Joe Sanderson is the picture of success, and he would love to tell you about it. Having grown his career at Home Depot from his first days as a Greeter to his recent promotion to Supervisor, all while sharing his story at public speaking events, Joe proves that working hard and believing in yourself are the keys to a rewarding career.

Joe began services with Work Opportunities Unlimited (WOU) in August 2014. WOU’s goal is to break down barriers to employment for people with disabilities. Joe had worked with other providers in the past, but he didn’t feel like they recognized his potential. Then Joe met his WOU team, including now-retired Career Resource Specialist (CRS) Victor Campbell, who dedicated himself to supporting his clients and readying them for the workplace. Victor helped Joe complete his job application and practice interviewing skills. He assisted Joe in figuring out the logistics of transportation so he could arrive at work reliably. Most importantly, Victor gave Joe confidence and taught him techniques to advocate for himself in a positive manner, such as when asking his supervisor for a change in hours. Joe was well-prepared when he was placed at Home Depot as a Customer Service Greeter in March 2015.

As a Greeter, Joe would help direct shoppers in the store. Chessa Smith, WOU’s Director of Career Services in Annapolis, MD, would stop in on Joe and marvel at how well he did his job. “I have never seen anyone who was so good at being able to figure out where everything actually is in the store than Joe. He is exceptional. He knows every little nook and cranny throughout the entire location.” Joe would also lend a hand to the nearby customer service desk and assist customers with credit card applications. After Victor’s retirement, CRS Amanda Tosoni took over as Joe’s main WOU point person in 2019. Amanda says, “Every time I’ve been at Home Depot, I have seen Joe going above and beyond to help customers. He has an amazing ability to show appreciation and make people feel important.”

With WOU’s ongoing support, Joe decided that he was ready for the next step in his career, and he began working in the appliances department in 2020. Joe excelled at helping people find the right appliances for their needs, ordering whatever wasn’t in stock, and coordinating delivery and installation with ease. Chessa says, “He really found his niche. He shared that he was recognized as one of the top salespeople for appliances in the region, and I’m not surprised. He has that kind of personality that you just want to buy an appliance from him…I can’t explain it!” Joe also participated in Home Depot’s In Focus Team, helping to educate employees on the importance of store safety.

This year, Joe has been promoted to Front End Supervisor, responsible for a team of 25 employees! Amanda shares, “Joe has been awarded 27 Homer Awards and badges. These are given to employees as a reward for excellent service and compliance with the core values of Home Depot. Joe recently told me he will now find it rewarding as a Supervisor to select people on his team to receive these awards.”

At the same time, Joe has pursued another passion: public speaking. After talking about his path in life during a motivational speech at his church, he realized the satisfaction in sharing how he overcame obstacles and surpassed the expectations that others had set for him. His WOU team had an idea – who better to talk about how to be successful and prepare for the workforce than Joe?  Amanda began arranging opportunities for Joe to speak to other clients at WOU’s job readiness training classes and pandemic-friendly virtual Job Clubs. Joe has spoken at events in his home state of Maryland as well as in Florida. He discusses the importance of soft skills like communication, customer service, and teamwork. He shares the hardships he experienced when he was unemployed for 5 years before working at Home Depot, and how important it is for people to advocate for themselves. He also spends time on lively Q&A sessions.

WOU Director Chessa Smith and Joe Sanderson

Joe’s message really resonates with other WOU clients. As Chessa says, “When someone is at that point where they feel like it’s so hard to find a job, or they worry they won’t find the right one…Being able to listen to someone who you can really easily identify with, who wants to be able to talk about how successful they have been, is great.” Chessa sat in on a speech at the Palm Beach, FL location, and said Joe was amazing: “I am a natural cheerleader, so it was really hard for me to sit still and not jump up and down while he was talking!”

When speaking to groups, Joe’s advice is “Don’t let anyone limit you or say that you can’t do something,” and “It’s up to you to work hard.” Amanda knows Joe practices what he preaches: “I have loved working with Joe and seeing him advance in his career at Home Depot. Joe consistently works hard and that’s clearly what leads to his success…he embraces work.” Joe credits his WOU team for his success, but we know it’s also thanks to his determination, positivity, and all the wonderful skills he has learned along the way.

Joe is now transitioning to self-directed employment services. He plans to continue as an active participant of his local WOU advisory board, meeting twice each year with WOU representatives, other clients, and advocates to help ensure WOU delivers the best support to its clients. His team will also continue to check in on Joe, because he’s part of the WOU family!