When Sonya was a young adult, she had no clue what she wanted to do career wise. Her initial plan was to join the Navy; however, when she found out she was pregnant, she knew she needed to find a job in order to provide for her family. Her first job was in retail working as a cashier. Sonya had a knack for connecting with people; her personality and determination proved to be an asset to her employers.
As a cashier, Sonya learned practically everything a person can learn working in retail, such as how to operate equipment, mark merchandise, and hire and manage employees. When the manager left, Sonya took on the management role not only at the store she was stationed, but also two other stores at different locations. She went from earning $8 an hour to $18.50 an hour. After ten years of working with this company, Sonya moved on to another management position with Target.
Sonya leads by example, and as soon as she began working at Target, people took notice. Before Sonya started working at Target, the store she was newly assigned to had the lowest number of sign-ups for promotional Target cards. Sonya stepped in to show her employees how to efficiently and effectively promote the cards, and with Sonya's leadership, her location went from having the lowest number of card sign-ups to being number one in the district.
Eventually, after years in the field, Sonya realized it was time for her to move on from retail. Unemployed, she found herself at a job fair. She met and spoke with Steve Thomas, a staff member at MND at the time, and took his business card. Before she knew it, she completed the two week program and got a part-time job. MND offered her an internship position and later a full-time position. Sonya is now a job coach and loves what she's doing.
Sonya encourages clients to work hard and know that something is out there for you. Never give up.
The staff at Maryland New Directions is an outspoken and friendly group of people. Erika Milenkovic, however, was not always used to talking a lot, especially about herself. As a child and young adult, she had always felt a little bit like an outsider due to her mixed race and unusual family situation. She did not have a relationship with her ethnically Korean father since her parents divorced when she was young and her father moved to Japan. This unique experience taught her not to make assumptions and to be understanding of others, which is why Erika sought to help people by working at MND. Since starting at MND three years ago, Erika has grown and learned how to talk about herself as well.
Erika grew up in Colorado but moved to Baltimore to attend MICA, an art college. Most individuals view art as a just a pretty picture, but art is much more than that. To Erika, art is a communication channel that allows her to interact with people in a different way. It's a method she uses to express herself. Erika's first job after college was with a local live theater, working in the box office. She chose to work there because she enjoyed plays, and also thought she might learn something about set design or props. After two years working there and not making much progress artistically, she had acquired customer service skills but wanted to apply those skills somewhere else.
Erika found her way to Maryland New Directions and applied for a Program Assistant position. She was hired and later promoted to Resource Development Specialist. Around the same time as being hired at MND, Erika got a car and finally had the opportunity to transport her art to art shows. Art shows are extremely competitive to get into, but Erika was accepted to participate in two of the two shows she applied for in 2012. Erika continues to work on her art and participate in more art shows.
Erika advises job seekers to challenge themselves and be prepared for opportunities.
In Taiwan, where she grew up, Grace learned about her passion to help others. It all started when she was in fourth grade. Frequently, she witnessed one of her classmates suffer from teacher’s punishment because he did not complete his math assignments. Grace eventually asked the boy why he didn't do his schoolwork. He said it was because he didn't know how and didn't have family at home who could assist him. Without hesitation, Grace offered her help. After a couple tutoring sessions with Grace, the boy's grades drastically improved. This was a turning point for her.
Grace later took and aced the entry exam for college, which gave her the ability to choose any university/major she was interested in. Like most parents, Grace's parents wanted her to pursue a career that would guarantee her financial stability. Grace, however, had her heart bent on helping people, so she decided to go into social work. As part of the requirements for her major, she was required to work a two year unpaid internship. Through the internship, she learned about the need in the community. She wanted to take her knowledge and help those who couldn't help themselves. When she came to the U.S., during her graduate school years, she also spent a year as a mental health counselor intern and later worked for an organization where she helped children with dysfunctional families. Grace didn't consider the internship as free labor, to her it was free training.
Grace's career path led her to MND where she worked several positions until she was appointed by the board as the Executive Director five years ago. She says, "Do your very best in every opportunity and life will lead you to the right position."
Karen began her career journey working for the City of Baltimore as a clerk. She was doing well for herself; she was making $4.00 an hour, which was well above minimum wage at the time, had a car, and a nice home. After a couple of years working as a clerk, she moved on to the Department of Transportation. She worked for the department for eleven years, until she fell ill and lost her position. For a while she was unemployed, dependent on disability checks. Karen wasn't happy with her situation and decided to go back into the workforce. The jobs she was able to obtain were simply survival jobs, and Karen was still struggling. The obstacles in her life were beginning to take a toll on her self-esteem. Life took a turn for the best when she found Maryland New Directions.
Karen started as a client at MND. With the help of her job coach, Sonya Gibbs, she learned the importance of faith. Sonya informed her that there was a job out there waiting for her--position made especially for her--she just didn't know what it was yet. Karen took a lot of comfort in that and began to recognize she had a lot to offer. Because Karen had earned a Master's Degree in Social Work in prior years, MND's Executive Director recognized her skills as well. After completing MND's program, Karen was hired at MND as a job coach.
Ms. Holmes went from having no self-esteem to having a job and recently speaking on a radio broadcast. She mentors and regularly visits students at Shepard Pratt, a special education school. She also is developing her own business and is setting goals for retirement. Karen got the job that she was waiting for her; all she had to do was put herself in the right place and be patient. "Whatever is for you, is for you!"
Rick Vallance has done a lot in his career, but found his biggest passion to be in workforce
development. When Rick graduated from high school, he enlisted into the US Army. While serving
in the military he worked as an Administrative Specialist, and later as a Career and Guidance Counselor and spent the last 15 years with the Recruiting Command matching people’s qualifications to specific
occupational and training opportunities. After retiring from the Army, he accepted a position as an Admissions Representative for a technical trade school enrolling high school students into various
career training programs.
He then moved on to working as the Director of Career Services for another school, and was eventually promoted to Director of Student Services. Again, interacting with students and assisting them with their training and career decisions. Following that assignment, Rick spent the next 5 years working in Career Development for Special Education. Upon leaving that position, he was unable to find open positions in his field of workforce development and opted to go into property management and later as a field technician with Dish Network. While these jobs provided a source of income, they were not personally rewarding. So, following a period of unemployment he was able to secure another position in workforce development. This time as a Case Manager and Job Developer working for a faith based nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting ex-offenders transition back into the workforce. That position was funded by a federal grant provided by the US Department of Labor.
After 3 years however, the grant ended followed by another stint of unemployment. Rick’s passion was working with individuals who struggle with criminal backgrounds, which led him to Maryland New Directions. Working as a Job Coach, Rick helps clients prepare themselves for the workforce. He believes that the staff at MND goes above and beyond for their clients. “We’re going to be your biggest Cheerleaders.”