‘Blessed’ by Goodwill: Shopping Trip Proves Memorable for Family, Store Employees


By the time she got to the cash register, Nicole U’ren’s two shopping carts were heaped head-high with clothing and other merchandise. Other customers were looking, and she and her daughter were laughing.

“It was a sensation at the store,” she recalls.

Nicole felt like celebrating. The mother of four had succeeded way beyond her expectations in a shopping trip she’d been looking forward to for a long time.

In fact, she’d been planning the expedition for nearly six months, since her family suffered series of financial setbacks. She’d had a protracted recovery from childbirth, followed by repayment of insurance premiums. The furnace at their home in Sparta, Tenn. broke. And the household’s other breadwinner, Allen Williams, suffered a heart attack before Christmas.

Nicole’s kids, ages 2, 5, 14 and 17, had worn out or grown out of most of their shoes and clothes, and she and Allen desperately needed work clothes. It all left her counting the days until her tax return arrived.

She picked Feb. 7 to spend her check from the IRS. Being a longtime Goodwill shopper, Nicole knew that all merchandise is always half-price at Goodwill stores on the first Saturday of the month. She set a firm budget of $500, and she and her 17-year-old daughter drove from Sparta to the Cookeville Goodwill, where they plunged into what was ultimately a four-hour shopping odyssey.

Their selections included a pair of oxblood wing-tip shoes her 14-year-old son loves and a variety of pink shirts, random skirts and “very girly” pants for her 2-year-old daughter, who had been wearing boys’ hand-me-downs. They found pants for Nicole’s kindergarten-age son. And they picked out some nice shirts for Allen that Nicole explained “do not come in a four-pack and have a pocket on the front.”

Along the way, they got a lot of help from Goodwill staff members. At one point, a male employee modeled three different coats Nicole was considering for her older son before finding one that turned out to fit him perfectly. A female employee not only helped Nicole find racks with clothes for her kindergartner, she pointed out some items that later turned out to be his favorites. Another employee showed Nicole a rack where she could put the dozens of clothes hangers she left empty. Nicole took a picture of all the empty hangers.

When they finally rounded the corner and got in the long line for the cash register, cashier

Zully spied them coming from a distance, baskets heaping.

“That’s when I realized, ‘Uh-oh, I better brace myself,’” Zully recalled, laughing. “It was  quite a challenge.”

When Nicole finally reached the register,  Zully began ringing and ringing and ringing up the merchandise.

“(She) thanked us with nearly every item she scanned,” Nicole said.

When all the items were run up, the store’s manager, who is also named Nicole, lifted the paper receipt for the purchases over her head. It draped almost to the floor on both sides. Nicole U’Ren took a photo of the manager holding the receipt.

“Before the half-off discount, the total came to $1,037 — definitely the largest transaction anyone here has ever seen,” the store manager said, “and our assistant managers have both been here 15 years. That’s really saying something.”

Nicole U’Ren was thrilled to learn that her shopping expenses came within a few bucks of her $500 budget. After all, she had bought numerous items for everyone in her six-person family.

“I got enough clothes so that three of my four kids have full dressers,” she explained.

When she got home, Nicole U’Ren took a picture of all her bags from Goodwill, covering the porch of her home.

Later, she posted all the photos from her trip on Facebook. On the Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee page, she posted the picture of Zully and the store manager holding the receipt along with brief note detailing her trip.

“Dear Goodwill,” she wrote. “These women were amazing! I want to thank them & all the other friendly helpful employees you have. I am blessed to have had such a wonderful shopping experience.”

It was a memorable experience for the store’s employees as well.

“It was absolutely great,” store manager Nicole said. “We say ‘Goodwill changes lives,’ but really and truly it felt good to know that Goodwill could help supply her family with clothes. She’d been waiting a long time, and Goodwill made that possible.”

Deontae’s Story

Blog_Post_Deontae-215x215Repeat donors who bring their gently used clothes and household items to the Goodwill store on Murfreesboro Road in Franklin can count on being greeted by Deontae’s smiling face, rain or shine.

The 25-year-old donations attendant is the longest-serving employee at the store, having been there five years. He graduated from Franklin High School in 2008 and then spent six months in Goodwill’s Transitional Employment Services Program.

His cheerful nature is as constant as his hard work and loyalty. He keeps his work area clean and organized.

“I like doing donations,” he said.

Deontae has faced his share of struggles, however. In the summer of 2014, one of Deontae’s five brothers, Decarlos, who was disabled and also worked for Goodwill, died of medical causes. The two of them shared a home donated by Habitat for Humanity.

