Curiosity Builds Confidence: Thomas’ Goodwill Story

  • Michael Fox |
  • | Mission
Thomas poses in the kitchen of Walnut Ridge.

Thomas makes a difference in the lives of the elderly through his current job, but when he first reached out to Goodwill of Central Iowa, he was looking for a position to simply get him off the couch and be productive. He had minimal work experience and didn’t know what to do or where to begin.

Thomas started training with Goodwill and always did well with one exception: he wanted to be social with everyone. This isn’t inherently a bad thing but he could be too social at times, and his productivity would suffer as a result.

Bon Appetit

He expressed an interest in the Food Services Skills Training Program to his Goodwill career specialist, a structured seven-week program allowing participants to train and work out of the Smilin’ G cafe, inside Goodwill of Central Iowa’s headquarters. They are given hands-on training and work in a fully-functioning kitchen that serves staff, program participants and guests throughout the work week.

“It’s a great opportunity for someone that is not really sure if they want to do it to gain exposure,” said Culinary and Catering Manager Joe Cross. “Here, they get the opportunity of an introduction of what the industry can offer.”

Joe teaches soft skills like cleanliness and professionalism in addition to hard skills like food prep and storage. Trainees gain exposure to equipment, a kitchen environment and the industry vocabulary.

When Thomas started his training, he was timid about trying new things but there was a curiosity in him.

“If I was making something, he would come over and ask what I was doing,” said Joe.

Towards the end of his time in the program, he had no problems with taking on new tasks. He became a self-starter who was always willing to assist. Joe even helped Thomas create the main entrée for the cafeteria on one occasion when Thomas shared a recipe that he wanted to learn.

On to the Next

When Thomas graduated the program, it was suggested that he continue his training at Goodwill’s Good Beginnings Cafe at the United Way campus. This allows for more advanced participants to continue learning. Here, Thomas would work in a more a la carte service, instead of creating a few food items in bulk like he had done with Joe. He learned to follow customer directions and interact with them, which improved his multitasking skills. Once again, he was able to explore his curiosity in food preparation.

Thomas restocks silverware.

“He was very inquisitive about the foods we cooked. Learning how to do certain techniques was all very exciting for him,” said Goodwill Food Skills Trainer Bo Lo. “He became super confident in himself as well. He was one of the few trainees that I had who were willing to get involved with sautéing items, flipping ingredients and all that jazz.”

Teaching Thomas to keep his focus and not get distracted with socializing was one of their main goals.

“It wasn’t too hard to break up that barrier. He could get a little chatty, but I think that’s because he enjoyed what he was doing,” said Bo.

A Perfect Fit

Thomas completed his training and started working with Goodwill Career Specialist Heather Wittrock to find a job. She helped him in all aspects of the job search process. They created a resume, looked for and applied to openings and honed his interview skills. It wasn’t long before he earned a position as a server with the Walnut Ridge Senior Living Community, perfect for a social butterfly like him.

Thomas poses at Walnut Ridge.

“He just seemed kind of the right personality and fit for people that we look for,” shared Chad Aguiniga, Director of Nutrition and Culinary Services at Walnut Ridge. “He brings camaraderie and conversation to our team. The residents appreciate his friendship and companionship.”

Meals at Walnut Ridge provide residents a chance to socialize; something that Thomas is more than willing to provide.

“Being able to talk to the residents and serve their tables is my favorite part of the job.  I love getting to know their names and knowing them personally,” he shared.

Thomas now has confidence and pride that come from earning his paycheck.

“I’ve had the ability to pay for my rent without state assistance. It’s all about being independent and having that freedom. I don’t think I would have gotten this job if it wasn’t for the training at Goodwill.”

When you donate and shop at Goodwill of Central Iowa, you make successes like Thomas’ possible. In fact, 85 cents of every dollar earned in our retail stores and through shopgoodwill.com supports our mission of improving the quality of life for all individuals by providing skills training and helping people find jobs. Find the location closest to you or make a monetary donation to show your support.

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