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Finding Meaningful Work and Helping Others Find Theirs
zach walker
Written by Amy Paradyz

As he turns 30 this summer, Zachary Walker is right where he wants to be—not only settling into an Old Orchard Beach cottage with his girlfriend but spending his days helping others on the path to recovery.

As a Peer Connector for Goodwill Northern New England, his job is to help Mainers in recovery enroll in job training services paid for by the Department of Labor’s Opioid National Emergency Grant (ONEG).

“I get to help others, while still recovering from my 10 years of use,” Walker says. It has been seven years since he kicked alcohol and marijuana, other than a six-month relapse more than three years ago.

He received services from Goodwill himself and, in 2020, Goodwill hired him as a Peer Connector to help people find career counseling, job placement assistance, financial literacy, computer training, interview coaching and resume writing.

“Our job is to serve people affected by addiction and help them break down those barriers in their lives, achieve stability and find meaning,” Walker says, adding that a lot of what he does is
“active listening.”

Social services is the work he’s wanted to do since childhood. His mentors include his mother Catherine Duclos, a former Life Navigator with Goodwill, and his step-father Michael Rodriguez.

“If it wasn’t for my step-father, I might not have stayed sober, gotten to recovery and gotten this job,” Walker says. “I had a lot of opportunities that I could have taken a lot further—in social services, in the food industry or in the trades—and I didn’t, because I’d wake up hungover and call out of work, or cancel plans or be late. It takes over your life. Now, I live recovery every single day of my life. I love this job.”

Walker’s days are full, connecting with peers—30 and counting, as more referrals come in. Each peer is also supported by a Career Advisor and a Life Navigator focused on navigating support systems to eliminate barriers to employment.

“Most of the peers are in early recovery—they’re getting out of jail, or getting sober or getting into a sober house, starting a program and getting back on their feet,” Walker says. “Other people have lost employment, sometimes because of the pandemic.”

The U.S. Department of Labor awarded the two-year National Emergency Dislocated Worker Grant to Maine Department of Labor, in partnership with Maine’s three local workforce boards.

Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc. (CCWI) is overseeing and managing the grant for the coastal counties region of Maine.

Their service provider, Workforce Solutions (operated by Goodwill Northern New England) performs the work, with Peer Connectors like Walker helping hundreds of Mainers who have been unemployed for 27 weeks out of the past year access job training.

“Once they’ve enrolled, we can start working on their goals—starting with housing, food and clothes, then getting a laptop and into training and employment opportunities,” Walker says. “Getting them back to work is
our focus.”

“A lot of the time, they’re not in a place to be career-oriented and just need a job,” Walker says. “But hopefully, down the line, they have the time to explore a career field or get into a training that can result in a certification or credential.”

If you or anyone you know would like help finding work, contact Goodwill by filling this form: https://goodwillnne.org/support-services/get-help-finding-a-job-workforce-support/

 

Amy Paradyz

Amy Paradyz

Amy Paradysz writes for Journey, Maine Women Magazine, Green & Healthy Maine Homes and the Portland Press Herald. She has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She lives in Scarborough.