Opportunity

Retired Store Manager Fashions Second Career Out of Dreams and Opportunity

Sometimes it’s not enough to follow your dreams. You also need someone else to see your potential.

My career at Walmart was a dream – so unanticipated! And that set me up to follow yet another dream. After nearly 20 years, I retired Feb. 17 as manager of supercenter #2914 in Massillon, Ohio, to start my own business as a fashion stylist – something I’ve been passionate about for years – and to spend more time with my precious family.

I have long had an interest in fashion, starting back when my mother was a seamstress and would create her own designs as I was growing up. Most of my wardrobe was handmade by her! I always loved how wearing something special made me feel. Working at Walmart, particularly with women, rekindled a passion in me to witness the impact of dressing well. Increased confidence, better communication, direct eye contact – we all know how that feels. Feeling positive about ourselves can be transformational.

My retail career had simple beginnings in 1997, when I was a stay-at-home mom with five small children in a single-income family. That August I was looking to get a little extra money for Christmas and applied for the first clock-in-and-out job of my life. Walmart hired me as a temporary associate despite my having dropped out of college to start a family and having zero experience in retail. I never would have dreamed I’d take a job stocking store shelves overnight and end up managing 500 people.

This company backed me every step of the way, seeing and believing in a potential I didn't recognize. One of my first store managers took a significant interest in challenging and pushing me to see opportunities that existed. It taught me how important the human touch can be.

I remember one young man who was doing a really good job as an hourly supervisor at my store. Not long after we talked about his potential, he put his job in jeopardy by clocking in late on multiple days. Instead of giving up on him, his direct supervisor asked him what was going on. He shared that his car had broken down, and with no other transportation he’d had to walk the four miles to and from the store. After hearing this, I bought him a bicycle to help put him back on the right track. He ended up going into a management program and is doing really well today.

As for me, my story has come full circle. Walmart not only gave me the acumen and process to run my own business, it also gave my husband and me the financial security to start this second phase of our lives. My baby was in kindergarten when I started my career, and now all my children are grown and college-educated. Freedom in my schedule allows me to be a stay-at-home grandma to five grandchildren.

Having been at the Massillon supercenter for the last four years, it was bittersweet to turn over my keys and the responsibility. But, I’m excited to continue being a cheerleader from the outside. The people I hired are going to go even further than I did with the belief they can have limitless careers.

Photos courtesy of Massillon Independent.

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Innovation

My Journey From EE to IoT at Walmart’s DFW Tech Hub

Before I joined the team here, I had no idea how innovative a 50-year-old retail company could be.

Like most people, I had interacted with Walmart as a customer in stores and online but had never really thought about the systems and technology functioning behind the scenes to make the whole thing work.

As we officially open our new Walmart Technology satellite HQ in Plano, Texas, this week, I’m reflecting on my evolving, 20-year journey in tech — from building circuit boards to developing software to, now, exploring ways to apply advances in the internet of things (IoT), machine learning, object detection and other emerging technologies in the increasingly blended world of physical-digital retail.

Here’s a great example:

It might seem like a small thing, but spills are a big deal on the sales floor. So we developed a concept to help stores quickly detect spills, building a quick alert system that linked a camera with a Raspberry Pi and sensors that sent photos and data from the sales floor to the cloud. There, we deployed learning algorithms to analyze and build models that helped identify spills.

It wasn’t perfect – but it worked! And even though we won’t bring our prototype to life in stores at scale, we’re able to learn fast and apply those learnings to other projects — like using machine learning and IoT similar to our Raspberry Pi-based sensory concept to cut energy use and cost, all while keeping the temperature comfortable for associates and customers in our stores.

I’ve only been at Walmart four months, but it’s been a blast. I’m still blown away by the many different applications of emerging technology in something as simple as a retail store. But really, retail isn’t simple. It’s complex, the scale is insane and the industry is rapidly transforming. What an awesome time and place to experiment, innovate, fail fast and learn quickly.

It makes my brain happy, and I’m glad it’s happening here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

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Opportunity

How Tech Can Bridge the Employment Opportunity Gap

Having recently arrived to the U.S. from Cape Verde, Africa, Solange is eager to improve her English and pass her citizenship exam. She hopes to pursue a career in healthcare and build a brighter future for her two young girls.

Now a hotel room attendant, she has limited time to study. But through a new program available on her smartphone, she can take courses anytime, anywhere, right from the palm of her hand.

Technology is quickly changing how we live our lives, helping to make so many things easier, cheaper and faster. It’s also changing the way we work. Research suggests that innovations like artificial intelligence have the potential to significantly shift what certain types of work look like in the future.

While these changes might cause some to worry, they also provide an incredible opportunity to help us work in ways we haven’t before. Imagine being able to match your unique skillsets, strengths and personality in a way that helps you find the right job. Or learning new skills through an app or platform that performs as easily as social media does. Or technology that connects you directly to services that can help overcome specific career barriers.

Helping bring technologies like these to life is exactly what the Employment Technology Fund (ETF) has set out to do. Funded by the Walmart, Rockefeller, Joyce and W.K. Kellogg Foundations, the ETF invests in organizations and companies that have developed technology-enabled solutions that help workers overcome the barriers that often hold them back from advancing their skills, connecting to meaningful work and ultimately living up to their full potential. In doing so, the ETF strives to increase equal opportunities for millions of working adults – many of whom are women, minorities and immigrants.

