John Dziewa was 17 years old when a diving accident changed his life forever. A quadriplegic he underwent months of rehabilitation; and after graduating from high school he was unsure what was next for him. He envisioned a future of dependence on others but his family was persistent, he could do so much more.
Tell us how you first came to Goodwill®?
My family encouraged me to pursue an education, and hopefully a career. Before my accident I was going to be a diesel mechanic, like my dad. Obviously, that was impossible now. To be honest there was a lot of fear holding me back; how would my disability affect my job performance or how others would accept me. A family member saw an ad in the paper; Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin was looking for people with disabilities to enroll in a new computer programming course called dp Connection. Other partners in the program were the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), Division of Vocational Rehabiliation (DVR) and 25 major Milwaukee corporations that included Allen-Bradley, Briggs & Stratton, Johnson Controls, Northwestern Mutual and Harley-Davidson. I was impressed with the planning, commitment and resources that were dedicated to this program.
What services did you receive?
dp Connection provided nine months of technical training plus soft skills like interviewing and presentations and ended with a three-month internship with the opportunity for placement. Amazingly, I was hired one month into my internship at Fiserv and through several different roles have been there for 30 years.
I want to point out that more than 60 people were trained through dp Connection before it segued to Ability Connection and desktop systems AND 91% of the graduates began careers in Information Technology in industries like banking, insurance, brewing, manufacturing, retail, health care and government. That is pretty amazing!
What was your first impressions of Goodwill?
I was unaware of the mission of Goodwill. I only knew of the retail stores and had no idea it was a nonprofit dedicated to helping people with disabilities or disadvantages obtain employment. But I tell you, from my first interview to this day, I am impressed by the quality, commitment and professionalism in how Goodwill approaches its programs, services, staff and customers.
Your story, of a program participant to board member, is wonderful and unique. Can you tell us what the journey has been like for you?
Three words: enlightening, inspiring and rewarding…on so many levels. I have seen the role Goodwill plays in this community as a participant, a program volunteer, a mentor and board member and have experienced the strengths and challenges at all phases. Unfortunately, government-based programs have a one size fits all approach and oftentimes do not take into account the needs of the individual. Goodwill has been there for nearly 100 years to provide the hands-on attention people need to overcome barriers to work, whether through policy, insurance, finance or the perceptions of employers. I have personally seen the concern, sincerity and commitment that the entire Goodwill organization has toward helping others succeed and achieve their goals. I am truly proud to be part of this organization.
Why do you continue to stay connected to Goodwill?
Pure and simple, its mission. Goodwill is committed to the needs of our community and the people like me who need the help in realizing their dreams. Faced with challenges themselves from changing environments on the political and policy fronts, the executive team and their staff show an amazing level of concern and dedication to doing the right thing.
What would you tell others about the Goodwill Mission?
First of all, there IS a mission and a commitment to help people with disabilities or disadvantages find employment and ideally begin a career. Retail, Manufacturing, Laundry and so many other innovative operations are just a means to fund and deliver on this commitment to our community.
Goodwill knows it can’t be everything to everybody and that’s why partnerships are so important. We can do so much more together and I encourage other people and organizations to work with Goodwill and the people we serve toward a common belief in the Power of Work.
What are your future plans?
As I mentioned earlier I have been at Fiserv for 30 years and have been fortunate to be engaged in many areas of the operations, starting as a Computer Programmer in COBOL to today where I am a Conversion Manager with 15 people reporting to me. I know Fiserv values my knowledge and values me, so I anticipate I’ll be here for many years to come.
Being on the Goodwill Board keeps me involved on another level of working for people with disabilities and disadvantages. I’ve also been the president of the local chapter of the Spinal Cord Injury Foundation for 18 years. I continue to believe strongly in peer mentorship and I often do presentations at organizations and colleges. I will be doing a talk soon at Carroll University on this topic.
I have a full life because of a strong support system. My family has always been there for me, encouraging me; my brother would drive me every day to Goodwill and then to my internship. And, Goodwill…the people that mentored me, believed in me…all of that gave me hope and confidence to succeed. The future is good.
Note: As originally posted on Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin.