When Jeandy Ream, a quiet young woman from Lynn, started participating in Northeast Arc programs three years ago, it may have been hard to envision her stepping into the limelight as a model in Arc’s annual fashion show fundraiser.
Yet there she was at Boston’s Seaport Hotel in May, beaming as she proudly paraded down the runway, escorted by Boston Business Journal Executive Editor Doug Banks and Associated Industries of Massachusetts President and CEO Rick Lord. It was a night Ream won’t soon forget — she carries around a photo of herself on the runway — and one that served as a visible example of the progress she has made since coming to Arc.
“Jeandy has gained a lot of skills over her time here, mostly improving on her communication,” said Teri Williams, program director of Northeast Arc’s S.T.E.P., a community-based day program that helps participants such as Ream continue to develop skills for employment, and to be part of their local community. S.T.E.P. also focuses on problem solving, social skills, money management, and nutrition.
Ream started at Northeast Arc in 2015 in Project SEARCH, a program run in partnership with Salem State University that provides work-readiness skills through structured learning activities and internships. The program runs for eight months, after which those who successfully complete it advance to S.T.E.P., which was started in order to give Project SEARCH graduates a program to attend while continuing to develop relevant skills.
S.T.E.P. began with 10 participants in 2014 and has expanded to 44, including Ream, who works at TJ Maxx through supported employment. While at S.T.E.P. Ream works on budgeting, social skills, community safety and employment skills. She also works at Northeast Arc’s Shine Jewelry studio in the ArcWorks Community Center in Peabody.
“Jeandy is a reliable craftsperson with a great attitude and a knack for tricky patterns,” said Elise Snow, one of the directors at ArcWorks. “She loves a challenge and helping her co-workers. She sets up her work station in the morning and is proud of what she gets done every day.”
Ream’s participation in the fashion show at Northeast Arc’s Evening of Changing Lives gala would not have been possible without Suzanne Ryan, Northeast Arc director of volunteer services. When Ryan heard that Ream was recommended for the fashion show, she took matters into her own hands. She drove Ream to rehearsal sessions, helped her pick out her outfit (at Infinity Boutique in Swampscott) and took her for a manicure and pedicure prior to the event.
“I took her under my wing,” said Ryan.
In managing more than 800 volunteers annually, Ryan is constantly seeking to expand opportunities for the individuals who Northeast Arc serves. And she leads by example, routinely showing up at night and weekend events to ensure that everyone has a positive experience.
“It’s more like a mission than a job,” said Ryan, a native of Queens, N.Y., who moved to Revere in the 1970s and started working at Northeast Arc in 1992. “I love working with the volunteers. I have a good perspective of the agency and I’ve developed a lot of good relationships in the community.”
What is most rewarding, she said, is seeing the gratification the volunteers get. “I tell people to be yourself and have an open heart, and they come back and say, ‘I see what you mean.’ I have a great connection with my volunteers. I’m a bit of a fanatic about it.”
Ryan has lived in Lynn since 2011 and is an active member of the community, as a member of the Friends of Lynn & Nahant Beach and a supporter of LynnArts and Beyond Walls. She recently joined the Salem State University Civic Engagement Committee. She has two adult children and two grandchildren.
“Suzanne exemplifies the spirit of our organization. Her dedication goes far beyond the scope of her job,” said Jo Ann Simons, CEO of Northeast Arc.
“I still like what I do — a lot,” Ryan said. “To see people come in in the morning and go out to work is gratifying. I have a connection with the people who are getting services from us.”