When Goodwill Middleton opened in February, amidst eager shoppers was another group looking for something quite different. Students from Middleton High School were on a field trip with their transition coordinators, Nancy Whitinger and Christine Savides.
A key feature of these field trips is the ongoing search for meaningful workplace experience for students with barriers to employment.
As they walked the store with their students, Whitinger and Savides began to think it had serious partnership potential. And they were right.
The two women approached store staff to begin a conversation about whether Goodwill Middleton could take on some of their students with special needs as part-time employees. The answer was a solid yes, and since April, four of those students have been working 10 hours a week at the store.
Whitinger says the open spaces and quiet environment has been perfect for her students, and they are all finding their way to parts of the job they enjoy most.
“I love organizing things,” she says, explaining that the purses she’s stocking are sorted by size and color.
“I try to think how the customer will look at things. It makes me really, really happy when a customer picks out something I’ve organized.”
Whitinger and Savides say they are always looking for places that hire their students, but sometimes the hardest part is finding an employer who understands.
“It’s about the attitude,” the two agree. “When we approached Jenni (Johnston, store manager), she was so receptive to the idea. And when we started explaining our process, she said: ‘Don’t worry. We get it.’ We were hoping for them to be welcoming, and they were.”
Johnston says it was an easy decision.
“Goodwill of South Central Wisconsin (SCWI) is committed to creating truly inclusive workplaces. We partner with employers throughout our region, and we strive for the same environment in our stores.”
Assistant Manager Andrea Debs adds, “The core mission of Goodwill SCWI is ‘Independence Through the Power of Work.’ We are seeing these student employees develop new skills and taking more initiative when they come into work.”
The experiment has worked out so well, all four plan to continue working through the summer and into what will be their last year at Middleton High School. The students hope to continue their employment at Goodwill after they exit the transition program next year.