New Dimensions and the United Way work together to get people into the workforce

When Derek Howe started working at New Dimensions as the Individual Placement & Support Supervisor in 2023, he met David. 

David has cognitive issues, but had happily worked at a commercial cleaning company for years. When the owner retired, the business closed, and David found himself facing obstacles to finding a new job. 

He lived in a home with no heat and no water, making it difficult to regularly bathe. He loved his beard, but it was unkempt and often dirty.

Howe, though, had an incentive that balanced all of David’s obstacles to employment.

The United Way of Bay County partners with New Dimensions to offer a training program for people receiving services for persistent mental illnesses. The grant pays for the first 40 hours of an employee’s salary while New Dimensions provides a job coach at no cost to the employer. Those 40 hours can come over several weeks.

Howe explained the program to management at the Saginaw Bay Yacht Club, then asked if they had any work for David.

The Yacht Club almost immediately hired David to handle routine maintenance around the building.

Graphic courtesy of New DimensionsA job coach took David to a barber and then provided soap, beard shampoo, and other toiletries so he could maintain his new look. The coach helped David figure out how to use the bus system and his bicycle to get from his home near Michigan Avenue to the Yacht Club.

That was over a year ago. Over time, David slowly needed less help from his job coach. He now lives in a home with hot water and heat. He takes pride in his appearance, trimming his beard and regularly visiting the barbershop.

He’s almost fully independent at work and has become an important part of the Yacht Club team. David is so dedicated that he once continued to work through a bout of kidney stones.

“He loves his job, they loved him. It’s awesome,” Howe says. “It’s just a great relationship.”

It’s not the only success story.

Howe and Program Manager Becky Burleson say the United Way grant has made a tremendous difference for a number of people.

The 40-hour work experience can be spread over a period of time, giving clients an opportunity to slowly work up to full speed. Some clients work only five hours a week in the beginning.

Job coaches do whatever is needed. The coach learns the job alongside the client. That way, the employer can step away while the job coach offers additional support. The support can be explaining the mechanics of the job, helping a client approach a supervisor with questions, or even figuring out that the job is not a good fit.

“Just knowing we’re with them takes a lot of pressure off,” Burleson says.

Working alongside a client also gives the job coach insight into what each person needs.

“Not only does it give people a chance to get hired, but it gives us a chance to see people work at their own pace. It lets us see more about the environment. Some people don’t like noise, some people don’t like high stress. It lets us learn about their interactions with people.”

That insight often proves valuable.

Howe and Burleson tell the story of Josh, who was hired as a third shift stocker at Walmart. He loved the work, but management called New Dimensions and said it wasn’t working. New Dimensions sent in a job coach, who agreed that the job wasn’t a good fit.

But the story doesn’t end there. Burleson says Josh told her his dream was to work at Walmart. New Dimensions talked to management again and got Josh moved to the cart department. Now, he patrols the parking lot, returning carts to their proper places. Last summer, he celebrated his five year anniversary on the job.

“He loves it,” Burleson says. “He was able to get a new car because of this job. He’s able to support his kids because of this job.”

Burleson and Howe have many success stories to share.

One client wanted to work, but stamina and anxiety issues had kept him unemployed for 20 or more years. New Dimensions found him a job at Iron Grind Coffeehouse in Auburn. Through the program, he was able to start out slow, building stamina and trust. The slower pace didn’t bother Iron Grind since they weren’t paying his salary.

“Eventually, he didn’t need the job coach,” Burleson says.

A woman came to New Dimensions after a car accident left her with memory and other issues. She had worked in nursing homes for years and loved them. She told Burleson she knew nursing homes were no longer an option, but she wanted to get back to work.

“I thought, let’s try first what she knows and loves,” Burleson says

She started working two days a week at Sheffield Bay Assisted Living and Memory Care, only a few hours at a time. Gradually, her hours increased and now she works on both second and third shifts.

“They loved her,” Burleson says. The employees, the residents, and the families all enjoy working with her.

The feeling is mutual.

“She loves it. She’s got good attendance and a good relationship with them. It’s her dream job,” Burleson says.

Howe says the experience helped New Dimensions too. Another New Dimensions client found work in the dining room.

“This opened up a relationship with Sheffield,” Howe says. “We’re always sending people over there to have work experiences. They work really well with us.”

The Sheffield relationship led to another person being placed in the dining room. She’s loved by the staff and families.

Even when the program doesn’t lead to long-time employment, Howe and Burleson say it has benefits for both employees and businesses.

For businesses, the program reduces employee turnover. Without the program, many of New Dimension’s clients wouldn’t last long in the workplace. Supervisors often are graded based on employee turnover, so this helps managers shine. With this program, employers can afford to take a chance on workers who they might not otherwise consider.

For the employee, even just the 40-hour grant-funded experience gives them confidence and someone to put down as a reference.

“At the end of the experience, the individual either has a reference or a job,” Burleson says.
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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at