After 15 years in food service, she finds new focus in retail

Greater freedom, individual responsibility and happiness at work all resulted from Jolene Wiita’s decision to make a job change from dishwashing at Panera Bread to the retail world of HomeGoods.

“I like it because you get to go everywhere,” she said. “I just needed a change. I wanted to do something I really like.”

Jolene built a solid work history for 15 years with ProAct support as a “dishwashing queen” at Panera Bread in Woodbury, where she worked first on a ProAct crew and then independently.

The new retail employee chose a store where she often shops. Working with ProAct Employment Case Coordinator Kim Lepper in Employment Support Services, she applied, interviewed, was offered the job and started orientation.

Jolene Wiita, right, with ProAct Case Coordinator Kim Lepper, who helped her find success in retail at HomeGoods.

Lepper coached Jolene throughout her five-hour weekday shifts for the first week, then reduced her help to an hour per week, then twice a week and twice a month. The original plan was for her to work on inventory in the back room, but when managers found out she liked to organize, she was moved to the sales floor, she explains.

Jolene’s main task is to remove products from larger merchandise stocking carts, called tanks. There’s pacing and planning, and the tasks are easier on her back than dish work. She’s getting more exercise, too, walking 10,000 to 12,000 steps per day. Jolene had worked at T.J.Maxx many years ago. Both it, and HomeGoods are part of The TJX Companies.

“Jolene has worked very hard, and we are all very proud of her achievements,” said Lepper.

She receives rides to work primarily from her mother, with her father and sister serving as as backup transportation.

“God’s hand was truly in this for so many reasons. I’m so proud of her,” said her mother, Deb Wiita. “So blessed to be her mom!”