Welfare to Career: Engineering opportunity

When Fred Keller founded Cascade Engineering in 1973, he was focused not only on building a successful company but also on creating a great place for people to work.

Keller’s one of a kind program called “Welfare to Career,” in partnership with the state of Michigan, aims to knock down barriers that keep his employees from succeeding.  If an employee needs assistance—whether it be daycare services for their kids, financial support, or transportation arrangements—they would usually have to visit a Department of Human Services case worker in a government office.  But thanks to the Welfare to Career program, DHS case workers were placed directly in Cascade Engineering, giving employees in need a direct resource for help.

 “The Department of Human Services is helping us take on some of the toughest challenges that we really couldn’t take on,” Keller said. “Being able to have someone from DHS that is working in the place where support is needed is a brilliant idea.”

One of Keller’s employees, Amy Valderas, who is now a core operator and production team leader at Cascade Engineering, has worked through challenging personal obstacles for the past 16 years.

In 1998, Amy was a single mom raising three kids, all under the age of seven. With no work experience, she lived under the same roof as her sister trying to make ends meet. When government assistance seemed to be her only option, she received a job offer at Cascade Engineering.

Soon after, Amy started working twelve-hour days on the factory floor. With the challenge of being a single mother and providing for her children, Amy sought the help of Joyce Gutiérrez-Marsh, a case worker with DHS who helped Amy find the resources she needed.

“Being directly in Cascade Engineering gave me an opportunity to really get to know my clients and build a trusting relationship,” Gutierrez-Marsh said.  “Then we could start working on the barriers my clients had so they could concentrate on work and not worry about these things that were happening at home.”

Thanks to the support of Cascade Engineering and Gutizerrez-Marsh, Amy has overcome those barriers to find success.

 “In the very beginning, it was very hard for me to work here and be a mom at the same time. If Joyce had not worked here at Cascade, it would’ve been extremely difficult,” Valderas said.  I’m very proud of myself from where I started to where I am right now. My family is proud of me, and my kids are too, and I look forward to working at Cascade for many more years.”

Amy Valderas’ success story and Cascade Engineering’s Welfare to Career program is just one example of how Governor Snyder’s new vision of state government- the River of Opportunity- will fundamentally change the way state governments works for the people. 

When Governor Rick Snyder first introduced the River of Opportunity at his 2015 State of the State address, he described in an innovative way of structuring government that puts people first—not programs-- with the goal of helping all hard-working Michiganders succeed, no matter what’s happened in their past. This new way of thinking about state government would knock down barriers so that all Michiganders could once again be part of the River of Opportunity.

"The River of Opportunity is about creating opportunities for success, not facilitating dependency," the governor said.  “Our mission? To help people succeed, not build government programs that spend."

To learn more about Cascade Engineering and Governor Snyder’s River of Opportunity, visit www.michigan.gov/snyder.