She works only 20 minutes away from the Virginia Beach oceanfront, but Goodwill associate Anne Marie Schleeper prefers swimming in pools rather than in the Atlantic. “I like the shallow part so I can stand up,” she said.
Schleeper is the third-longest serving associate at Goodwill’s College Park retail store, with more than 17 years of dedicated service. She participates in Goodwill’s vocational services program, which provides a career pathway and support for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities to build job skills.
“I like my job. I enjoy seeing the clothes that are donated and placing them on hangers for our shoppers,” said Schleeper. She also enjoys being part of a team, working with other associates who may not have a disability but share the same desire to make a difference in their community by working at Goodwill.
“I’ve taken care of Anne Marie all her life, and Goodwill is a big part of her success,” said Elaine Schleeper, Anne Marie’s mother and primary caregiver.
Elaine Schleeper said Goodwill’s vocational services program not only teaches her daughter job skills and helps build her confidence, it also helps ease some financial responsibilities that come with being a caregiver. “She earns her own money and she knows she is doing something worthwhile,” said Schleeper.
“Caregivers are in a unique position to see the difference our program can make,” said Stephanie Porter-Lopez, Goodwill’s operations manager for vocational services. “They know the program provides a supportive work environment that understands an individual’s barriers, and makes every effort to help them overcome them, while flourishing professionally and socially,” she said.
Though she may not often initiate a conversation, Anne Marie Schleeper is often one of the most engaging people once others start talking. “She is always offering advice and looks out for her co-workers. She understands the value of teamwork,” said Chantell Goodwin, Anne Marie’s employment skills trainer. Goodwin works side-by-side with program participants in the store, providing assistance and guidance in completing tasks and setting and achieving long-term goals. “Anne Marie does her job with a level of accuracy that is admirable and noticeable from everyone in the store,” she said.
Goodwin has open communication with Anne Marie’s mother and echoes Elaine’s appreciation of Goodwill’s impact on caregivers. “While Anne Marie is working, her mother can keep her own schedule,” Goodwin said.
Vocational services are among many programs Goodwill provides for job seekers with challenges to work. Those programs are offered at Goodwill’s five Community Employment Centers across Central and Coastal Virginia. Thanks to shoppers, donors and businesses that support Goodwill’s social enterprises, job seekers can take advantage of workforce training services and job-readiness programs at no cost.
Since Anne Marie Schleeper has an affinity for swimming pools, it makes sense that she notices when someone donates a bathing suit to her store. “I like pink bathing suits. That’s my favorite color,” she said.