Beth Knipstein is a retailer’s dream come true. She’s a woman who loves to work hard, she has a passion for organizing everything under the sun, and she’s an absolute stickler for being on time.
“Beth’s work gives us a distinct advantage,” says Karyn Marcinkevich, store manager at Marshalls in Somerville, Massachusetts. “She cleans and organizes the toy and accessories departments, two areas of the store that can be a little crazy. Beth has a knack for creating order out of the chaos, so her contributions make people want to shop; customers can actually see what we’re offering.”
Beth’s rise to success in the workplace was a process, one that required a lot of persistence and creative thinking. “When I first met Beth she was pretty shy and non-communicative,” says Marisa Henderson, a Career Resource Specialist at Work Opportunities Unlimited. “It was a challenge to figure out what her interests were, but our team rolled up their sleeves and got to work looking for job leads. We considered a number of options, but they weren’t a good fit for Beth.”
It was a seasonal opportunity to assemble holiday baskets for Knoll Showroom that shifted the tide. “When I saw her at Knoll, she was a completely different person,” says Henderson. “She was organizing baskets, working shoulder to shoulder with her co-workers; she was interacting, she was communicative and best of all, she was having fun.”
“The job at Knoll provided us with important information,” explains Henderson. “We learned that Beth likes to be autonomous on the job and that she likes order, particularly when her work results in an end product; she loves to look at her accomplishments.
With this new information in hand, Henderson worked to carve out a position for Beth at Marshalls in Somerville. “I presented Karyn with ideas for the ways in which Beth could help and affect the bottom line. I explained what she could do—that she could clean and organize those areas of the store where people rummage—so we set up a work assessment; it was an opportunity for Beth to demonstrate her abilities.”
About half way into Beth’s work assessment, a meeting was held. “I was really impressed with Beth’s attention to the detail,” says Marcinkevich. “And the feedback that I received from her coworkers about her organization skills, not to mention the cleanliness of the store, was enough for me; I opted to hire Beth on the spot. Her work here is important to me, to her coworkers and ultimately, our customers. We consider her our secret weapon. She’s an important part of our team.”
Crossing guard with Autism stopping traffic and helping kids
Dan Lowe has been helping kids cross the street on their way home from school for two years. The Portland crossing guard living with Autism had help from Work Opportunities Unlimited finding employment.
PORTLAND, Maine — When kids at East End Community School walk home, they’re met by a familiar face at the intersection of North and Walnut. A crossing guard named Dan Lowe who takes his job seriously.
Lowe started working as a Crossing Guard in Portland two years ago. He wears a reflective vest and carries a stop sign to hault traffic when kids are entering the cross walks at the intersection of North and Walnut Streets. There are is a lot of gratitude shown throughout the day from students who seldom notice that their crossing guard is living with Autism.
“It’s an important job to me because think about it, if I don’t show up who’s going to keep the kids safe,” said Lowe.
Lowe was referred to Work Opportunities Unlimited by the Department of Labor program called Vocational Rehabilitation that helps those living with a disability: physical, mental or emotional, find a job. Since the summer of last year Work Opportunities Unlimited has successfully employed 873 people.
Senior Parking Control Officer for the City of Portland, Kevin Ready, helped train Lowe. According to him it was common for Lowe to check in and make sure he was doing the job properly. The answer was always an astounding yes.
“Dan takes it very seriously and that’s something I admire quite a bit,” said Ready. “Keeping kids safe, especially at an intersection like this on, I don’t know what is more important than that.”
“It’s My Dream Job” – A Work Opportunities Unlimited Success Story
Jeremy was referred to Work Opportunities Unlimited by Vocational Rehabilitation. When he began working with Mary Northrup, a Career Resource Specialist, he had one job aspiration in mind – to work in the fishing section at a department store.
All of his life Jeremy had participated in outdoor activities. He has a vast knowledge of hunting and fishing and was eager to contribute that knowledge and passion to a paid position.
Through her dedication and persistence Mary learned that Bass Pro Shops was building a store locally. Mary immediately went to work. She reached out to corporate management and began developing a relationship with the fish and game mogul. Mary and Jeremy together devised a plan and took immediate action.
Jeremy, Mary, and Jeremy’s mother sat down to compose a letter to the corporate president of Bass Pro Shops. In the letter, Jeremy described his love of the outdoors and his knowledge of all things fishing. He also included photos of himself participating in outdoor activities relevant to Bass Pro Shops.
In the letter, Jeremy shared the following: “You will find I am quite knowledgeable, friendly, responsible, and reliable and I have no doubt that people would look to me as the guy who gives great advice and who knows exactly where to find everything in your store.”
After sending the letter, Jeremy constantly asked his mother to bring him to the construction site where the store was being built. Each day they would sit in their car and watch the workers. He waited patiently for the corporate president to respond to his letter.
The team was elated to learn Jeremy’s letter was received by the President and CEO of Bass Pro Shops and Jeremy would be granted an interview! Mary spoke with the store’s hiring manager and set a date and time. They worked together reviewing interview skills. Jeremy was focused, dedicated, and had set his mind on getting this position. Jeremy interviewed with the company and within days was granted a second interview. Again, Jeremy excelled and was offered a position as an associate in the fishing department.
Mary understood Jeremy’s goal, took it seriously, and worked as a team with Jeremy and his mother to remain focused on that goal. With persistence, an open mind, and out-of-the-box thinking, the team was able to support Jeremy in attaining his goal.
The overall experience helped Mary to realize that the importance of working together with the individuals Work Opportunities Unlimited serves cannot be understated. It is only through a great support system that clients can realize, act upon, and succeed in their goals of becoming employed and successful members of the community.
