L to R: Summer Turner, Marianne Babcock, Ashley Ulrich, Brandy Ross

Many dedicated employees of Work Opportunities Unlimited (WOU) found their way to the organization by referral. Summer Turner, Team Leader/Career Resource Specialist (CRS) in WOU’s new Harrisburg, Pennsylvania location, says, “It can be great to bring in new people that aren’t really familiar with WOU before and know them well enough to really gauge their interest. I find that when we have internal referrals, people seem to have a better understanding of what the job entails. And it helps new people coming on the team to see the excitement of people who are already here.” Summer knows firsthand the power of connectivity; in fact, she set off a domino effect of referrals that led to three successful hires – Recruiter Marianne Babcock, CRS Ashley Ulrich, and CRS Brandy Ross – who all embrace WOU’s culture of support for fellow employees, their clients, and their communities.

Summer was working at WOU’s Springfield, Massachusetts office, but had plans to move back home to Pennsylvania. Then she heard intriguing news about WOU opening a new PA location. She was excited to continue WOU’s mission of supporting people with disabilities and other barriers to employment in her home state. Summer continued working for the Springfield team remotely as she worked hard to help get the PA office up and running. The new location slowly began to take shape and then officially opened with its first clients in October of 2021.

Now that Summer was back in PA, she went to dinner one night to catch up with her friend Marianne Babcock. Marianne shared that she enjoyed being an executive assistant at an independent publishing company, but felt there was no room for growth. Summer told her about WOU: “Listen, this is the company that I want to retire from. I can’t say enough good things about this company. I wish there was something here for you to do.” As they discussed what Marianne wanted from her next career move, Summer asked whether she had ever considered recruiting. Having assisted with hiring at various organizations, Marianne realized it aligned quite well with her goals and experience, and she was hired as a Recruiter in November of 2021.

WOU’s extensive onboarding process helped prepare Marianne to find right-fit employees for WOU, particularly for CRS positions. Knowing Summer helped too, because she could see what characteristics made for a successful CRS: “We are looking for that warmth and passion to shine through. It’s really exciting to talk to candidates that are so clearly interested in this position and are passionate about working with people …We carry through the passion we show to our clients into every single department of the organization.”

Marianne heard that Summer was ready to grow her team at the new PA location, just as she found out through a mutual friend that her friend Ashley was hunting for a new opportunity. Ashley enjoyed her job as a manager and program specialist at a farm-based day program for adults with disabilities, but felt she had maxed out her potential there. Ashley says, “It was a little bit of luck and good timing that I had spoken to our mutual friends and mentioned that I was looking for a new job. They mentioned to me that Marianne had a new job with this company that she was loving.”

Marianne knew Ashley would fit right in at WOU because she “has one of those standout personalities – she’s super sweet, super easy to talk to, really passionate about what she does, and genuinely cares about people.” Ashley was the first official hire at the new PA office, starting her career as a CRS in April of 2022. She loves how WOU helps people gain their independence through meaningful employment. “When they have a successful interview, when they obtain that job, it’s the joy that they get that fuels me to continue.”

Now that Ashley was happily established at the new PA office, she caught up with her former co-worker from the farm-based day program, Brandy Ross. Brandy found her current job rewarding, but desired a position that offered more growth and responsibilities. “I enjoyed working with my clients, and didn’t want to leave them for just anything, but I definitely wanted a change.” WOU sounded like the right place to take that next step, so she “bugged” Ashley periodically to let her know if WOU was hiring. Finally, an opening came up at the expanding PA location, Ashley could vouch for Brandy’s strong work ethic and dedication to helping people, and Brandy started as a CRS in August of 2022. She loves how everyone at WOU is “friendly, open and helpful. It’s one of the best work environments that I’ve ever seen…My bugging paid off!”

Brandy appreciates having her friend Ashley to turn to for work advice. “Usually starting at a new job can be nerve wracking, but working with someone I know in the company, who I’m comfortable with, helps make the transition to this new job much easier.” Ashley shares, “I told Brandy when she was applying that there was no shortage of help, that everyone was willing to give assistance at any time. We’re given great training, shadowing other employees, getting a good start and a good foundation before we go out to support our clients.”

WOU’s PA office has been open for a year now, with a growing client and employer base and Summer, Ashley, and Brandy as its three full-time team members. Marianne enjoys hearing about the new office’s progress from Summer. In fact, all of WOU is excited about the successful expansion into a new market. As Ashley says, “Even though we aren’t all working in the same location, you still have that connection and support with your fellow employees in other states.”

The new PA dream team has enjoyed the challenge of starting from scratch, building up WOU’s connections with local businesses to offer unique job and job shadow opportunities for their clients, such as at Hershey Gardens for a client interested in landscaping and greenhouse production, and at a music recording studio for a client who wants to pursue music engineering. They continue to expand community outreach and are receiving very positive feedback about their clients. As Ashley puts it, “We are small, but we are all coming together to do big things.”

When asked how she feels about starting a chain of referrals, Summer says, ‘I think it’s really exciting! I’m grateful to work for a company that I can very honestly promote to people and encourage them to join, because I know they will have a good experience too. It makes me feel very good to do that and to work for a company I wholeheartedly believe in.”