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Employment success may be a step to bigger things

New London — Maria Cordero says she can't get out of bed some mornings, but she does it anyway, for herself and her 15-year-old daughter, Jamilette.

"I have to put on my big girl panties and show my daughter that mom's doing it," said Cordero.

The mother and daughter had been alone for many years, but Cordero, 33, now has others who rely on her. She's the manager of the Clothes-Pin Laundry on Ocean Avenue, where the owner, Bill LeMay, said she's hardworking, willing to learn, and well-liked.

Cordero has come a long way, having grown up in foster homes, been physically and verbally abused and suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder and addiction issues.

She wore a pin-striped summer pantsuit with a sparkly top and Croc shoes with a rainbow motif to an interview Tuesday at Sound Community Services' Montauk Avenue office, where she went for help after relocating to the area from New Haven three years ago. Her hair, dark with red highlights, was braided, and she had manicured fingernails and a comical toothsome face mask.

And her journey is only just beginning. She wants to be a nurse and to own a farmhouse. She wants it so badly, she already knows what she's going to name her pet mini-goat.

She's a "star pupil" of the agency's employment services program, which Chief Executive Officer Gino Demaio said has managed to place 50 to 60 people in jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. The agency has four employment specialists, each of whom has 20 people on their caseloads.

Cordero wasn't even sure she wanted a job when Jennifer O'Neil, then a driver for Sound Community Services, started giving her pep talks about improving herself while taking her to therapy sessions.

O'Neil became an employment specialist and continued advocating for Cordero.

"Jen encouraged me to do something with my life," Cordero recalled. "I'm just like, 'I've been through a lot.'''

O'Neil helped her get into a training program at Opportunities Industrialization Center for certified nursing assistants, and attended her graduation ceremony in May 2019, feeling like a proud mama.

While Cordero was still in school, O'Neil told her about an opportunity at the laundromat. Cordero hesitated, then took a job as a laundry attendant. This past May, she was promoted to manager and given a $600 bonus.

LeMay, who also owns laundry businesses in Colchester and Montville, said people seem to love Cordero.

"Everybody deserves a second chance," he said. "Their past doesn't predict their future."

Cordero has already told LeMay she's only staying a few years. She wants to become a medical assistant and eventually a registered nurse.

At the laundromat, she makes $13 an hour, which is not enough to pay all of her bills, she said. She's not ashamed to admit she goes to food banks. She said she's not eligible for food stamps, though she does receive health care coverage for herself and her daughter under the state HUSKY healthcare plan.

k.florin@theday.com

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