Tim Muise

Tim Muise

Tim Muise was born in Gloucester, MA in 1963 and worked as a fisherman and longshoreman for most of his life. He became a foreman on the docks but gradually got involved with a criminal element and fell into a pattern of alcohol and drug abuse, and became an addict. After serving prison terms for minor crimes Tim was sentences to up to 20 years in state prison for his role in a crime that resulted in loss of life.

Tim experienced depression and suicidal thoughts early in his prison term as he watched the violence and mistreatment around him. It was then that he had an epiphany.

“When I was a young man I was in the car with my father and we drove past Concord Prison. My father pointed to it and said that if you keep doing what you are doing you will end up there. He was right—I could hear his voice as the van drove through the prison gates for the first time. It was so powerful and my epiphany started right there. I was 33 but realized it was never too late to improve myself as a human being and to help people who cannot help themselves. It took tragedy and failure to get me to the point where I could recognize there might be some light and could embrace that I had great potential.”

While incarcerated Tim took college classes, authored a blog, Between the Bars, about prisoner mistreatment, and became a forceful advocates for prisoners’ rights and prison reform. He organized legislative information sessions and attended multiple meetings of the Massachusetts Legislative Harm Reduction Caucus, a coalition of legislators working to address the root causes of mass incarceration. In 2010 Tim went public with facts about a pervasive ‘sex for snitching’ system of abuse in state prison that resulted in an investigation by the Massachusetts DOC Assistant Deputy Commissioner. His actions often led to retaliation, including being transferred and placed in solitary confinement.

Tim was release from prison on June 21st, 2017 and found an apartment in Dorchester. CWS found him a well-paying job as a salesman at a sports club in Boston, but he preferred the supportive environment and mission of CWS, and returned to join its commercial cleaning program. “I just needed a place to start over, a place that would give me a chance. No one at CWS treated me like an ex con, they just gave me that chance and provided fertile ground for me to choose my own path. They always welcomed me in and let me use their computers. They showed a high level of caring and always called to check on me. I told Craig Stenning I am the right person, and when a position opened up they called me.”

Tim is now Commercial Cleaning Program Coordinator for CWS. He also serves as a health and safety officer for CWS, leads classes for returning citizens and takes great pleasure in assisting with CWS’s “Double Impact” program, leading teams that clean and disinfect areas where meals are produced for the hungry. Tim has two beautiful daughters, 36 and 31–who embraced him with love and acceptance when he was released from prison–two young grandchildren, and a wonderful fiancé. They recently bought a house together.

Now dedicating his life to helping others, Tim has a message for young people who may be tempted to make the wrong choices. “The best lesson for young people is that you have to realize how worthy you are. We always expect others to do for us but we need to do things for ourselves, not just in material things but to care for ourselves and respect ourselves. We need to find a way to love ourselves and understand that we deserve to live in an abundant manner. It’s hard to get across because life presents a lot of problems, but it starts with expecting more from the person in the mirror.”

Rachel Grygier

Rachel Grygier

“I can’t wait to have a job I like with a supervisor that understands that I am a person, I can learn, and has patience to teach me. I am Rachel first and I just happen to have a disability. That is me and I like me.” — Rachel Grygier

Rachel and her mother, Sharon

Rachel, 28, was born into a military family in Rapid City, SD, and lived in many different cities growing up. During her early years, Rachel enjoyed being around animals and taking care of them, and she loved to hold family friends’ babies. Rachel had a best friend who also had a disability, and they enjoyed sleepovers and just hanging out.

Rachel has been engaged with MVLE—an agency that creates futures for people with disabilities, and is dedicated to assisting individuals achieve integrated community employment—since receiving her high school graduation certificate. After graduation, Rachel and her mom, Sharon Bartlett, toured a number of facilities that offered services to adults with intellectual disabilities, and found MVLE to be a great fit.

Rachel began working with the janitorial crew in MVLE’s offices, and as her job skills got stronger, her job coaches began looking for outside employment. Rachel interviewed at a number of businesses and fell in love with Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church. She was hired, and loves her job as a custodian, cleaning the church and its preschool.

“It was all so nice,” Rachel said. “I felt like a leader. I helped others and my co-workers.”

The job ended in January 2020, and Rachel was working with MVLE to find another position when the pandemic hit. At first Sharon and her husband were concerned that Rachel would regress without her job and familiar routine, but the opposite happened. Rachel rose to the occasion, participating in MVLE’s three daily meetings and work readiness sessions on Zoom, which provided a structure to her day.

Rachel and Sharon, who is a special education teacher, also developed a productive daily routine, with Rachel helping out with laundry, vacuuming, cooking, cleaning and walking the dogs, while Sharon taught her classes online.

Today, Sharon is teaching in person four days per week while Rachel continues with her MVLE Zoom classes.

“She has come such a long way with the support of her job coaches,” Sharon said.

Rachel has an intellectual disability, and is bipolar. Since the family resettled in Alexandria, VA after Sharon’s husband, a retired colonel, was stationed at the Pentagon, Rachel has been hospitalized five times as a result of psychotic episodes. Each time, MVLE was there to support her.

“Her job coaches always stood behind her,” Sharon said. “They visited her, supported her, and wrote letters. They let her know that her job was secure and would be waiting for her. The MVLE support system never let her down.”

Adds Rachel: “They made me feel so good, and so important.”

