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Eric fled the Congo where he was a lawyer, now he works in a Goodwill home supporting adults with disabilities

When Eric Gikwerere arrived in the United States in 2018, he spoke almost no English. He left Congo and resettled in Maine with his family, and was worried he wouldn’t be able to find work because of his language barrier. A friend who worked at Goodwill suggested Eric look there for employment.

“When I met Amy [a Residential Director], I was very worried about my English,” Eric said. “She said, ‘I believe in you.’”

A younger man holds up three fingers while talking to an older man

Amy hired Eric for his first job as a DSP (Direct Support Professional) to work at a group home in Portland, one of 22 of Goodwill’s independent living facilities. These safe, comfortable homes allow people with disabilities to live as autonomously as possible with the help of a DSP team. Eric stood out immediately as a dedicated, hard-working employee. In June 2021, when a staffing shortage at Goodwill’s Monmouth home left the team there short-handed, Eric agreed to help.

“They told me the residents there needed help,” he said. Taking the job at Monmouth Acres meant being away from his family, who live an hour from Monmouth. But, he said, he put himself in the shoes of the residents and decided, “Let me take this opportunity to help.”

On a typical day, Eric starts his shift by checking in with the staff coming off duty to review what successes and challenges occurred in the past eight hours. He also checks in with management to understand the goals for the day and with the residents to gage their moods. This step, Eric said, is critical. “If you know how a client is feeling, you can figure out how to succeed.” Sometimes he has to “get creative” to accomplish what the client needs while respecting the client’s feelings.

In a recent case, Eric figured out how to support a client who was struggling. The client called Goodwill’s offices the next day to share how happy Eric makes her and how his kindness and respect have affected her state of mind. The client told Amy Faulkner, residential director, “He treats me like we are on the same level. He makes me feel important.” She also said, “I know I talk too much, but he never complains and he never stops listening.”

When Eric heard this, he said, “I thought, wow, what did I do to make her so happy?” In his mind, he was simply doing his job to the best of his ability and treating this client with the respect she deserves. He said, “I realized how much my support leads to a positive outcome.”

It helps tremendously that Goodwill celebrates this kind of collaborative accomplishment, Eric said. “They prioritize teamwork. The management listens to staff and clients and supports both sides.”

Asked about his own goals, Eric distinguishes between short and long term. His immediate objective is to become stable in all aspects of his life in the United States. He is working hard to earn money to support both his family here and those who remain in Congo, to buy a home, and to return to school. In Congo, Eric was an accomplished lawyer, but because the United States does not recognize his degree, he will have to start his education over. He plans to attend the University of Maine School of Law as soon as he is financially able.

Eric is undaunted by the road ahead. “I am a hard working person,” he said. “You can’t achieve your goals unless you work hard and [work] smart.”

At Goodwill, Eric feels supported in his job and his future goals. The excellent benefits have helped him move toward stability, and the management team is flexible and understanding when he wants to spend time with his family on the weekends. He hopes to continue working with Goodwill while he attends school.

“Goodwill is my home [and] my family,” Eric said, and working with the residents brings him satisfaction and joy. “It gives me pleasure in my heart when I support someone who is sad or unhappy. That is what I love most in this life.”

In order to help protect his privacy, the photo accompanying this article is not of Eric.

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