit to Cinepolis a great experience for all who walk through the doors.”

It was a dream job come true for Paula and it wasn’t long before the general manager took note and approached her about expanding her hours. “This is where things got a little tricky, and a little awkward too,” says Paine. “Paula was incredibly pleased but she had to explain that there was an on-site barrier that prevented her from taking advantage of his offer.”

Cinepolis Jupiter, home to both traditional and luxury cinema experiences, is a new, state-of the art theater that’s handicapped accessible, but in the restroom Paula needs a special lift to help her transfer from the wheelchair. “It’s special adaptive equipment that most public restrooms don’t have,” says Paine.  “To compensate for this challenge, she would wake early in the morning to build in enough time so that she could have her breakfast, something to drink and use the bathroom before heading to work.  Then she’d work her shift without anything to eat or drink because she didn’t want to be faced with the consequences of not being able to access the facilities. Just imagine needing to use a restroom and not being able to, until you get yourself home. The amazing thing is when she told the general manager, his response was ‘what can we do?’”

Mirabella explained that there was a lift system that could be installed in the restroom but it would be quite the undertaking. The manger asked again, “what do we need to do to make this happen?” That’s when Mirabella sprang into action.  She approached Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and asked if they could assist Cinepolis with the challenge of installing the adaptive lift.  Cinepolis Corporate Office gave their approval and VR sent over the architect to see if it was even feasible.

“What’s amazing is that Cinepolis has been through some management changes since the project began,” says Paine, “but every manager, including the current GM Shawn Temme, continued to support Paula and the goal of getting the lift installed.”

“Paula is an incredible person,” says Temme. “Given the challenges she’s dealt with in her life she’s super kind and thoughtful and she always wants to do more regardless of her disability; I never worry about the front of the house when Paula’s on duty. She’s the first person that welcomes our guests, she’s always there with a big smile and a positive attitude. I wish I had a dozen more employees like her so, from my perspective, it was important to maximize Paula’s time here and make sure that everything was in place for her to do her job. I didn’t start the process with Paula but she has worked hard to knock down those barriers that were an issue for her, I feel strongly about supporting her.”

After months of approval processes, safety and building impact studies by engineers, planning procedures, and collaborative efforts with VR, construction got underway. It took about a year but the adaptive equipment is now in place.

“It was definitely worth the investment of time and resources,” says Temme. “For me it was always about what I see in Paula. Her disability is a non-issue, I value her as individual that is beyond capable. I see someone that makes a difference and can do the job. I know what a quality employee is and if you find a quality person like Paula, you better do all you can do to hold on to her.”

Jensey’s Success Story

(Boston, MA) – There is a very special place in Boston, where play and learning collide, imaginations soar and fantastical worlds are built. LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston is a LEGO® universe like no other; it’s the ultimate indoor playground for lovers of LEGO®, the iconic “building blocks” of so many childhoods. “We’re all about playful learning,” says Jennifer Chopelas, Human Resource Coordinator at LEGOLAND. “We have LEGO® brick pits, a 4-D theater, a LEGOLAND Discovery Center Master Model Builder on site, a Build and Test area; everything is based around LEGO®. It’s where kids come and use their creativity, to have hands-on fun, to collaborate and problem solve and to have their curiosities piqued. And it’s not just for kids, adults are really into it, too.”  

The success of LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston is built, in part, on the iconic LEGO® brand, but it’s also steeped in the hard work of many–the incredible team of people that are committed to creating “remember when” moments for the children that visit. Among them, is Jensey Gonzalez of Charlestown, MA.

“One of the things we strive for is a clean, comfortable facility,” says Chopelas. “Working with kids we need to provide a safe environment that’s sanitized and germ free. Jensey plays an integral role in making sure that happens. As one of our best custodians he’s proactive, a hard worker and an important member of our team. We depend on him to get the job done.”

Jensey Gonzalez is a young man living with intellectual disabilities; he also has a form of epilepsy. “It doesn’t stop him,” says Dan Kent, a Career Resource Specialist at Work Opportunities Unlimited. “Jensey is a motivated guy and he made it known that he wanted to work; he wanted a job where he could use his skills and interact with people. At Work Opportunities, we believe all people can work, that everyone has skills to contribute. Our specialty is breaking down barriers to employment and helping people with disabilities access the workplace, so, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.”

“Work Opportunities Unlimited reached out to us and we set up a meeting,” says Chopelas. “They explained the process, and the work that they do; we thought it would be a great partnership. We told them what we needed and they recommended a great match in Jensey.”

“Initially, Jensey was supported while on-the-job but now he works independently,” says Kent. “Jensey knows exactly what’s expected of him and how to get the job done. He works out on the floor and in the back of the house, keeping things clean and organized.  Jensey is one of the hardest workers that they have; he’s part of the team, which is incredibly important. He’s not just a client from Work Opportunities, Jensey’s a true LEGOLAND employee and everyone sees him as that; it’s fantastic to watch.”

“What’s great about Jensey is he greets each day with a huge smile on his face,’ says Chopelas. “He’s very approachable and he interacts really well with our visitors. Jensey takes pride in what he does and it shows in the quality of his work; he does a fabulous job. In fact, he’s one of the reasons that we continue to partner with Work Opportunities. We’ve had really great success with the program and have hired two more people as a result. We couldn’t be happier.”

“The administration has been so supportive at LEGOLAND – so welcoming,” says Kent. “It shows how having good role models and model employees has made work possible for other people.”

“You know, when you hire someone with disabilities, you do great things,” adds Kent. “You not only give the individual an opportunity to grow and learn and earn a living and build self-esteem and make friends outside of their family – all things that we take for granted – but most important of all, you build awareness and you change perspectives; you change the way in which others view people with disabilities. You create a better cultural awareness of what someone with disabilities can do and the impact they have in the workforce – and that’s huge.”

