Artist. Gardener. VRS participant. Meet Mary – a Participant of the Year

We catch up with one of Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota’s Participants of the Year.

To see some of what Mary’s been up to since she was a Goodwill-Easter Seals’ Participant of the Year a few years ago, head to Grand Avenue in St. Paul and stop by Three Sisters Eclectic Arts, a shop featuring art and gifts made exclusively by Minnesota artists. You’ll see her creations – intricate flower magnets and earrings. Her designs on sale there are the lucky 1 in 4 that survive the creation process.

It’s easy to understand why she was picked as a Participant of the Year. Just watch her video below.

Determined to work, Mary came to the twin cities from Milwaukee in hopes of finding a better job market.

She’s friendly and outgoing, but a mild form of autism occasionally created a little social anxiety, and also made it tougher to land a job.

She connected with Goodwill-Easter Seals through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS), and then started working with Sue Koritz, a Goodwill-Easter Seals’ Employment Support Consultant.

“She had strong passions,” Sue noted. “They included photography and anything dealing with art, plants and flowers.” Mary confirms that she’s had a passion for gardening since she was ten years old.

She was able to combine her love of gardening and photography when she found a volunteer position at St. Paul’s Como Park Conservatory, helping care for the plants. But she also happened to bring her camera with her to take photos while she was there – and many of those photos were impressive enough to get featured in the Conservatory’s display materials.

Goodwill-Easter Seals also helped her find a job at the Mall of America where she could use her photography skills. “She’s one of the lucky people who’ve been able to combine their passions in her life with her job,”Sue says.

Sue sees positive results from Mary’s work experience. “I’ve seen Mary’s sense of self-esteem and self-confidence grow tremendously,” Sue says. “She’s gained a new sense of confidence in herself and how she can handle herself on the job.”

Mary has kept in touch with Sue. She appreciates the support she received from her and from Goodwill-Easter Seals. “They helped me get experience and boost my confidence,” Mary says. “I’d recommend anyone go to Goodwill-Easter Seals for support and training.”

Today Mary is still at the Mall of America, though she’s working for a different business. She’s starting to consider the next steps in her life, and may look into Goodwill-Easter Seals’ College & Career Navigation program for guidance. She continues to volunteer at the Como Park Conservatory one day a week and helps with the gardening where she lives.

Her positive attitude is evident to anyone who gets to know her. “She comes in every day wanting to do her best, wanting to give 110% every single moment of the day,” her former coworker Maggie says.

She brings that same work ethic to the art she makes. The incredible flower and leaf designs Mary makes take several weeks to complete, and involves making clay molds and carefully layering silicone onto each leaf and flower. And yes, for every four she starts, just one makes it to the finish. Fortunately, she’s determined to succeed. It’s one of the reasons she was named a Participant of the Year.