ETF's latest social investments include Signal Vine, a company that uses text messaging to deliver highly personalized and interactive coaching to drive better behaviors and outcomes; SkillSmart, a skills-matching platform that increases transparency in the career development and job search process; and Nepris, a video-driven platform that provides teachers and students a way to connect with professionals around the world. These three companies exemplify a growing force of new entrepreneurs who share the belief that technology can drive social and economic progress.

With additional funding from the Walmart Foundation, ETF is working with The EdTech Center at World Education to field test the products ETF has invested in and provide the larger workforce development field with information about effective employment technology products and practices.

Currently, World Education is field testing ETF’s first two portfolio companies– Cell-Ed and Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment – both of which have national and international reach. In Boston, Seaport Hotel employees who are studying workplace English have just started extending their learning on Cell-Ed, a mobile solution offering interactive text and audio lessons over cellular, rather than internet. Adult learners, including refugees and dislocated workers, in computer and job skills programs across Minneapolis and at libraries in Providence, Rhode Island, user tested newly updated Northstar assessments before formal release last week.

When we embrace the changes technology innovation sends our way, we’re better able to harness the opportunities it provides us. ETF is proud to be working together with like-minded companies and organizations to find technology solutions that will help bring meaningful employment to all.

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Innovation

Hundreds More High-Tech Pickup Towers are Headed Your Way

You know how handy vending machines can be when you’re craving a snack or a drink. But have you ever imagined a giant vending machine that could help you get your online orders faster and save you money on shipping?

It may sound like a high-tech dream, but these machines, known as Pickup Towers, became a reality in nearly 200 of our stores over the last year. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, more than half a million orders have been retrieved through the towers since we first introduced them.

Because of this success, we’re rapidly expanding this pickup program by adding more than 500 additional Pickup Towers to stores across the country, bringing the total to more than 700 by the end of the year. With this expansion, Pickup Towers will be available to nearly 40% of the U.S. population.

Our customers have been clear: They love the Pickup Tower. But, they also told us they wanted the ability to retrieve larger items the same way. That’s why every new Pickup Tower will come with Pickup Lockers, making it just as easy to pick up that new TV as it is to pick up a new baseball glove.

But why stop there? We’ve launched all kinds of innovative services for busy families, including Online Grocery Pickup, Pickup Discount, Mobile Express Scan & Go, our growing grocery delivery service and a new partnership with Google Express. We’re even testing additional concepts, similar to the Pickup Tower, that could make picking up your online order even better in the future.

As we continue to innovate, we’ll keep listening to our associates and customers to improve the Walmart experience – and who knows? – maybe next time you’re in a Walmart store you’ll be greeted by the newest way to save time and money.

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Community

This School-Run Garden is Helping Nourish an Arizona Community

Moencopi Day School in Tuba City, Arizona, has offered a garden learning program for over 10 years. But it was just last spring that student-grown produce first appeared on this elementary school’s cafeteria lunch line—a Hopi Nation first.

That special lunch was important for Moencopi Day School. For the fifth graders who made it happen, the impact came over months of learning and preparation. Guided by Steven Lomadafkie, a science and environmental educator at the school, and two AmeriCorps service members recruited and trained by FoodCorps, an organization connecting kids to healthier foods and the natural world, the students planted and tended lettuce, gaining skills and pride in the resulting harvest.

Through washing the greens and planning a school-wide party, the students built a connection with cafeteria staff—who saw the infectious enthusiasm kids could have for a vegetable. By modeling positive eating behaviors, these fifth graders became healthy food champions, spreading the joy of good nutrition to their peers. It’s the sum of these ongoing, school-wide experiences that shapes children’s eating habits and their lifelong benefits.

A belief in hands-on learning is something that Moencopi Day School is embracing in its second year of partnership with FoodCorps and local nonprofit Moenkopi Developers Corporation. This year’s FoodCorps service member, Curt Cebula, is building on last year’s progress, expanding greenhouse lessons to all grades and increasing the frequency of taste tests. “The kids love him,” Steven says of Curt. “Sometimes he’ll get 10 hugs before a class starts.”

Curt says he sees once-reluctant students now open to trying new foods—especially when they’ve had a hand in making them. Some parents have even told Steven their kids have asked to start a garden at home.

Moencopi’s parent liaison, Trinity Honahnie, says Curt has been instrumental in engaging the community, another critical ingredient in the FoodCorps recipe. His support of a new school-wide take-home meal kit program, featuring traditional Hopi foods and recipes, has helped parents connect with what’s happening at school while reinforcing healthy habits at home. A taste test he led at a parent-teacher conference sparked a new energy.

“It was just a turnaround overnight,” Trinity says. “Curt has really brought some light to our greenhouse program.”

Principals, teachers, and parents understand that this type of positive change is important. FoodCorps strives to make its program effective, accessible and relevant to all schools. This year it introduced a new series of elementary school hands-on food lessons, each tied to national academic standards, which teachers can adapt and weave into classroom lessons. Thanks to support from funders like the Walmart Foundation, this year FoodCorps will reach 160,000 kids around the country.

At the end of the day, FoodCorps serves to make it easier for schools to do what they do best: give students the nourishment they need, in body and mind, to thrive. It’s the passion of local leaders, like Steven, that makes the impact we seek truly possible.

“This is probably the best job I’ve ever had,” he said.

Erica Curry, director of program resources and practices at FoodCorps, oversees the development of resources for FoodCorps’ service program, including a new series of nutrition education lessons that makes it easier for schools to integrate hands-on nutrition education into standard curricula. FoodCorps is proud to be supported nationally by the Walmart Foundation as together we seek to reach children with high quality, impactful nutrition education that sets kids up for healthy futures.

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