A Goodwill NCW program helped a teenager struggling with money become a young adult with financial freedom.
As a then 17-year-old moving out on his own in an apartment through Agape of Appleton, Josh Fry was referred to Payment Partner, a program of Goodwill NCW that helps eligible participants pay their monthly expenses and manage their money. The program provides representative payee and bill-paying services to people of all ages who receive Social Security benefits, veterans’ benefits or pensions and those who work and receive paychecks, and who find themselves unable to manage their finances.
Before starting with the program and receiving Social Security, Josh said he had a summer job cutting grass and earned about $1,300 in three months.
“I was a young kid who was going through a growth spurt, so I spent a lot of money on food. I maybe saved 30 bucks.”
He then began working with Payment Partner and receiving payee services and a spending money allotment.
At first, he struggled with using his money wisely, said Carmen LeMaster, Payment Partner Team Leader.
“When I started with Payment Partner, I got my $15 spending check every week,” the now 22-year-old from Kimberly said. “When I started with them, I was blowing the $15 in the first day.”
The program gradually taught him to how to create a budget and how to follow one. Now, Josh handles his finances on his own, makes on-time credit card payments and holds a positive credit score with the lessons he learned from Payment Partner. He graduated from the program when he was 21.
“Once he started to be more consistent in his spending, gradually I would let him take responsibility for one bill at a time to see how he would do with that responsibility,” Carmen said. “First it started with him paying for his cellphone, newspaper knowing that we would be responsible for his shelter. We had everything written down in his budget, including his soda money, laundry money and even vitamins. As time went on we gave him the chance to pay his rent on his own. It worked, and he was feeling successful that he didn’t need our help. We sat down for a complete review of things he needed to watch for, like insurance that is not come due every month. He applied to Social Security Administration to receive his own funds and in July 2019 he started it all on his own.”
“It has helped me so much,” Josh said.
“When I go grocery shopping, I know what I need and what I can get, and I have my finances in my head, and I know what I can’t afford that week.”
Josh continues to check in regularly and checks in regularly to provide updates.
“This month he reached out to see if we could go over the budget he has been using and if there was anything I would change for him,” Carmen said. “I was really glad to see him and saw how successful he has been, and it made us really proud of him as a team.”
Payment Partner has taught him not only the importance of budgeting but saving.
Josh, who works part time at Sam’s Club, has set new goals for himself. He wants to be out of Agape in the next five years and living on his own 100%.
He appreciates Payment Partner and the lessons learned for getting him to where he is today.
“The whole team was amazing,” Josh said. “I can’t say enough about them.”
Sarah, a team member at the Lake Hallie Retail Store and Training Center, can sleep easier knowing she and her 4-year-old daughter are home, thanks to the Goodwill NCW Career Navigator program.
Sarah and her daughter moved into their two-bedroom apartment on June 1, capping off a nearly six-month process that started tumultuously with her losing her housing and struggling to find a place to live to getting the help she needed, researching low-income housing options, filling out applications, waiting for approval, signing the lease and ultimately moving in.
It’s a dream come true that was realized because of Hoi VanDong’s relentless pursuit of securing a single mom a place to live while living out Goodwill NCW’s value of a Care for People and not stopping until they were successful. Hoi, who is a Career Navigator, supports team members at the Lake Hallie and Rice Lake locations.
“It’s been very much a privilege,” Hoi said, adding that it’s important to take the time to acknowledge team member’s struggles, listen and help fix them or lighten the load. It shows team members they are valued as people.
“It’s part of my role. It’s simply a drive to help people and meet their needs.”
For Sarah, having a place to call her own has removed an immense amount of stress from her life and provides more stability for her daughter. “It’s nice to have my own place rather than wondering where we’re going to be.”
In late 2020, Sarah’s relationship with her then boyfriend ended, and he told her that she and her daughter would have until the end of February to move out, forcing Sarah to move in temporarily with a friend who lives 45 minutes away from work and to rent a storage unit for her belongings.
“I know that this whole situation has been putting a lot of stress on her mentally, physically and emotionally,” a team leader said when referring Sarah to Hoi for assistance.
