‘Man behind the curtain’ at nonprofit My Possibilities leading through rapid expansion
Michael Thomas is one of the honorees for Dallas Business Journal’s 2020 40 Under 40 Awards. Keep an eye out for additional 40 Under 40 profiles as the awards event on March 12 nears. For more information on the event, click here.
Michael Thomas, executive director of My Possibilities, is involved in almost every aspect of the organization, including but not limited to long-term strategy, fundraising and campaign development, program design, budget planning, campus design and construction.
He will have his hands especially full this year as the Plano-based nonprofit begins construction in March on a second building at its campus at 3601 Mapleshade Lane. The new $7 million, 30,000-square-foot facility will allow My Possibilities to nearly double the number of adults it serves each day and provide industry-specific vocational training, which is a new service for the group.
My Possibilities provides a variety of services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities like Autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries and others. The focus is on continued education in life skills, social skills and job training, including placing adults with disabilities into community employment.
My Possibilities, which employs about 100 people, also provides therapy services, including speech, music, behavior, massage therapy and counseling. The organization will move to provide residential services in 2021.
The group purchased the former Eastern Hills Country Club in south Garland and plans to convert it into a masterplanned community with about 100 homes, plus services, for adults with disabilities, and another 200 homes available for purchase by the general public.
We asked Thomas more questions about My Possibilities’ mission and expansion.
Q&A with Michael Thomas, Executive Director of My Possibilities
You moved into your new in Plano campus in May 2018. How has your experience with that campus been?
We moved in, immediately started filling spots, and pretty much filled up instantly. The last 18 months has been nothing but campaign fundraising to get the second building off the ground. We had an outrageously successful 2019 (fundraising.) We start construction in March on another 30,000-square-foot building that attaches to the one that we’re in.
That’s going to open up another 200 slots and we already have about 150 on the waiting list. We have to keep building buildings to keep up with the waiting list. We never quite get ahead of it.
What will that bring you up to?
Weekly we serve 600 between education and job placement. This building would get us closer to somewhere between 900 and 1,000. That’s because even though there’s 200 seats in the building, not everybody’s five days a week.
What is the function of the additional building?
The building we’re in now functions for comprehensive education and therapy. It does have a gym in it, and an art room. The second building is the Launchability career services center. That will focus exclusively on job training and on a variety of different job pathways and all the placement and support facilities. It will have culinary arts education, customer service retail education, environmental services. We’re actually designing classrooms to function like the job settings. We’re allowing our guys to identify the realm of employment they’re interested in.
What are your top three vocations?
Culinary arts — the café, restaurant (and) kitchen world — tends to be pretty far up the chain, because there’s a lot of repetitive tasks and it’s a really high rate of turnover. Restaurants can’t keep bussers, waiters, hosts (and) kitchen prep. Those are all jobs that, when people who are in them find 50 cents an hour more, they’re gone. Our guys are the polar opposite. As soon as they get a job, they’ll never leave.
What would the other jobs be?
Customer service, and customer-facing retail jobs are pretty common, too, because they’re stocking, shelving, greeting and selling too. Then the administrative side is pretty big, too, whether it’s Dr Pepper, Toyota, Liberty Mutual. These companies may all be in different industries, but in a corporate environment, they’re jobs that tend to fall under the realm of administrative support, like a mailroom or setting up a meeting room, cleaning. Our guys are a great fit for that because typically they’re not overly complicated roles. Janitorial, environmental services, facilities, landscaping — those tend to be big ones as well.
We’ve had a number that have really been behind our growth and believe in the vision of what we’re doing in jobs training. Alliance Data is one, AT&T, Keurig Dr Pepper, Toyota, Sodexo stand out. H-E-B Central Market has been behind it too.
Do companies commit in advance to hiring a certain number of people?
Some do commit up front. In fact, JPMorgan Chase just signed us on as their employer of choice and they want to employ 50 people with disabilities this year. That’s the unicorn. It’s not like I’ve got 10 of those running around, but that is the goal. We’re looking to be a go-to in the same way that companies go to UT Dallas (and other university campuses) and do hiring fairs.
Do you work with companies on curriculum or training that they need for your participants to succeed in the workplace?
That’s the goal for that second building. We want SodexoMagic (outsourced food and facilities management service) to partner with us on the development of the culinary arts program and we want FedEx Office to partner on the administrative room, or Aimbridge Hospitality to partner on the hospitality side of the training program. We don’t want to recreate any of that. If that’s where they’re going to work, we absolutely want to go train specific to the industry.
How many does My Possibilities employ on the Plano campus?
We have about 100 now. By the time the second building is open it will be about 115. By the time the second building is full and completely operational, it will be around 135 total employees.
This interview is edited for brevity and clarity.
ABOUT MY POSSIBILITIES
2019 revenue: $14M
Number of employees: 100