Had you walked into Goodwill of Central Iowa’s Day Services program last year, you would have likely seen a young lady working away at her latest anime illustration between socializing with friends inside the learning center. Tammy was always bursting with energy and enthusiasm, and the minute she connects on a subject matter, whether it be her creative side, her favorite music or TV show, you have an instant friend.
Tammy joined the Day Services program in January 2017, a program providing services to adults with developmental disabilities and/or mental illness, designed to develop, maintain and increase or maximize independence while providing opportunities for community integration. The program includes structured activities that foster acceptance, build self-esteem and improve social skills such as crafts, fitness, games and music programming, bi-monthly classes conducted on socialization, anger and stress management, increasing independence and health and wellness, restaurant and shopping outings to enhance money and social skills, plus volunteer opportunities in the community.
It didn’t take long for Donna Small, Goodwill life instructor, to see that Tammy was excelling in the program and could take on even more. She saw so much potential in Tammy and knew that working in the community could be a reality for her.
“I talked to Tammy about getting a job because I thought she could really advance herself. I just encouraged her numerous times, and she said she would think about it.”
Eventually Donna met with Tammy, her case manager and parents to discuss Goodwill’s skills training programs focusing on retail, janitorial and food service industries, and food service really peeked her interest. Shortly after, Tammy moved into the program, learning under Chef Joe Cross at the Smilin’ G Cafe at Goodwill’s headquarters in Johnston.
“Initially, Tammy was very unsure of herself and her abilities,” said Cross. “But she had an organizational presence about her. She had impeccable cleaning habits, she would go above and beyond to get our kitchen spotless, and she kept the tables uniform by always perfectly organizing the napkin holders, salt and pepper shakers.”
Cross shares that Tammy was eager to please and had an eye for detail. In the culinary world, that can be difficult to teach, but Tammy came by it naturally.
“My favorite thing was making everything nice and spotless!” Tammy recalls. She enjoyed learning how to run the dishwasher, sort silverware and assemble the tabletops.
After excelling in the program, Small had an idea, pulling from her personal experiences knowing Hy-Vee’s first president, Dwight Vredenburg, who lived near her in Chariton for many years. Vredenburg had told her that he always wanted there to be a place at Hy-Vee for individuals with disabilities and she saw first-hand how the company supports these team members so they can thrive in employment.
“I believe Tammy has the potential to be a Hy-Vee employee, and I would like to see that,” Small shared with Tammy and her family. She said that Tammy’s family was a wonderful support system and encouraged her to try new opportunities, and they began to work on her application to Project SEARCH, a partnership program between Goodwill and Hy-Vee.
Sam Pattison, Project SEARCH instructor for Goodwill of Central Iowa, knew that Tammy was very capable and had drive. He had heard Cross rave about her progress in food service skills training, and he was eager to see what she could accomplish in the nine-month program at Hy-Vee.
Project SEARCH participants have the opportunity to practice meaningful work in the community, develop skills and gain work experience. During the class portion of each day, interns work with Pattison to develop soft skills and job seeking skills; then during the internship portion, interns work side-by-side with Hy-Vee employees and department managers. Participants have the opportunity to experience working in three different departments during their time, and Tammy started off in the bakery.
“This is where the training wheels come off and you really get actual real-world experience,” said Pattison. “She is a quick study. For a while, it seemed like every time I was checking on her, she was learning a new skill, often times independently or with little guidance from the team. She also really excelled at interacting with people; she has quite a fan club over in the bakery now.”
Tammy deeply appreciates the relationships she has developed and loves to drive the team spirit. The best part of her day is getting fist-bumps and interacting with colleagues. That comraderie has set her up for success and clearly had a positive impact on the staff overall, as there aren’t many in the store who don’t know Tammy and greet her eagerly as she passes by.
“I’m a rosebud master ninja!” she proclaims, reviewing the skills gained from the rotation. “And they were really good too.”
In this first rotation, Tammy had a major accomplishment, earning 100 percent on a Secret Shopper survey.
“She’s a really good example of an intern who really got the full Goodwill experience, from starting in Day Services to exploring career options and then getting the real-world hardcore experience of Project SEARCH,” Pattison said. “She hasn’t faltered at any point, and it’s been a great testimony for how the programs built off of each other and have prepared her for what’s after this, which is competitive employment.”
Tammy has finished her bakery rotation and is now learning in the meat department. They are still determining what her final rotation will be in the fall, but Tammy has her sights set high.
“My dream is to work at Starbucks,” Tammy stated. What would be a daunting and demanding position in most’s eyes is a viable option for her skillset, creative mind and awesome customer service capabilities.
Tammy shares how proud her family is of her and how she loves to recap what happened in her day at work. When she told her mom about her secret shopper accomplishment, she said it was hard not to cry from joy, but she reminded herself what Pattison has taught her, “Stay focused. Stay positive. Stay happy.”
From everyone who has watched Tammy’s journey at Goodwill, there is one resounding statement that rings true for all who have worked with her: “Any employer would be lucky to have her,” Cross stated.
When you donate and shop at Goodwill of Central Iowa, you make stories like Tammy’s a reality. In fact, 85 cents of every dollar earned in our retail stores and through ShopGoodwill.com goes to support our mission of improving the quality of life for all individuals by providing skills training and helping people find jobs. Find how you can help other participants here.