Deontae’s Goodwill family has been there to support him. His co-workers have spent many hours with him outside of work, whether enjoying one of his favorite pastimes — like bowling or going to movies — or just keeping him company.

“He’s very close with the people that work with him,” explained store manager Chuck Nebel. “He is a pleasure to work with. He sees joy in everything and loves Goodwill.”

Deontae is thankful for his Goodwill family.

Asked what working at the store has meant to him, he replied, “It has given me a chance to improve and be part of a team.”

‘Win-Win’: Clubs Embrace New Donation Drives


Paula Cowden offered a brief phrase to sum up the recent Goodwill donation drive she participated in.

“It was a win-win,” she said.

The treasurer of the Hendersonville High School Soccer Foundation and mom of a soccer player ought to know. The group has done more than its share of fundraising over the years, paying for the lion’s share of a $180,000 soccer field with stadium-seating. The foundation’s president calls the facility “one of the best in the state.”

Now, they need money to upgrade the field’s lighting. Enter Goodwill.

On Jan. 25, the foundation and the high school’s male and female soccer players participated in a new kind of club fundraiser being offered by Goodwill to school clubs, bands, choirs, civic groups, etc., across Middle and West Tennessee.

In these Fundraising Drives, Goodwill partners with the organization, helping to set up and promote a one-day event. The club does the work of collecting donations of gently used clothing, household goods and furniture,and Goodwill in return pays the club 10 cents for every pound of donations collected.

The money adds up quickly, considering the average Goodwill donor brings two bags weighing 25 pounds each. Donations of heavy items like furniture can boost the payback exponentially.

In Hendersonville, while the soccer foundation was wrapping up its annual weekend-long winter tournament inside the high school, some players and parents were outside, collecting, sorting and bagging donations and loading them onto three Goodwill trailers.

Planning for the donation drive began a month earlier, when Goodwill Donations Specialist Brynn Waller contacted foundation President Greg Hunter. She walked him through the process and provided him with scripts for emails announcing the event, which were sent to to soccer player’s parents, teachers and friends, as well as coaches of the 65 teams playing in the tournament. Brynn also provided fliers that were distributed to local businesses, churches and neighborhoods. She stressed that advance promotion was the key to a successful drive.

The group put information about the drive on their website, and parents and players posted updates on their Facebook pages and other social media. And they started gathering donations right away, storing them at their houses until the big day.

“It really worked out well,” Hunter said. “We actually rented a 26-foot U-Haul truck so that we could take donations on Saturday before the donation drive, and we filled it up.”

On Sunday, Hunter set up a tent by the trailers and soccer players stood by the street and held signs provided by Goodwill, alerting motorists to the drive. Other players made runs in their cars to pick up items from neighbors who couldn’t make the trip. And donors streamed in to the high school parking lot.

“People came out of the woodwork,” Hunter said. “It happened to be cleaning day for a church down the road, so they ended up dropping a lot of stuff off for us as well.”

By the end of the drive, the foundation and its supporters had packed three Goodwill trailers with donations. Total weight: 19,180 pounds. A few days later, Goodwill presented the Foundation with a check for $1,918.

“The school had lots of participation from not just the soccer family but everybody at the school and in the neighborhood,” foundation treasurer Cowden said. “The kids had fun, it was easy for them to participate, and people had a chance to clean stuff out of their homes that they didn’t need.

“We supported Goodwill, and Goodwill supported us,” she said. “It was all-inclusive.”

Donors can also claim a deduction on next year’s taxes. Thus the “win-win.”

But there is one more major benefit. The donations the soccer foundation collected will be sold to pay for Goodwill’s mission of providing employment and training opportunities for people in need of work. Last year in Sumner County, where Hendersonville High School is located, nearly 1,300 people received Goodwill’s services and 572 of those were placed in jobs.

“I’m glad we are giving back to the community,” said Austin Stevens, a 17-year-old striker and midfielder for the Hendersonville High School boys soccer team. “It makes us all feel good to help out.”

Goodwill rolled out its new Fundraising Donation Drives program on Dec. 13. As of mid February there had been three drives that produced 26,720 pounds of donations to Goodwill and a total payout to clubs of $2,978. To set up a Fundraising Donation Drive or for more information, contact Brynn Waller by email at brynn.waller@givegw.org or by phone at (615) 346-1629.

Debi’s Story

Blog_Post_Debi-215x215Doctors told Debi she might never sing again. Of course, at the beginning of her medical odyssey, it was all doctors could do to keep the former professional singer breathing.