Sarah said she kept her emotions bottled up as long as she could so she could do her work, but, “One day I just broke down.”
She needed a hand and found a helping one with Hoi, who assisted in gathering documents, researching options, making phone calls, completing applications and supporting Sarah.
“He helped look at other avenues that I didn’t even know existed on top of what my mom showed me,” she said.
“If you want people to be at their best in terms of workers, it would be difficult for them to be their best if they lack basic needs,” Hoi said.
Knowing that Sarah lacked a basic need and that a child was involved, Hoi said he mentally imagined himself in her situation and understood how overwhelming she felt.
“As I helped coach and guide Sarah through the process, it created more of a sense of urgency to help meet that need. It’s kind of a helpless feeling that I don’t like. You can’t fix it for her immediately. There was so much waiting.”
For her part, Sarah feels supported and appreciates that when she’s not herself at work, people will pull her aside and ask. As for her apartment, “It’s slowly coming together.”
She’s just happy to be home.
As a team member with visual impairments, James Randel relies on his other senses to help him do the work.
James, who said he is 100% blind, was hired in May as a part-time team member at the Antigo Retail Store and Training Center after starting with Goodwill NCW as a program participant through North Central Health Care. His temporary work experience was funded through the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.
“When I first started, I was nervous with how this was going to go,” he said. “Now that the barriers are eliminated, I’m not scared to try a new task.”
James has been successful working in the production area as a ticketer. He also works in salvage and cleans carts and changing rooms.
“It’s pretty laidback. They keep me busy. I like the people. It’s just a friendly environment. I try to give everything I can — 110%.”
Brian Pond, Goodwill NCW Manager of Business and Partnerships Development, said James brings a positive attitude to the store and is willing to try anything he is asked to do. “I am super excited that he is now part of our team.”
“James is great. We love him here,” Production Team Leader Vicki Maclure said. “He works hard and when something comes up we can work with him to figure out the best way to solve it.”
Balancing work with going to college for business, James hopes to become a store leader after graduation.
When Daniel joined the Rhinelander Retail Store and Training Center through an 18-month work experience through Goodwill NCW’s partnership with Inclusa and support from Headwaters Inc., he did something unexpected.
He finished the program after two months and applied for a job. Store Team Leader Heather Kliss hired him immediately.
“This program typically lasts 18 months and helps people with barriers get job experience,” said Brian Pond, Goodwill NCW Manager of Business and Partnerships Development. “Daniel excelled and applied for a job after two months in the program. I can tell you this is incredibly rare. When meeting Daniel you could tell that he was the perfect fit for Goodwill, and with supports in place by us and our program partners, Daniel did nothing but excel in his short time in the program.”
Eager, loyal and generous, Daniel has brought excitement and energy into the donations production area.
“Watching Daniel’s work ethic and excitement to work has been very humbling,” Heather said. “Daniel does not shy away from work — he puts his gloves on with excitement and rushes toward it! We are very grateful that Daniel and his family chose us to be a part of Daniel’s development. In such a short period of time, Daniel had outgrown the program and went on to full employment. Daniel and his family should be so proud, as all of us here at Goodwill are very proud of Daniel. We are lucky to have him on our team.”
“Daniel’s story is amazing,” Brian said. “With Daniel’s mother’s support as well as support from our program partners, the store and, of course, Daniel’s hard work, Daniel excelled and broke down every barrier.”
The fifth annual Restoring Hope Thrift Shop Scavenger Hunt was held over Mother’s Day weekend after taking a year off because of the pandemic and took teams to Goodwill retail store and training centers throughout Green Bay and the Fox Cities in search of goodies on their list and with a few special tasks and fun challenges to complete.
It’s a tribute Lisa Madison of Seymour started in 2016 to her mom, Marlene Matuszak, who died in 2014 after an organ transplant.
Lisa created the fundraiser to benefit Restoring Hope Transplant House, a nonprofit organization that serves transplant families throughout Wisconsin and is based in Middleton. It was a place of comfort for Lisa and her family.
