The W2W Program Gave Me An Opportunity To Change My Life

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Stephanie Braaksma NCWWDB Success StoryI had a little retail experience at a Dollar Tree long ago, but most of my work experience was as a bartender at four local bars. It meant a lot of nights at work, crazy hours, and out-of-control people. The night life was not good for me. It was hard to find jobs with only bartending on my resume. I started school for IT Tech. I wanted to become a programmer, but life got in the way and I became overwhelmed. I dropped out. Then I thought I would
like to work in an office and that became the focus of my job-searching efforts.

I learned about the Windows to Work (W2W) program while I was incarcerated for an alcohol-related offense. I started attending the Windows to Work workshops. I was one of those people who figured “I already know all this stuff but I’ll just go, it’ll give me a change of scenery.” Each workshop increased my interest because, much to my surprise, I was learning new things. Angela Okon was the Windows to Work coach at that time, and I asked her about enrolling in her program. She advised me of the steps that needed to be completed and I soon became a W2W participant. The W2W coach partners with area probation agents and the Wood County Jail to provide services to participants.

Windows to Work is a program that provides employability skills through workshops offered in the Wood County Jail such as training on how to complete job applications and resumes, workplace skills, interviewing skills, job-seeking skills, financial literacy, Rent Smart, cognitive thinking skills, and WorkKeys. Once released from custody, W2W continued to work with me one-on-one. The W2W/participant relationship follows for about a year after you’re released from jail. After my release, along with some financial assistance with transportation and other expenses while I was trying to find work, Windows to Work arranged an OJT (On-the-Job Training) placement as a secretary with a local agency. This was what I thought I wanted—a 9-5 office job. I enjoyed it but was not able to be hired on as a permanent employee due to funding cuts within the agency. So, I was back to trying to find work again.

Then earlier this year, the new coach Dawn Smack, began developing a working relationship with Goodwill. She worked with the employees at the Wisconsin Rapids Goodwill Store as well as with the Area Programs Leader, Vickie Basar. Once the groundwork was laid, I was able to be the first Windows to Work participant in Wisconsin Rapids to participate in a work experience program at Goodwill. For ten weeks I worked part-time at Goodwill, being trained in the variety of tasks performed in the store. Initially I was excited about having a job and felt more secure at the thought of working, but not really looking forward to working in retail. Now I realize that an office job would have been too sedentary for me. At Goodwill I was able to stay busy and mobile. I was worried about what would happen when I finished my ten weeks at Goodwill, because at that time I would also be exiting from the Windows to Work program. The staff at Goodwill had made it clear that there was little chance for a permanent job opportunity there because of their low staff turnover.

Near the end of my ten weeks of work experience at Goodwill, I went to see Dawn for an appointment. She told me she had seen a posting on for a team leader at the Wisconsin Rapids Goodwill Store. She told me that while I was probably not ready for that position, I should still make sure I have a current application on file there, make use of the network already developed there, and to watch for a possible promotion from within the Wisconsin Rapids store because that would probably mean an opportunity at a job vacancy for me. I followed my coach’s recommendations and a couple weeks after my work experience concluded, I was hired on as a permanent employee. Windows to Work gave me an opportunity to try different things until I found what was right for me. I didn’t expect it to be in retail, but I love the job I have with Goodwill.

I am a happier, more secure person now. I learned to believe in myself and my abilities. I had to decide for myself that I wanted to change my life, mostly for my own well-being but also to provide a better example to my family. I had to find new friends to escape old habits. I didn’t want to end up in prison. The Windows to Work coaches helped provide moral and financial support when I needed it, and now I’m in a place where someday I hope to be part of the network that helps others find work experience or employment. Windows to Work was a great opportunity for me!



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