A massive heart attack in 2004 set off a chain of surgeries, setbacks and rehabilitation for Debi that lasted seven years. Initial vein grafts failed. Doctors induced comas and gave her a tracheotomy. One surgery left her with no feeling in her left leg.

“I woke up and I couldn’t remember anything. I had to relearn to read and write, walk, talk and eat,” she recalled.

When her rehabilitation ended, Debi began looking for work, but that, too, proved traumatic.

“Nobody would give me a chance because of that big lapse in employment,” she said.

A friend recommended Debi visit the Goodwill Career Solutions center in Spring Hill. After job readiness classes, she began working at the same center through Goodwill’s Transitional Employment Services Program. Within six weeks she was hired as an administrative assistant. A year later she moved and was transferred to the Goodwill store in Hendersonville. For the last year she has served as its office administrator.

“I feel useful and productive,” she said. “Goodwill gave me the chance to start over.”

What’s more, she is singing once again. She is in a band with five other musicians. They play oldies, Motown, jazz, funk and blues. The band performs at private parties and benefits, frequently for veterans.

“We have a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s a small thing I can give back.”

iLost my iPhone! Goodwill team answers the call

Pizza_Party_1His ringtone may be “Bad to the Bone,” but Brian Davis is good to his word.

The 37-year-old former Eagle Scout told employees at the Goodwill store on Indian Lake Blvd. in Hendersonville, Tenn., that he was going to reward them for finding and returning his lost cell phone. He also told them he was going to alert Goodwill’s chief executive to their good deed.

They promptly forgot about it.

“To be honest, I didn’t believe it,” said Jeane, a supervisor in training at the store who helped return Davis’ iPhone 6 Plus. “Nothing against him — it’s just that people say that sort of thing a lot, and it usually doesn’t mean anything.”

So when Davis showed back up at the store on Jan. 7 with a tall stack of pizzas for employees, Jeane and cashiers Jessica and Kelsey were more than a little impressed. A few minutes later, Matthew Bourlakas, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, walked in to join the celebration.

“I never guessed it would be this big procession,” Kelsey said.

Davis, his wife and their two young children were shopping in the store on Dec. 27 when he lost his phone. He was shopping for a purple shirt to wear to the Music City Bowl, where his wife’s beloved purple-and-gold Louisiana State University Tigers were to play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

He realized his phone was missing when he got to the car, but the kids were buckled in, so they decided to drive the five minutes to their home and check there first.

Meanwhile, Jessica, who is 18, had spotted the fancy new iPhone. It was on the floor near the empty shopping carts at the front of the store. She picked it up and, unsure what to do with it, took it to her co-worker and friend Kelsey, who is 21. Then it started ringing.

“Duh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh.” The phone played George Thorogood’s classic rock riff. “Duh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh.”

“I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t want to answer it, so we decided to take it to Jeane,” Kelsey said.

A few minutes later, the phone rang again. On the other end of the line,  a clearly worried Davis asked, “Who’s got my phone?”

Jeane explained that she was a member of management and would take care of it until he returned.

“I was very relieved,” Davis recalled, “because it was someone of authority. I could hear the calmness in her voice.”

He drove back to the store immediately to claim his phone, but Jeane didn’t give it to him immediately. First, she asked him what color it was and what number he had called her from to make sure the phone was his. When he passed the test, man and phone were reunited.

Later at the pizza party, Davis again expressed his gratitude to Jeane, Jessica and Kelsey.

“This is just the smallest token of appreciation for saving me from all the trouble I could have gone through over something like losing my phone,” he told them. “A lot of us do our jobs, but there is a way to go above and beyond, and you did that.”

Bourlakas also thanked the employees and gave them each a gift card for a local grocery store.

“What you all did is what you would hope someone else would do for you,” he said. “Empathy is one of the greatest virtues you could have. You did the right thing, and that means more to me than I could possibly tell.”

Jeane later said she was grateful for what Davis and Bourlakas did and proud of the way her young co-workers had handled the phone situation. But to her, it was all in a day’s work.

In fact, another customer left her phone in the store a few days later. It was returned — following protocol, of course.

“Honesty is my No. 1 policy,” Jeane said. “Whether it’s a lost wallet or a lost phone, I just like to think we are using common sense. We’re just doing our jobs.”

James’s Story

Blog_Post_James-215x215For 38 years, James worked in the funeral home business. He was there for people in their hour of need, consoling their sorrows.

But when James lost his job in 2011, it appeared that no one would be there for him. He applied for jobs at numerous funeral homes without success.

