I’ve been working at Goodwill for over 12 years. It’s hard to believe because originally, I took the job on a whim. While every person’s life story is unique, there are certainly themes to my own that many will find familiar:
- A college degree that I wasn’t sure what to do with,
- Being early in my career and uncertain what I wanted to do,
- And feeling stuck in a former job that you’re desperate to get out of.
With all that uncertainty, I took a job as a case manager at a Goodwill work center for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities on the south side of Milwaukee. The only thing I felt certain about was that there were many case manager jobs posted online, and if I didn’t like this job I could probably get a job working as a case manager with a different population.
What I found working for Goodwill changed that whim into passion.
The individuals at our work center were happy on Monday mornings because it meant a new work week had begun. Conversely, they were bummed to see the clock hit 2:30 pm on Friday. So many of them had a tremendous work ethic and a genuine love of work. For me this difference was refreshing and it became contagious.
It was also the first time I saw people using simple adaptations to make work easier and more accessible for their unique situation. It was eye opening. Having spent six years in college earning a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree I became a little too immersed in theory and research. Simple, practical application of these fancy text book ideas was almost revolutionary.
What I also came to discover was that I was working alongside a largely untapped pool of employees that far too many employers were overlooking. In sports, we all love to root for the underdog, and now here I was working alongside many people that could be considered the underdog. All they needed was an opportunity to show what they were capable of.
Fast forward a decade and thankfully things are changing. A greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion, as well as a lower unemployment rate is helping to provide greater opportunities to people with intellectual/developmental disabilities.
Today I’m confident that many employers are getting the same contagious opportunity that I got 12 years ago, and that their new employee is developing a passion in them that will change their life.