West Michigan Works! announced Walters Gardens, Inc. and staff member Kira Malinina as the recipients of the 2024 Michigan Works! Impact Award for their exceptional contributions to workforce development in Michigan. The announcement was made at the 2023 West Michigan Works! annual board meeting held at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Both recipients will also be honored at the Michigan Works! Association statewide Impact Awards in Lansing on April 17, 2024. 

Kira’s journey to Michigan after fleeing the war in Ukraine represents a story of resilience and new beginnings. She left behind her life as a horticulture teacher and a cherished garden, arriving in West Michigan with her family to start a new life.  

West Michigan Works! had an integral role in Kira’s integration into her new life in Michigan. Under the guidance of West Michigan Works! career coach Julie Sooy at the Allegan Service Center, Kira enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) courses through Zeeland Adult Education and completed driver’s training, two essential steps in adapting to a new cultural and linguistic environment.   

“Kira’s transition from a Ukrainian horticultural teacher to a valued employee at Walters Gardens showcases the transformative power of determination, opportunity and career development support,” said Sooy. “This is an outstanding example of the demand-driven model in action. I spent time learning about her background – she had experience in laboratory work, agriculture, horticulture, teaching, and as a florist, all the while considering potential business that may be benefited by her expertise.” 

Kira’s horticultural knowledge led West Michigan Works! to connect her with Walters Gardens, Inc., a leader in employing refugees through its existing Work Experience program. Her experience, combined with her strong work ethic, quickly resulted in a permanent position at Walters Gardens. She has since advanced to the company’s Trial Gardens division, applying her knowledge of unusual plants and working with new and hybrid varieties. 

“Kira’s background knowledge was a huge advantage,” said Dianne Cote’, human resources manager, Walters Gardens. “She is hard working and kind with a ready smile. As her English continues to improve, I see her continuing to grow within our organization. We are very happy to have her.”  

Walters Gardens, established in 1946 in Zeeland, is North America’s leading wholesale grower of perennials, nurturing over 20 million plants annually across their 1,500-acre footprint, including 500,000 square feet of greenhouses. 

Walters Gardens’ active role in West Michigan Works! Agribusiness Talent Council’s initiatives, like Ag-Jobs-4-All job fairs, have been instrumental in developing a sustainable agribusiness talent pipeline in West Michigan.  

“Reaching refugees, like Kira, who are not currently working is vital to solving the labor shortage problem. By actively recruiting these untapped talent populations, Walters Gardens provides an excellent model for how employers can think beyond traditional hiring practices to meet their talent needs,” said Karrie Brown, business solutions manager, West Michigan Works!. 

To learn more about the Michigan Works! Impact Awards, visit their dedicated page below. 

Learn about the Impact Awards