Meet David Haron, a valuable Jetport employee

(Portland, ME) – Awards for the Best Airport in North America don’t just happen; it requires particular attention to the details, a dedicated team and a lot of hard work. In Maine, the Portland International Jetport was recently named the best airport in all of North America, receiving the Airports Council International’s (ACI) 2015 annual Airport Service Quality Award for airports serving under 2 million passengers.

The Jetport took top honors for attributes like efficiency and wait times for check-in, courtesy and the friendliness of airport staff, and the cleanliness of the terminal. That’s where David Haron comes in. David is a friendly guy and he’s a master at keeping the main entrance at the Jetport neat and tidy. From the ticket counter, to the meet and greet area; the baggage claims and out to the curb, David is a stickler for making sure every nook and cranny is spotless, inside and out.

“We have pretty high standards here,” says David Raymond, of ISS Facility Services and District manager for Portland International Jetport. “First impressions are important. The front entrance is the first thing people see when they come to the Jetport so their experience matters. David does a super job of cleaning the front of airport from one end to the other – he does it twice per shift – and he does it with a smile on his face. It’s pretty clear that he loves his job because it shows in the quality of his work.”

David is one of four employees on the Jetport campus that are tasked with the custodial work. His job was made possible with help from Work Opportunities Unlimited. “We believe that all people can work, that everyone has something to contribute,” says Dan Ruiz. As a Career Resource Specialist, Ruiz makes community based employment possible for people with disabilities. “I help to break down barriers to the workplace and I also support people like David while they’re on the job. Here at the Jetport, David is part of the whole. He’s a team member who has great skills and a huge personality to match; he contributes to the Jetport in significant ways.”  

To get the job done, David uses the tools of the trade including a battery powered sweeper that he refers to as his “machine.” He handles the machinery like a pro and while the work that he does looks very simple to the untrained eye, according to David Raymond, his work extends beyond that of custodian. “David is very likeable and always has a big smile to share. When people come to the Jetport, they can lose their way, they can become flustered because they’re nervous about getting on a plane. When David is out there working, being friendly, saying hello to everyone as they pass by, he deflates the situation; he takes their mind off their anxieties. In that moment, that interaction is priceless to the person that’s on the receiving end.”

“David takes incredible pride in his work,” adds Raymond. “That’s not something that you see every day. His work matters and has tremendous value to me, and to our visitors. There’s no doubt that David contributes to the success of the Jetport and the added value is, he just has a way of making your day.”

Meet Michael Leonard, a Success Story

(Bethesda, MD) – Cooking is an art form that many people enjoy and whether you aspire to be the next great chef or the best home cook you can be, the devil is always in the details. Culinary greatness requires the freshest foods, the right tools, a commitment to quality and lots passion. No one knows more about “what it takes” than Michael Leonard, a kitchen assistant at La Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda.

“As a man living with autism, Michael thrives in environments that require routine and meticulous attention to details,” says Jebbeh Givens, a Career Resource Specialist at Work Opportunities Unlimited. “His job is an important one; he’s responsible for prepping the classrooms for the students that come to L’Academie, often organizing and stocking twenty individual workstations, three times a day.”

“Michael wanted a job in his community,” says Givens. “He was referred to us by the Developmental Disabilities Administration. Work Opportunities specializes in breaking down the barriers to employment for people living with disabilities. Michael has significant skills to offer an employer and it was our job to find a work situation where he could contribute in authentic ways. L’Academie – Bethesda was the perfect match.”

L’Academie – Bethesda is the original home of the renowned L’Academie de Cuisine, one of America’s top professional schools in the Culinary and Pastry Arts.  “The Bethesda campus is the recreational arm of the culinary school; its where the non-professional cook has an opportunity to learn from the same chefs teaching at our professional culinary school,” says Sederick Crawley, Campus Director of L’Academie de Cuisine. “It’s a wonderful place where people, who simply love to cook, can take their skills to the next level. It’s fun and casual for the students but it requires us to do our due diligence in the classroom, and this is where Michael shines.”

Michael spends his days fastidiously prepping classrooms for students, making sure that every surface is immaculate, that the students have the right tools, that the fresh vegetables and meats are packaged properly and stored at accurate temperatures, he makes sure the inventory in the stock room is accurate and that the laundry is done.

“We have a set of standards that we must abide by,” says Crawley. “When you’re working with food, every detail matters, and Michael pays attention to every detail. We meet each morning as a team, develop a list of tasks to be done and then we set Michael free. He sets his own routine, he’s extremely consistent, extraordinarily focused and he’s always right on the money in terms of getting the job done. I don’t have to worry when Michael is here; he has such a strong work ethic and he’s incredibly honest. I trust him implicitly and consider him one of our best employees.”

“Work is a pretty powerful construct,” says Givens. “It has a way of leveling the playing field. Michael works shoulder to shoulder with his co-workers, often outpacing them. Work also has a way of empowering people and changing perspectives. Michael is more confident and a bit more social; having this job has made a huge difference in his life and in the lives of his co-workers as well.”

“Michael has been embraced and is part of the academy family,” says Crawley. “He eats lunch with us, he communicates with different individuals; if no one told you he had a disability, you wouldn’t know it – it doesn’t limit him at all. People no longer view him as having a disability; he’s just Michael, our co-worker… it seems to me, that’s the way it should be.”

Meet Aaron Stone, Work Opportunities Unlimited Team Member

In this recent television news interview, Auburn team member Aaron Stone highlights how he finds successful work placements for his clients, and he voices his belief about work. Both are integral to Aaron’s and Work Opportunities Unlimited’s core belief system, and reason why Aaron has earned the prestigious Roger LaChapelle award.