The event has raised a total of $16,500, including $4,519 this year, and had 55 participants.
“After taking time to reflect on the day and the days prior to the event, the importance of community seemed to be in the center of my thoughts,” Lisa said. “Much like Goodwill, the Restoring Hope Transplant House is all about providing support and uplifting others in our community. The support and care we received from the home was genuine, and it saw us threw some uncertain times. Why raise funds scavenger hunting at a thrift store you may ask? It’s the uniqueness of it all! No two stores have the same items at any given time, along with the uniqueness of the items itself. … What better thrift store to hunt at than the Goodwill, a unique business with the mission to support others in need in our community!”
Teams meet at a restaurant in Seymour and are deployed from there. Each team has a list and only can shop at the Goodwill they were assigned to. Teams take photos of each item they found and can earn bonus points.
One challenge encourages teams to take a group photo displaying a sign that shares a fact about organ donation. New this year, teams can earn extra points for finding a saying on an item, taking a team photo with that item and conveying the message of the saying in the photo. For example, if the team found a graphic tee with a saying about the beach, the team would incorporate other beach gear and clothing into the themed photo.
The team with the most points wins. The fundraiser also includes basket, beverage cooler and 50/50 raffles along with food, refreshments and a Pay It Forward challenge, where a team receives bonus points if they donate to the recipient. This year’s recipient was Charlie, a 4-year-old boy who received a kidney transplant in March.
“After receiving the donation, Charlie’s mom Megan sent a message to me,” Lisa said. “Her message was, ‘I can’t even begin to thank you for the donations we received today! Words can’t explain how humbled and grateful we are! You guys are truly amazing and have once again restored our faith in humanity to donate to a complete stranger! I was brought to tears by the kindness you guys have shown.’
“This fundraiser is in honor and memory of our mother. Throughout her life she showed us how to give and give freely, without pause or reservation and unconditionally. She was an amazing mom and a supporter of her community. With all that we have experienced this past year in our community and the communities around the globe, this year’s event left me feeling whole again. The love and care of a perfect stranger was real, good and healing of the soul, a feeling that I received by the power of support from our community.”
George Smalley is retiring from Goodwill NCW after working for 15 years at the Shiner Center in Appleton in the Contracted Services program. A celebration honoring him was held Monday.
President and CEO Chris Hess thanked George for his 15 years with Goodwill and for changing lives in the process.
“Believe me, I’m going to miss this place,” said George, adding that it’s been his favorite place to work.
“It’s been a great honor to have you on our team,” said Paul Brunette, Contracted Services leader. “We’ve had some great fun with you.”
Known for his quiet and pleasant demeanor, George helped build the program to where it is today, Paul said.
Contracted Services assists business in accomplishing tasks that aren’t cost-efficient to be performed in-house and provides job-skills training to people with disabilities or other barriers to employment.
“Thank you for all of your hard work over the years,” said Tina Schaffert, Contracted Services area team leader.
As the longest-tenured team member with Goodwill NCW, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Tammie Penney has earned bragging rights.
Tammie, who is celebrating 43 years with Goodwill this year, started as a program participant at the Menasha Retail Store in Training Center in 1977 through a partnership with Advocap. A year later, Goodwill NCW hired her on as a team member.
Now 61 years old, Tammie has been a part of the “Goodwill family,” she says, ever since.
After more than two decades at the Menasha location, she moved to the Darboy Retail Store and Training Center when it opened in 2005.
“I love the people and the place,” Tammie said. That is obvious.”
While the people and the place keep her here, she also enjoys the variety of the work and getting to know customers by name.
“I like to do everything,” Tammie said.
She appreciates the stability her job has brought to her life and the positive impact the team has made on her. Tammie, who has two grandchildren with disabilities, has learned how to treat people with disabilities with kindness, patience and respect and likes to serve as a leader and mentor to them. They are lessons she can apply to her own family, she said.
“I’ve tried to be positive, upbeat and nice and am happy to be that way. It just brings my spirits and hopes up.”
