Max, a young man from Maine, and his family were on a quest to help Max discover the joys of working. Because of his Autism Spectrum Disorder, Max needed the support of an organization that could connect him with the right employers. Thanks to Work Opportunities Unlimited and three Maine business owners, Max discovered talents he never knew he had and is thriving in ways his family had only hoped were possible.

Max attended Pathways Merrymeeting Center, a school in Brunswick, Maine, dedicated to promoting self-sufficiency and social skills. After graduating, Max’s family connected with Gerry Lalime at Work Opportunities Unlimited (WOU) for some help in finding Max a job. Gerry is a Career Resource Specialist who is dedicated to carrying out WOU’s mission of finding meaningful work for those with barriers to employment.

Gerry introduced himself to Max and his family on a Zoom call and discovered that Max had difficulty communicating. “He can speak very well,” according to Max’s mom, “but just chooses not to.” In addition, he would need to learn new tasks slowly and in short bursts to set him up for success.

Gerry began his search for an opportunity that would not only accommodate Max’s challenges but also help him build his skills and give him real-world experience in the workforce. Gerry reached out to retired Navy veteran Sean Arnold, who has had positive employment results in the past with other clients of WOU. As owner of Basement Woodworks in the Cooks Corner section of Brunswick, ME, Sean specializes in building shadow boxes that showcase military medals and other accolades, among other creative products.

Max at work with Sean of Basement Woodworks

Gerry and Sean started off by teaching Max how to sand wood. Gerry said, “Max sanded the wood for a few minutes each session and he was doing a good job, so after a few sessions, I approached the owner and asked if we could have him try to build a shadow box.” Sean agreed, and over the next month and a half, Sean worked with Max twice a week, half an hour each time, and taught him the steps of building a shadow box. Sean was able to teach him by using a hand-over-hand method; in other words, he would place his hands on top of Max’s, like Mr. Miyagi did in the movie, “The Karate Kid,” when he taught Daniel to “wax on, wax off.” This method gave both Max and Daniel the true feeling of what they were supposed to do.

Over time, Max learned each step of the process and eventually built a shadow box entirely on his own—from sanding to staining and waxing the wood—and that shadow box was donated to the Travis Mills Foundation, an organization that supports retired veterans and their families.

At the end of Max’s on-the-job training with Basement Woodworks, Gerry approached Vanessa Belzer-Bourque and Jamie Giles, the co-owners of Anchor Nutrition, to see if they would hire Max to help out in their small business that sells health shakes and teas. The co-owners each own a separate shop in Bath and Topsham and, armed with enough information about Max’s skills and work ethic, they decided to have Max work at both of their locations with them: two shifts per week for Vanessa at Anchor Nutrition in Bath and two shifts per week for Jamie at Rising Tide Nutrition in Topsham.

Initially, Max started out by measuring two ingredients that go into a protein shake, but because of his amazing memory, he has gone from preparing the mixes for five protein shakes in 45 minutes to preparing 40 pre-mixes in 90 minutes.

“Last week, Max took another step where there are more complex pre-mixes to add to the base, like a vanilla protein or a French vanilla protein. Now, he has to read, find, and mix approximately 98 possible combinations of different flavors according to precise recipes,” Gerry said.

Max’s first paycheck!

Max’s growth has been inspirational to Gerry. In turn, Max is thriving in his job and is especially happy to reap the financial benefits. “You should have seen the pride in Max’s face when he got his first paycheck,” Gerry said.

Despite Max’s challenges, he has innumerable skills that continue to blossom with just a little patience, perseverance, and creativity. He is now able to navigate his way to a better future with the help and support of his family, WOU, and several great local employers. Gerry has also shared an update on Max’s success! Max has been promoted to start making teas and shakes for customers, and also works an extra shift. When a client achieves success, it’s a celebration for us all.