Amy Valderas is a single mother of three children, including a special needs child, who has worked at Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids, MI for the past 14 years.  The company manufactures injection modular molded plastic, two wheeled residential refuse, recycling collection carts and recycling bins.

Prior to working at Cascade Engineering, Valderas says, “I was a full-time mom – I never worked before. My son was born with cerebral palsy.”  Through her participation in Cascade Engineering’s nationally-recognized ‘welfare-to-career’ program, Amy is able to support and care for her children without public assistance.

Photo Credit: Dustin Dwyer, Michigan Radio 

Amy says her quality of life for herself and her children greatly improved when she got her good manufacturing job at Cascade Engineering.  After starting to work there, Amy says, “I was able to take them out and buy them [the kids] stuff and enjoy a really nice weekend. I was able to make more money, whereas before, it was really difficult to do these things.”

 Amy applauds the way she was treated as equal with her coworkers Cascade, saying, “anybody who came in through the program was trained the same as staff. It was confidential – no one knew my case. It made me feel good because they thought I was just like all the other staff. Didn’t make it a big thing.”

Amy says Cascade’s welfare-to-career program worked for her in part because of the caseworker who was on the job site to troubleshoot employer-employee issues and barriers to employment quickly. According to Amy, having a case manager onsite “made it really easy. Say for example if I had problems with child care, they helped me find dependable day care. She was able to bring up all kinds of information immediately, otherwise I would have had to take time off to go the DHS office. She was able to assist me in real time.”

Amy appreciates the opportunities for her to advance at Cascade Engineering, saying, “I started I worked on floor as regular operator – you learn more stuff and go up the ladder. Cascade is going self-directed, training new people to advance themselves. They give so much training and everyone is so kind and helpful and interested in helping you advance. Cascade offers classes that teach you how to become a better leader.”

Today, Amy says would recommend a career in manufacturing to other women.  “It’s a learning process, but it’s safe. I’ve been here for 15 years and never thought I’d find a job working in a company I like so much.”

Looking back at her entry to the welfare-to-career program, she says, “at the time, my life was just focused around my kids.  Now that they’re older, I feel like I’m focusing on myself to better myself.”