There also have been challenging lessons, too, where she has been pushed out of her comfort skills and learned skills she never thought she was capable of. Self-doubt sometimes would get in the way of her believing in herself, and she was always encouraged to try.
“Goodwill has done the best for me, and I’m very thankful for all these years,” Tammie said.
Two longtime Goodwill NCW program participants are celebrating major milestones in 2021 during the nonprofit human services organization’s 50th anniversary year. Together, Jon Sopel and Laura Mrotek have five decades of experience at Goodwill, and each has impacted their teams in his and her own way.
Jon will be celebrating a major milestone with Goodwill this year – his 25th anniversary! In that time, he has become a beloved member of the team who is known for his tactics in trying to scare others and his signature laugh.
“Shopping and donating to Goodwill is something our family makes a priority,” his sister, Sheila Jackson, said. “We see the good it does for Jon firsthand. Jon has been a part of Goodwill for almost 25 years and from Day1 it has been his reason to get out of bed each day. He never even wants a day off!”
In his time with Goodwill, Jon has worked part time at the Shiner Center and the Menasha and Grand Chute retail stores and training centers, making friends wherever he goes.
“We can all tell when Jonny comes in for the day with his loud spunky laugh and jokes,” said Priscilla Castro Cendejas, production team leader. “Jonny has such a fun, bubbly attitude. He loves to scare people and gets a kick out of his scare actually scaring the person.”
Jon is responsible for sweeping, helping with salvage and occasionally pulling merchandise from the store floor.
“One of his favorite jobs to do is bagging toys,” Priscilla said. “Jonny is known for sneaking away from his job sometimes and going to the sales floor, wanting to help the women shop and making sure they are finding everything. Our customers get a kick out of him always wanting to help them. He is such a people person! Each night we look forward to getting our end-of-night call from Jonny asking his famous questions of how many trucks we got; how many leaders we have, with us answering and him saying, ‘Uh, oh that’s not enough, someone messed up;’ who’s opening and closing; and how much money we made. It’s a great end to our night whenever Jonny calls. We are so happy to have Jonny be a part of our team.”
“Goodwill is like his second family, and we would all be lost without the caring people there who work to help Jon grow,” Sheila said. “His work and experiences at Goodwill teach him how to be a part of a team, and it’s a team he loves to be on!”
This year will mark a quarter of a century that Laura has been a part of the Goodwill family, working at the Menasha Retail Store and Training Center.
“They give me opportunities to have a job, working with my peers,” Laura said. “We are a family. They train me to do a good job at what I do.”
Laura, who also spent some time at the Neenah Goodwill and was chosen to cut the ribbon at the store’s 2014 grand opening, has successfully maintained her employment with the help of an Employment and Training Program case manager and supportive store leaders, said Amy Luebke, leader of case managers.
“Laura is our store sunshine,” said Priscilla Castro Cendejas, production team leader. “She always brings a smile to our faces.”
While Laura has worked primarily in apparel, she always is willing to help out wherever is needed and learn new jobs. This year, she has learned some new skills and worked in production to prepare 400 pieces of items for sale.
“That was a huge accomplishment for her, and she was so happy she was able to learn something new. It’s important to us to be able to incorporate our mission into our production area as well as our store floor,” Priscilla said.
“One of Laura’s favorite sayings to all of us is, ‘You worked hard today. You can go home now.’ Laura will always be our sunshine. We look forward to many more wonderful years with Laura.”
A former client who received a life-changing hand up from a Goodwill NCW program is now working for the nonprofit human services organization helping others who are facing their own barriers.
In 2018, Stephanie Schuyler was about to become homeless after leaving an abusive relationship. With the help of a Goodwill NCW program that partners with LEAVEN, Stephanie received a Pay It Forward loan to pay for a rental home for her daughter, mom and herself.
Now, Stephanie is working for the same organization that gave her a chance at success so that she can pay it forward to others. As a job coach in the Employment and Training Program, Stephanie supports people with disabilities at their places of employment in the community.
“This is where I need to be,” said Stephanie, who started her new job in January and sees firsthand how Goodwill lives out its values. “That is amazing. I see it when I go to the consumers and I see it when I go to other job coaches and I see it when I go to case managers. I see the teamwork, the communication. It’s seeing people for who they are.”
Like the consumers Stephanie is there to support, her team is there to support her, offering a sense of understanding with ongoing health concerns and personal issues that arise.
“I can achieve it, but it’s up to me to put the effort in,” she said. “But knowing there is a team behind me and seeing it. This place has a team holding your hand but in a good way, but you have to do the work. They are there if you need them, but they aren’t going to do the work for you.”
Through her job at Goodwill, Stephanie also has discovered information on programs and services such as social skills training that could benefit her daughter, who has autism.
“I have been encouraging Stephanie to apply for a position at Goodwill for a long time,” said John Polakowski, financial counselor with Goodwill NCW and LEAVEN. “I told her that Goodwill would be a great fit for her personal situation. “Stephanie has been an excellent client at LEAVEN and at Goodwill. She is very well-intentioned and has been motivated to become self-sufficient despite the challenges in her life. I was thrilled to hear that she applied for a job at Goodwill and elated when she was hired. As a job coach, she is able to pay it forward in terms of offering encouragement to others based upon her own experiences.”
She has experienced that, through its mission of Elevating People by Eliminating Barriers to Employment, Goodwill NCW strives to elevate not only the consumers and program participants but its own team members.
“They want to make sure that they aren’t just elevating the consumers that we’re helping but also elevating me and my daughter,” Stephanie said.
It’s that support along with the smiles of the consumers she works with that gives her “such a great feeling” to be working as a job coach.
“I really like it because I get to help people and they also help me. I get to see different avenues for how people can do their jobs, be successful and how I can better communicate. You don’t see a person with a disability, you see someone who is dedicated to what they do.”
While Stephanie is still living in the same home Goodwill and LEAVEN helped her secure, the past year hasn’t been easy. She was laid off from her restaurant job and was out of work for six months, living off her tax return and only paying for the basics — rent, utilities and food.
Still, through her generous nature she continued to give to others, gathering items in her house to donate and reiterating to her daughter how fortunate they are to have what they have.
“We’ve made it this far, and a lot of people have less.”
It’s that same caring approach she brings to her job as she provides an empathetic ear and a helping hand.
“I like to be there as a friend or a coworker,” Stephanie said. “When I go with the consumers, we have conversations, but we also get the work done and I don’t overstep because it’s their territory. We are there to support and elevate and lift up.”
Just like others were for her.
Andrea Marty, intellectual disabilities teacher and transition coordinator at Stevens Point Area Senior High (SPASH), has a life philosophy based on a quote from Albert Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Through her commitment to always bringing out the best in her students and her dedication to making the most out of virtual learning brought on by the pandemic, Andrea partnered with David Foertsch, Goodwill NCW training program manager, to bring Skills to Succeed Academy, an interactive, online employability training program.
Andrea said, “2020 has been such a unique year for everyone, but it has been especially hard for students who are attempting to learn from home. So much of what I teach is hands-on, so it’s hard to translate that to the computer. Skills to Succeed filled a huge gap because it provides a quality curriculum, targeting specific skills that my students need to develop in an engaging way on an online platform. This has been a huge support to me as a teacher so that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel and also helps students who are learning virtually to continue in their growth.”
“Finding permanent employment in the community is a major goal for her students,” David said. “When COVID hit, we were all affected, and the education system was impacted. I think it’s great that virtual learning options, like Skills to Succeed, exist so students can continue to learn valuable skills, such as preparing for working, resume building and interviewing and staying successful in work.”
To set Andrea and her students up for success, David met virtually initially with them to journey through a couple of Skills to Succeed modules together. Once Andrea was comfortable using the programming in her classroom, she took the reins and David was available for any questions or issues. She discovered from student feedback that they particularly liked the video components and real-life situations.
“In the future, when we are back to in-person teaching, I would still like to incorporate it into our vocational classes,” Andrea said. “I think that the discussions that a class will have during and after completing modules will be really valuable.”