Jamie Varney was working at a grocery store in Portland, ME when she met Bill McDonough, Career Resource Specialist at Work Opportunities Unlimited (WOU). Bill had been supporting a client at the store, and he was impressed at what a great natural support Jamie was for the individual. He says, “Jamie and my consumer almost instantly connected. In my 17-year career at Work Opportunities, I rarely see this.” It was clear to Bill that Jamie would fit right in at WOU, where the team is dedicated to breaking down the barriers to employment for people with disabilities. In fact, Bill says, “After speaking to Jamie, I am pretty sure I called my director Sarah Pednault and said, ‘We need this person on our WOU team ASAP.’ My director said, ‘Are you sure?’ and I repeated it adding, ‘I’ve never been surer of anyone in my life.’”
Jamie was very familiar with what a Career Resource Specialist (CRS) does in the field, having observed Bill, and was interested in hearing more about the other aspects of the position. Although the thought of switching careers made her feel a little nervous, she says, “I was excited because I loved watching what Bill did to support his client, and I feel like everybody can benefit from working.” Jamie reached out to Portland, ME Director Sarah Pednault to schedule an interview and was hired as a CRS in April 2023!
WOU’s strong team culture soothed Jamie’s jitters and helped her transition smoothly into the role. She says, “Everybody is so accepting. This is the best team that I’ve ever worked on in my entire career!” As Jamie’s mentor, Bill made himself available to assist her in any way he could. She feels that each day working at WOU is a good day, “because even on the hard days, if something goes wrong, I always feel so supported. I can talk to my mentor, or I can talk to my director if I need something. There’s a strong sense of community.”
Jamie’s background is in education. Before working at the grocery store, she had a 12-year career of teaching at the elementary level and in pre-K special education. Although Jamie’s past work experience was with school children, it is her teaching experience that has translated well to supporting adults in the workplace. With her loving and compassionate nature, energetic personality, strong organizational skills, and ability to think on her feet, she is thriving as a CRS!
One thing Jamie really enjoys about her new role is the variety that each day brings as she is out in the field with her clients. She shares, “My days just go so quickly, and afterwards, I still have energy to do other things.” This is due in part to Jamie’s work ethic, but also thanks to the thrill she gets when cheering on her clients: “Each day I’m blown away at what my clients can accomplish. I tell them they’re amazing. They just brighten my day!”
Being a CRS wasn’t what Jamie had anticipated for her career, because she had always expected to teach through retirement. However, thanks to the power of connectivity, Jamie has found her dream job. She is honored to help her clients find rewarding employment – ideally with natural supports that will bond with them like she did with Bill’s client. Says Jamie, “When I stopped teaching, I felt a little lost. But I can honestly say that working at WOU is legitimately my favorite job I’ve ever had. I love my job so much, and I tell everybody!”