As a mom and a teacher, Sharon is deeply grateful for the ways in which MVLE supports people with intellectual disabilities and co-occurring conditions. “MVLE believes that their clients can learn. They don’t see a ceiling. They believe that people always have the ability to grow and expand their knowledge. MVLE lives that, and it shows. Each time Rachel got out of the hospital she would go right back to work, no matter how many jobs skills she had to relearn. They were always supportive and never stopped believing in her. They strive for all of their clients to be leaders.”

Rachel is doing great these days, and is looking forward to working again as soon as possible. And she is really excited about one day getting her own apartment!

Sharon, a special education teacher for grades 4-6, has some advice for parents of children with intellectual disabilities who may not know where to turn for help.

“Find community resources early. Community based services (CSB) are usually found in all counties, and can connect families with many resources to help their children and families.

“I also connected with Rachel’s special education teachers regularly. I always let them do their job so I could be Rachel’s mom. I trusted her special education teachers, coaches, and their thoughts on what would benefit Rachel. That way, I was mom.

Try to remember, and this is a hard one when times get tough, our kids are always learning, and are capable of learning. They just learn differently, and that is what makes our world go around…right! Don’t sell them short. They will never stop learning on their level.

Help them to be okay with having a disability, and to understand and believe that they are important!

Lastly, practice advocacy skills that relate to real-life situations. This will help your children tell doctors, dentists, teachers, or bus drives—anyone, really–that they need help, or simple steps to understand directions. For example, before Rachel received her first COVID shot, we practiced at home for her to ask for instructions that are short, slow and simple.”

Arifa and Fedcap, Inc.: “If you work hard and put your heart and soul into it, you can achieve whatever you want.”

Arifa and Fedcap, Inc.: “If you work hard and put your heart and soul into it, you can achieve whatever you want.”

“You have to face your challenges, and if you work hard and put your heart and soul into it, you can achieve whatever you want.”

Arifa Hossain came to the United States from Bangladesh with her husband and two children in 2016. Eight months after they arrived, Arifa’s husband tragically passed away, leaving her alone to raise and support two young children. Arifa was terrified—she never left the house alone or traveled alone, and didn’t speak English. She had no employment history. All decisions were made by her husband.

Arifa was forced to move her family into a basement apartment on Queens that was infested with rodents and insects. She became depressed, and her son wanted the family to move back to Bangladesh. Having nowhere to turn and not knowing what else to do, Arifa applied for TANF benefits from the state and was assigned a case manager from Fedcap Inc., Sushmita Bit. It would prove to be a life-changing meeting for Arifa, and the beginning of a long friendship.

Sushmita encouraged Arifa to seek work as a home health aide. For Arifa, the notion was hard to accept. Her family members In Bangladesh were academic and professionals, who would consider caregiver work beneath their dignity. There were cultural constraints that Arifa struggled to overcome. She told Sushmita that she would only work for a family that shared her religious faith, would not work in a house with a dog, would not work for a man, and would not travel outside of Queens.

Sushmita and Arifa met frequently, and spoke almost every day on the phone. Sushmita encouraged her to be strong, and to start building a new life. There was no one to take care of her, she said; Arifa would have to take care of herself and her family. If she wanted to get off of public assistance and become independent and self-supporting, she would have to work. After much encouragement and with ongoing support, Arifa gradually agreed to relax her conditions, and soon entered a training program to become a home health aide, earning a certificate. Within a year she was working fulltime, taking care of patients in Long Island.

Then something wonderful happened–Arifa’s son, who was attending community college in Queens, was accepted at SUNY Buffalo. With only three days to decide whether to accept the offer, the family visited Buffalo the next day. Afraid that she wouldn’t be able to find work in a strange city, far from the encouragement and support of Sushmita, Arifa was reluctant to leave her job. But Sushmita encouraged her, saying this was an incredible opportunity for her son, and that work would be easy to find in Buffalo. Arifa decided to move.

It turned out to be a great decision. As Sushmita had promised, trained home health aides were harder to find and more in demand in Buffalo than in NYC. The family was also able to escape the infested apartment in Queens, and avoid the high cost of living in NYC.

In Buffalo, Arifa had no car and little money, and did not understand the public transportation system, but she assured prospective employers that she would find a way to get to her job as she had in Queens—she would walk if she had to.

Arifa was hired, at first at 20 hours per week. After proving herself to be a hardworking and committed employee she was promoted to full-time, and now works 56 hours per week, taking care of a woman from Mexico. Over time she became comfortable traveling alone, and has learned to use the bus system to get to and from work.

At Sushmita’s urging Arifa began saving her money—she is now financially independent and is no longer on public assistance. The best news of all—Arifa purchased her own home! She has developed a circle of friends, who have helped her settle in. She continues to save money and is enjoying the slower pace of Buffalo. “It is a great achievement in my life,” Arifa said. “All of my sisters and brothers called to congratulate me. I am very happy that my son is happy too.”

Sushmita was thrilled for her client and friend when she heard the news. “Arifa called me one morning and informed me that she bought a house. She said this was a dream come true for her, and thanked everyone at Fedcap who supported her in her journey alone. She has achieved something no woman in her family has ever achieved. I feel so happy because I was able to make a change in Arifa’s life. It is an experience that I think she will remember forever.”

When Arifa isn’t working, she hones her computer skills, hoping to secure an office job, preferably with the NY State Government. She still talks to Sushmita frequently. Occasionally, Sushmita will ask her to call other women who are struggling, to share her own story of overcoming barriers and proving that anything is possible.

“I tell them be strong, be brave. You have to face your challenges, and if you work hard and put your heart and soul into it, you can achieve whatever you want.”