Maggie has been working as a Bakery Assistant for Wegmans since November 2022, building on her experience as a Project SEARCH intern for the prior school year at UVA Prince William Medical Center in Manassas, Virginia.
Project SEARCH is an international program for students between the ages of 18 and 21 in their last year of high school. The program prepares students for success in competitive integrated employment. It includes classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through worksite rotations. As the Employment Services partner at the medical center, Didlake provides on-site skills training for interns from Prince William County Public Schools and, upon successful graduation, one-on-one job coaching to help interns find employment.
Employment Specialist III Theresa Polk, the skills trainer at the medical center, has been supporting Maggie for a year and eight months, developing a genuine bond along the way. “She made me a better person,” said Maggie when asked about her favorite part about working with Polk.
Polk has had a front-row seat to Maggie’s growth since she started as a Project SEARCH Intern. “She’s become definitely more confident in herself, more independent. We’ve had some situations where she’s had to learn some new skill or learn how to cope, and she’s done it very well,” Polk says. “She’s my pride and joy. I have several pride and joys; she’s one of them.”
Maggie’s favorite part about working at Wegmans is getting to work in the cookie station since she loves all things baking and cooking. Her current duties include labeling and packaging cookies, working alongside her supervisor, Christine Wallis.
Maggie and Polk both credit Project SEARCH for giving her a space to grow into the employee she is today. Maggie’s internship rotations included food prep and guest services, where she learned skills such as labeling and learning to work alongside others in teams — skills she still uses today. In fact, one of her most fond memories as a Project SEARCH Intern was getting to work with others and making friends with the team. When asked which roles Maggie enjoyed the most, it’s no surprise her response was food services. She has always enjoyed working with food and mentions cooking as one of her passions. “I’m really talented at it too. Fun fact about me,” says Maggie.
According to Polk, her internship rotations at the medical center gave Maggie a strong foundation before applying her skillset to the workforce. “I think they gave her, especially food services, they gave her the skills needed to do food prep, but also go outside that. She didn’t just cut vegetables all day long. She helped with catering events at the hospital and helped the food prep line, so she got to do different aspects and was more well-rounded when she went in for her job at Wegmans… also, learning to work with different types of personalities.”
In addition to work-based experiences, Maggie has had other opportunities that catalyzed her personal development. She presented to Didlake’s Business Advisory Council on why people should hire individuals with disabilities. This opportunity helped build Maggie’s confidence and allowed her to showcase her capabilities.
As for her role at Wegmans, her supervisor has also seen tremendous growth since she started. “Maggie has become more organized and even more outgoing. She has done better at remembering the steps to various tasks. She has become more confident,” says Wallis. When asked how hiring an individual through Didlake’s Employment Services Program benefited Wegmans, Wallis emphasized how important it is to grow as people. Having a job coach helped the team understand Maggie’s needs and how to help her best, as well as helped others onsite learn and grow, too. Now, Maggie’s next goal is to learn new areas and responsibilities within the bakery.
When Maggie’s not working the cookie station at Wegmans, she spends time in her kitchen at home. She hopes to one day open her own catering business filled with meals and desserts. (Firecracker Chicken is her specialty!) Some of Maggie’s other passions include dancing and listening to music.
Learn more about Didlake’s Project SEARCH internship sites in our video.