It’s hard to describe business owner Dalton Leonard, self-proclaimed “born entrepreneur” and the 24-year-old founder of FantaSea Aquariums, a company that specializes in aquarium maintenance, design, and installation. To say he is a role model doesn’t quite do it. Charismatic? Passionate? Visionary? Destined for greatness? All of the above. Just the kind of employer Way2Work wants as a mentor for students transitioning to careers after high school.
Now, put Dalton together with Amanda Tosoni, Career Resource Specialist with Work Opportunities Unlimited, and unleash the pair on Chris J., a junior at Southern High School in Anne Arundel County. What you get is a work-based learning experience like no other. It’s so targeted, so personalized, so. . . perfect, that it’s hard to imagine a better fit.
Chris knew he wanted to share his love of animals with others, especially younger kids. He thought he wanted to work in a zoo, according to his mom, Meleisa Jones. But then Way2Work came along, with a job specialist like Amanda. She heard about Dalton and his work with Anne Arundel County Schools setting up a Science Center in Southern High. The Science Center will be a field trip destination for the County’s grade school kids, according to Eric Day, STEM Elementary Teacher Specialist. And, it’s right in Chris’ own high school.
Amanda put Chris, and his love of animals, together with Dalton, and his vision for seeing the possibilities, and voila! It was a perfect match. Chris is assisting with the Science Center’s fish, crustacean, reptile, and small mammal displays. And Dalton says, “He’s been great. He really knows what he’s doing.”
And because of his work with Dalton, Chris has moved beyond wanting to work in a zoo. Now, he wants to go to college (a goal he never had before) and get a degree in business. He wants to create places where kids can experience all kinds of wildlife. And he believes there is a market for it. “Everyone knows about lions and tigers,” says Chris. “But these kind of animals,” he said, referring to the snake and field mouse displays, “they’re just as cool. Kids want to learn about them, too.”
Rose has always loved animals. Dogs, cats, horses, sheep—she loves them all. So, when she met her employment specialist, Walter Graden from Humanim, there was no question about what field to place her in. He connected her with a volunteer job at Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding School in Street, Md.
Even though Rose had never worked in a stable, she quickly became one of the school’s top volunteers. “She comes in and gets right to work,” says Kathleen Schmitt, executive director and founder of CTR. “She always has a smile on her face.” Rose has achieved proficiency in grooming and feeding the horses, mucking stalls, and performing general barn duties. She also does “walk alongs” with the assistance of a staff person, when students at the school are riding.
When Rose completes this work-based learning experience, she will be qualified to work as a trainee at a horse farm anywhere. Lisa, her mom and biggest advocate, says, “I want her to keep coming here even if she gets another job. It’s been such a great experience for her,” adding, “We are not horse people. She would never have gotten this opportunity without Way2Work.”
After just two months on the job at Avenue Tailor and Cleaners in Westminster, Md., Tim is already looking forward to a big promotion. This summer, he will receive management training and take over as manager of the store’s Gettysburg, Pa., location. “Dry cleaning was never my first thought,” says Tim. “But it worked for me.”
Tim has always wanted to work at or own a shoe store, so his employment specialist, Megan O’Neill of STEP, thought the small business on Main Street might be a good fit. She was right. The experience he has gained at Avenue is pointing him toward college and a degree in business.
Working 2-3 hours a day, five days a week, Tim drives the company vehicle and picks up and delivers dry cleaning in four locations around Carroll County. In his new job, he will learn how to work the front counter, interact with customers, and gain an insider’s view of the operation.
According to Tim’s dad Brian, the job at Avenue, for which he is paid, has made a tremendous change in Tim. He sees Tim being more engaged in school and having a more positive attitude in general. Tim even signed up for the SATs on his own, to the surprise and delight of his parents. “I wish Way2Work would have been available when I was in high school,” Brian says. “You can’t put a price tag on experience.”
Karli dreamed of finding a job that would combine her three loves: photography, art, and design. Her first work-based learning experience was heavy on the art, but light on photography and design. Her new job, at Silver Linings Lavender, that she got through Way2Work, has everything she was looking for. But it took a little extra effort to find it.
Karli’s first day on the job was the day of the Pride Parade in Westminster, one of the busiest retail days of the year. Traffic in the small boutique on Main Street was non-stop all day. “There was a line out the door. Products were flying off the shelf,” says Dawn Pritchard, Silver Linings Lavender’s owner. Having Karli’s help that day was really important; she re-stocked the shelves as quickly as they became empty. “I can’t sell product if it’s not on the shelf,” says Dawn. “That day, I didn’t lose any money.” However, Karli is a shy person. Interacting with customers isn’t her favorite thing. According to Dawn, “To be in retail, you really have to be an extrovert.” After that first day, Karli thought, “I wouldn’t want to do this for a living.” But here’s the silver lining. Dawn opened Silver Linings Lavender in 2013 as an online store. It wasn’t until September 2017 that she expanded into a brick and mortar store. The majority of her business is still online. And that’s where Karli shines.
Now, at Silver Linings Lavender, Karli is learning to do online marketing. Dawn gave her an office and a computer, with software such as Photoshop and Indesign. It’s a win-win for employer and employee. “I didn’t have anyone to teach me (about business),” says Dawn, “so I’m happy to share what I know and spread the word.”
By day, Coardell is pursuing a trade in welding at Worcester Tech. He doesn’t love welding, but it’s better than any of the jobs he’s had at MacDonalds or WalMart, or washing dishes at a restaurant in Ocean City. Outside of school, though, Coardell has other passions. He amazes audiences with his dance moves. He has performed in venues all over the Eastern Shore as well as in New York, and he dreams of making a living as a dancer and rapper one day.
Someone with the soul of a dancer might feel restricted and confined in the tight quarters of a welding booth. And the protective gear that welders wear—including a heavy mask—might make it hard for a dancer to move his feet. So, Way2Work helped Coardell get a job at Go Glass, a shop that specializes in residential, commercial and auto glass. Here, Coardell has room to bust a move now and then. “I finally found something I enjoy doing,” he says.
In addition to having room to move when he has the urge, a crucial piece of Coardell’s success is his mentor, Jeffrey Sewell. Having a supportive person to show him the ropes and to nudge him when he gets distracted has meant the difference between floundering and feeling comfortable on the shop floor. Jeff is teaching Coardell all about the glass business—how to cut and install auto glass, table tops, mirrors and doors. He’s also teaching him how to make window and door screens for homes and businesses. Coardell has learned how to use a tape measure, how to cut glass, and how to keep the blades sharp by storing them in auto coolant. Each time Jeff gives Coardell a little bit more responsibility, Coardell grows more confident. “He’s a good worker,” says Jeff. “He comes in and gets right to work.” Way2Work Coordinator, Tammy Hauck, says she knew the environment Go Glass would accommodate Coardell’s needs. “It suits him,” Tammy says. “It gives him more space to be himself.”