Martha Cortes, Career Resource Specialist, and Will Ellis, Director of WOU’s Merrimack Valley/Lowell area

Every day, the dedicated team of professionals at Work Opportunities Unlimited (WOU) is identifying opportunities, overcoming barriers, and achieving success with people of all abilities. With a passion for helping others, Intern Martha Cortes fits right in at WOU and is gaining industry-ready skills in the human services field!

Martha is pursuing her Associate Degree in Human Services at Northern Essex Community College in Massachusetts. As part of her program, she must complete two practicums in the community. She was introduced to WOU when representatives from the company came as guest speakers during one of her classes. “They spoke about what Work Opportunities does for clients, what kind of services they offer, how they treat their employees,” recalls Martha. “I want to work with clients with disabilities, so I thought, I would like to work for that place!”

She used the QR code on a business card to apply for an internship, then completed interviews over the phone, in person, and in the field. Her field interview was with Will Ellis, Director of WOU’s Merrimack Valley/Lowell, MA team, who was one of the guest speakers at her college class. Will remembered Martha, which delighted her. When Will asked if Martha had any questions, she recalls, “I said no, just a comment: your hiring process is very long. He explained to me that they want people to feel welcome and see what they are getting into. They don’t want to hire a person and then find out, after the process is done, that the position is not what they thought it was. That made sense.”

Martha began her internship as a Career Resource Specialist (CRS) in December of 2023. After starting computer-based training, she shadowed different CRSs, learning how they spent their days breaking down barriers to employment for their clients. Martha found out that WOU also supports students, so she asked Will if she could build her caseload with students as well. “He was very supportive and flexible with that,” she says. Now Martha supports some clients independently and some in collaboration with other CRSs. “It’s been great, because I get a wide range of experience working with teenagers and adults in different environments.”

One of Martha’s favorite parts of the role is meeting clients in the community. “What’s crazy is, I don’t love driving, but now I enjoy the drive because I just love going to support people at different sites and seeing what they do, how well they do and what they struggle with, and how I can help them,” shares Martha. “Sometimes it doesn’t really feel like a job to me. It’s something that I enjoy doing, and seeing all the people succeed is just part of my goal.”

Each day, Martha is putting her education to work at WOU. “I feel that everything that I am taking in class right now, I am able to use it right away in the field,” she states. “That is one of the reasons that I love this job, because I am able to remember everything! If you learn something and you don’t use it, you tend to forget.” For instance, at her first retention plan meeting, she was thrilled to implement a solution that helped her client successfully stay on task at work. The manager had shared that the client often reacted negatively when being verbally reminded to complete tasks. Martha suggested creating a visual list of responsibilities that her client could view on their own in lieu of verbal instructions, and it worked. She remarks, “The client got it in the first week!” Will says, “Martha has been an incredible intern and addition to the team. She is very passionate about helping our clients. Her determination for changing the world of work aligns with WOU’s core values. She has already placed one of her clients, built rapport with the team, and has made a positive impact on the lives of those she has supported.”

As a full-time college student who is also pursuing multiple human services certificates, a full-time intern, a mother of two, and a frequent volunteer at her local church, Martha is incredibly busy. That’s why she likes to think ahead. “I already have all my classes planned out for the summer and the next two semesters, because I am planning to graduate in May of next year. These three months have been great, so I am also going to be doing my second practicum here at Work Opportunities and gaining more experience,” she shares.

Martha would recommend WOU to others seeking an internship opportunity, and in fact, she has already done so. “I tell my colleagues in school, if you want to get the full experience, go to Work Opportunities. You can work with a variety of clients with different needs. You can sit down with them from day one, do the intake, start job searching, and then see them succeed at their job.”