Starting over in a new industry can be daunting, but when you have the support and encouragement you need, you may find you’re exactly where you belong.

Patti White is a Career Resource Specialist in the Boston market. She enjoyed a 20-year career in retail before deciding it was time for a change. An online job search led her to WOU. Having hired employees with job coaches as a Hiring Manager at Marshalls, she was familiar with WOU’s mission of breaking down barriers to employment for people with disabilities. She thought it sounded like a wonderful place to work, and started her career as a CRS in June 2019.

Patti was certain Tina Simes, a fellow Marshalls employee, would be a natural fit at WOU, as well. When they first met, Tina was an associate at Marshall’s and Patti was her supervisor; their careers grew side by side over 10 years, numerous store transfers, and promotions. Patti says, “When I started at WOU, I felt like it should have been Tina’s job! She always had a way about her that was genuine, and kind. She was able to see the strengths in people that not everybody could see. She could just speak to people in a way that makes people trust her and go to her – she was an automatic leader. She never judged anybody, and she always went out of her way to make sure everybody was always successful.”

But Tina wasn’t sure she was ready for such a huge career change when Patti first began encouraging her to apply to WOU. Having started at Marshalls at age 16, working through college, and being promoted to full-time Manager and supporting her family, retail was all she knew. Then, like so many others, the COVID-19 pandemic made her reevaluate her priorities. “For me it was not just about personal growth, it was career growth, and it was also to have a better work-life balance, which up until the pandemic, I didn’t realize I didn’t have.”

Tina’s previous experience supporting WOU clients on the job site at Marshalls helped convince her, too. “I had had experience with job coaches before, but WOU coaches are something else. They are very in tune with their clients. And that’s what I wanted if I could choose a job for myself in this field.” Tina had always seen Patti as a natural mentor, encouraging her to grow throughout her retail career, so she decided to trust Patti’s insight. “She really put me at ease, explaining the training process, and the ongoing mentoring that WOU provides.” Tina applied to WOU spring of 2021, was hired that June as a CRS on the North Shore Team, and has no regrets! Tina says, “This company really does give you the tools to success… I’m really happy to be a part of it.”

Patti knew she referred the right person. She says, “I think Tina was made for this job. I’m really excited for her that she came on board, that she was able to trust me and her career decisions on trying this out. I think she’s going to make a huge difference in a lot of people’s lives and do an amazing job with this company.” Tina appreciates Patti’s confidence: “It was really great for someone to see in me what I didn’t necessarily see in myself.”

Both women credit their background in retail to their success at WOU as they help prepare people with disabilities for the workplace and support them on the job. Tina says some of the most critical transferrable skills she gained are flexibility, prioritization, and most importantly, people skills. Patti’s experience in hiring gives her key insight as well. “I know what employers are looking for in a hire. They say you can teach the skill, but you can’t teach the character. I tell my clients, you may not have 100% of the skill set, but you can learn it.”

Because their markets are close together, Patti and Tina see each other at team outings, occasionally share clients, and count on each other for advice. Patti says, “I find I go to Tina for more support than she comes to me.”  Tina has also begun mentoring new team members and loves having the chance to coach others on how to best support their clients.

Patti continues to spread the word about working at WOU. “I would refer everyone if I could…I hear my friends complain about their jobs, and every day I’m just so incredibly thankful that I found WOU, they’re an amazing company.”

Would Tina refer others to WOU? Without hesitation, she laughs, “Oh, I would and I’ve tried!”

Thanks to the power of connectivity, Patti and Tina have helped each other and their clients have rewarding careers. Congratulations to Patti’s continued success and to Tina as she celebrates a great first year!