Transforming lives by working hard together

Tymika Thomas– Supervisor & Quality Control Manager, Evergreen Cooperative Laundry– Cleveland, OH

Article | Cleveland, OH | 20 September 2021
After being incarcerated for five years Tymika Thomas was able to get a job at Evergreen Cooperative Laundry through an employment agency. As an employee of the cooperative she is now part-owner, an incentive that she says motivates her and her team to work very hard. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be in the position that I am in right now!” exclaims Tymika Thomas.

Working as a supervisor and quality control manager at the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry in Cleveland, Ohio, has been a life-changing experience for her and one for which she is truly grateful. Thomas, who is a mother of four and a grandmother of three, was doubtful and apprehensive about assimilating back into normal life.

“I was incarcerated for five years. I came home, and I thought the most impossible task was going to be to find a job, but it wasn't,” she says. “I went to an employment agency and about two weeks later I got a job at Evergreen, and I've been here ever since,” says Thomas, her pride obvious in her voice and on her face.

The Evergreen Cooperative Laundry was launched in 2009, as part of the Evergreen Cooperatives. The laundry services clients in the hospital, hotel and nursing home spaces, with the Cleveland Clinic – the number 2 ranked hospital in the world – being its main client.

In addition to being a cooperative, the company is also a second chance company and hires formerly incarcerated individuals, those who are in substance abuse recovery, and others who have difficulty securing employment due to bad decisions or situation, they may be in.

A variety of skills and qualities such as accuracy, flexibility, communication, and patience are needed to work in the laundry. Tymika describes a typical day as being really busy often with 1,500 surgical packs of linen laundered for the Cleveland Clinic. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
Evergreen’s cooperative business model means that employees are also owners. “We have a cooperative laundry here, meaning that once you’ve been here for a certain amount of time, you are voted in by your peers and you become a one percent owner in the company,” explains Tymika. “I’m an employee- owner,” she adds smiling.

As employee- owners, Thomas and her colleagues are personally invested in the success of the laundry and as such are motivated to work hard and keep their clients happy. “All of us are in the coop, so that right there is motivation because the more work we do, the more revenue we make, and the more we get back in return,” she says.

She describes her team as a “family,” that works hard together and supports each other. “We really stick together here,” Tymika emphasizes.

In order for Thomas and her team to do their jobs well, a variety of skills and qualities are needed, accuracy being at the top of the list. “In the back room we have no room for error. These packs are going into surgery, and we can’t have one wrong item in there,” Thomas stresses with caution.

On any given day the laundry can provide the Cleveland Clinic with 900 to 1,500 surgical packs of linen a day. Flexibility, loyalty, ambition, communication, patience, and a passion for helping others are the other skills Timika believes come in handy.

Tymika was a promising student growing up. She had a good work ethic and had hopes of becoming a teacher. “I was a straight ‘A’ honor-roll student and always on the merit roll. I worked in the office, and I helped out wherever I could,” she says.

“I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but it didn’t happen that way. I had my oldest daughter at a young age, and I was leery about going to college and leaving her. So, college was not in the books for me. I have always been a working mom” exclaimed Tymika. As testament to this hard work, Tymika has received three promotions within her first year of work at Evergreen.

Her work ethic, ambition and drive, along with her love for her family, are all motivating factors for Thomas to continue to elevate herself. In addition to learning and growing in her work, she has her sights on homeownership, and is even taking night time college classes in order to learn and develop more skills.

“I promote school with my family and that it’s never too late. I’m going to show them that with the classes I’m taking,” she stresses. “We are a very close-knit family and very supportive. They let me know that they are proud of me all the time.”

Stability, wealth building and a future is what work means to Tymika. As a mother and grandmother being a positive role model to her family is very important. With her hard work ethic, ambition, and determination Tymika hopes to be a homeowner, continue her education, grow, and help others like her to secure employment and stability too. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
For Tymika work represents “stability,” “wealth building,” and a “future.” “If I continue my hard work, I’ll have a future,” she says fervently. “I’m building a career, I just don’t have a job, and that’s essentially what I’m trying to do. Build a career so that I’m able to leave a legacy for my children and grandchildren.”

She regrets the five years away from her family but is now focused on being a role model and leaving a legacy for her family. Her work at Evergreen has allowed her build towards that goal.

“It's not easy to get a job and maintain it and so for me that's a really big thing,” she underscores. Tymika understands these challenges very well and uses this knowledge to help others land jobs and encourage them to move forward.

“I was at a minimum-security prison here in Cleveland, and I keep in contact with the case managers. I always tell them to let me know if anyone is struggling to find a job and to send them to me here at Evergreen. If I did it anybody can do it too. I always try to encourage people to never to give up because of what they did. You might have to work a little bit harder to prove yourself, but if you really want it, you can get it,” affirms Tymika.

“I made a mistake, but I can’t let that mistake define me,” Tymika asserts upon reflecting on her journey thus far. “Some people think that incarceration is the worst thing for them, but I feel it was definitely a tool to help me get to where I am today.” But with a knowing smile she says “I’m pretty sure there’s probably an easier way I could have gotten here.”