Now, in their first month open for business, Bass Pro Shops is thriving in the community and Jeremy is excelling in his position. He said, “This is my dream job,” and he is working hard to be the best employee he can be.
Recently at a company meeting, Jeremy’s hard work paid off. The first Bass Pro Shops Employee of the Month was announced and the award was presented to Jeremy. He also received a $150 gift card to the store, a special parking space, and paid time off in appreciation of his commitment to the company.
Congratulations to both Jeremy and Mary for a job well done!
Transition Services: Helping Special Needs Students Successfully Transition into Adulthood
(From L to R) Bill, GameStop General Manager with Erik a transition services student in Maine.
Work Opportunities Unlimited’s transition services help students with special needs successfully transition from school into adult life. Work Opportunities Unlimited works with schools across multiple states – including Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts – to help better prepare these students for positive work experiences.
“Through our transition services, participating students are able to learn basic job skills, including how to conduct a job search, write a resume, participate in interviews and learn skills to retain employment,” explained Stephanie Esposito, a Director at Work Opportunities Unlimited in New Hampshire.
According to Stephanie, the program’s goal is to help these students gain confidence, experience, skills and independence at work and within the community.
“At first, the students need significant support to learn the basics of finding, securing and maintaining a job,” Stephanie explained. “But we’re striving to help them become naturally supported, meaning they can rely on their coworkers and supervisors for support, as all other employees do, rather than depending on their Work Opportunities Unlimited team.”
As part of Work Opportunities Unlimited’s robust roster of school services, they offer classes and training in job development, life skills, resume writing, interviewing and more.
One of their transition services offerings, an Employment Skills class, was provided to students at Oak Hill High School in Wales, ME, this year. This biweekly class aimed to engage, excite and inspire the students about work. The class covered a range of topics, including how and where to look for jobs, resume and cover letter preparation, completing applications, interview preparation, clothing and hygiene, and positive on-the-job behavior. Participating students were selected by their teachers, who determined that they’d benefit from this type of group interaction and instruction.
“As part of the Employment Skills class, the Oak Hill students attended the 2013 Job Fair at the Central Maine Community College. Each student spoke with real employers and received feedback about work environments, pay, and required training,” said Mike Murtha, Director, Work Opportunities Unlimited in their Maine office. “The experience was powerful and positive for all involved.”
(From L to R) Supercuts Store Manager Jessica and Katie, a transition services student in Maine.
Katie and Erik, transition services students in Maine, worked with Work Opportunities Unlimited to create career plans, complete job applications, write resumes, and conduct mock interviews. They were each able to visit an employer in their fields of interest, to take tours, ask questions, and “shadow” employees to get a better sense of their responsibilities.
Katie, who was interested in hairdressing, visited the local SuperCuts, where the manager gave her a tour of the salon and explained their services. Katie was then able to shadow a hairdresser and observe and ask questions.
Erik was interested in gaming, so Work Opportunities Unlimited arranged a visit at GameStop in Topsham, ME, so he could learn more about gaming careers. The store’s manager gave Erik a tour, explained about the video games and other products they sell, discussed employees’ responsibilities and answered Erik’s questions. Erik shadowed an employee who was stocking new games and learned how the process works. Erik was so excited about the possibilities at GameStop that – with the support of his Work Opportunities Unlimited Career Resource Specialist – he filled out an application for an entry-level job there.
“The transition services program provides students with a better sense of what’s necessary to work within the community, and they get to explore the industries and opportunities that interest them. We teach and mentor them through every step of the process – from basic communications skills to showing up on time and speaking politely to supervisors and colleagues,” Mike explained. “By helping these students learn job skills, we’re helping them land fulfilling jobs in their local communities. Given the right environment, supports, determination, attitude, and training, these students can become more independent in the workplace, thus transitioning more successfully into adulthood.”
Tim’s Success Story
Tim has worked 20 hours per week at Shaw’s Supermarket for the last five years. In March of 2009, Tim joined the Community Supports program at Work Opportunities Unlimited with the hopes of getting out of the house more often. Tim began volunteering at the YMCA daycare assisting the teachers with snack preparation, cleaning, and gathering supplies. It was immediately evident that Tim has a talent when it comes to working with kids. After only a couple weeks of volunteering Tim was asked to expand his duties and become a classroom helper. He began working one on one with kids, leading groups out to recess and lunch, lining the kids up for activities, and assisting teachers with all aspects of the classroom.
This experience has helped Tim decide that he would like to work in the daycare field. With the help of Work Opportunities Unlimited, Tim has completed 2 of the 6 classes he needs to test for the Day Care Professionals License. Community Supports has helped Tim identify a career path that he had never thought of before. He always thought he would work in retail, but now thinks he can be a great daycare teacher.
Steven’s Success Story
Steven is a young man with Autism. When you meet Steven, you see a young man in constant motion, rocking back and forth or pacing. When speaking with Steven, he frequently repeats what you say (echolalia) and uses short sentences to answer any questions you might ask.
Steven’s goal when starting to look for a job with his Career Resource Specialis was to work in a retail environment. Steven has been successful working in the receiving department at Home Goods where he is responsible for unpacking boxes of new merchandise and placing the merchandise on shelving units according to a code number. Steven works closely with manager, Scott, his CRS from Work Opportunities Unlimited, and assigned co-workers to meet the productivity expectations required for this position. Every month Steven, manager Scott and CRS meet to review Steven’s progress or problems on his retention plan which lists his goals to be successful in his position. Scott recently said that Steven has the highest productivity in the Home Goods processing department of all the employees. Steven’s job is to take home decorating items out of the boxes, tag them and put them carefully on a rolling cart for another associate to put on the sales floor. When Steven started this position he was very shy and wouldn’t talk to anyone, but with help from his CRS, Steven now communicates regularly with his coworkers.