Rebecca Thuot, Neenah Goodwill Store Team Leader, is a big believer in working with community partners to create an inclusive environment that allows people to discover and become who they want to be without putting labels and limits on them.

Kiara has proven just that.

Kiara came to Goodwill in early 2021 through the School-to-Work program with the Neenah Transitional Education Center (TEC) House, which helps students with disabilities gain general life skills and prepare for employment in the future.

The Neenah Goodwill supports the program by providing on-the-job duties to gain job skills. They also learn other work skills such as time management, communicating with leaders and how to clock in.

Whenever new students come in, leaders get a report that includes what they are good at and what they need to work on. The report on Kiara indicated that she needed improvement with proper communication and that she would need a job coach at all times to ensure she is exhibiting appropriate behavior.

While leaders take the report into consideration, they know from experience that Goodwill provides a different atmosphere that isn’t like a student’s home or school. The professional atmosphere can bring out a different side of the students.

And that proved to be the case with Kiara.

Leaders observed her every day and decided to try her out on the sales floor, where she excelled. Kiara liked to organize, talk with the customers and move around rather than standing in one spot.

“Through celebrating the possible, finding that she is really good at those things,” Rebecca said. “She has been excelling and doing fantastic.”

They are still building Kiara’s communication skills, but they have been able to phase out her job coach and hired her on as a part-time team member.

“Through her own growth and development, she’s now one of our best merchandisers,” Rebecca said.

Part of the success of this partnership within the community is not only having students gain job skills at Goodwill, but also having them learn skills that can help them with future employment and independent living.

Kiara graduated from school and now lives at an Agape group-supported residential facility, where she can put some of the soft skills she has gained — like learning how to deal with frustrations and getting along with others — to use.

“I absolutely love the program because you get to see people coming in with a goal and to see them get to that next position or step that they’re looking to because they’ve had the first experience here,” Rebecca said. “She has grown and continues to grow into who she wants to be based on what Goodwill can provide.”