“Due to my age, it seemed like no one had an opening,” he said. “So, for five months I was at home, not knowing what I would do.”

A friend told James’ wife about Goodwill Career Solutions, and she suggested he give it a shot.

At the Rivergate center, he was introduced to computers. He also received training in retail and help updating his resume. Then, he went home to wait.

“I waited about four weeks, and then one day at 1:10 p.m. my phone rang,” James recalled. His Goodwill career counselor asked James if he was ready to go to work.

“I told her I sure was,” he said.

James started as a clothes tagger in one of Goodwill’s downtown Nashville warehouses. Supervisors quickly recognized his potential, and now James is an assistant supervisor, responsible for a team that places more than 12,000 garments on hangers each day.

James said his co-workers are like family.

“Now, I’m working with people that are happy,” he said. “It’s like a big family.”

Watch James’s Story:

A Christmas Gift

It was a Christmas gift, a joyful surprise, a random act of kindness. When representatives of a Mt. Juliet church walked unannounced into that town’s Goodwill store on Friday, they chose an employee with a big smile and a sweet personality and handed her $100 in cash. She gratefully accepted.

No one — not the employee, not the church members nor the store’s unsuspecting management, had anything but the best intentions in that moment. But there was a problem.

The employee had signed an honesty policy saying she would not accept gifts of cash or donated goods while on the clock. It is a policy that all Goodwill of Middle Tennessee’s employees for many years have agreed to follow, and there’s a great reason for it.

Goodwill is a not-for-profit that provides employment and training opportunities to thousands of Tennesseans, including those who have disabilities and others having trouble finding and keeping jobs, through the sale of donated goods. In essence, it is a charity made possible – day in and day out – through random, generous gifts from the community.

It is of the utmost importance to Goodwill that we remain good stewards of the donations we receive and that we maintain the trust of our donors and shoppers. Our unique business model demands that our employees follow a strict code of ethics, particularly with regard to the acceptance and stewardship of donations. A single inappropriate act by any one of our thousands of employees could betray that trust and have harmful consequences for the rest, not to mention endangering the much-needed services we provide the community.

But what occurred in our Mt. Juliet store Friday was not the sort of scenario this policy was intended to prevent. Had Goodwill’s management team known in advance about about the gift, they could have suggested that church members give it to the employee after hours. They would have been excited for her and might have even helped plan the surprise, knowing how much it would mean to her.

Instead, supervisors were caught off-guard and reminded the employee of the policy, and gave her the choice of returning the gift to the church or donating it to Goodwill. The situation could have been handled much better. The employee chose to keep the gift and walk away from her job.

A few hours later, the church’s pastor wrote a description of what had happened on social media, and it went viral.

On Saturday morning, Goodwill reached out to the employee and offered to allow her to keep the gift and return to work. The employee has told us she will consider the offer.

Goodwill’s President and CEO Matthew Bourlakas called the church’s pastor. He explained the importance of the policy in maintaining trust with the community and expressed regret about its strict interpretation in this instance. He told the pastor that every effort had been made to set the matter right with the employee. The pastor indicated that he understood the policy and that it was not his intent to hurt the charity’s reputation.

But the pastor’s social media post, and hundreds of comments voicing negative responses to the incident, remain online.

And so we wanted to tell you our story, how deeply we wish we had known about the church’s gift in advance and had responded differently. It was a gift of kindness, after all, and Goodwill employees — from donation attendants to truck drivers to the CEO — understand the power of that gift. We see it reflected every day in the faces of our co-workers.

We see it in the former prisoners who find jobs with Goodwill when no one else will hire them. We see it in recovering drug addicts who regain their self-respect through the power of work. We see it in those who are blind or deaf or wheelchair-bound or who have learning disabilities, all of whom lead normal lives of quiet dignity with the help of Goodwill.

And we see it in our neighbors across middle and west Tennessee — 26,000 of whom got assistance at Goodwill’s Career Solutions Centers this year and 8,600 of whom landed jobs.

All of this starts with the generosity of our donors and shoppers and is maintained through their trust in Goodwill. We will take this opportunity to review our policies and procedures. We thank our donors for their continuing support of Goodwill’s mission.

We wish you all a Happy Holidays.

For more detailed information regarding Goodwill’s financial well-being please refer to our 2013 990 Form for our latest financial summary.

Better Late Than Never! Goodwill Needs End-Of-Year Donations.

End of year donations_Twitter

They are six days that make a difference in thousands of lives. Each year from Dec. 26-31, the number of donations at Goodwill Donation Express Centers skyrockets. In 2013, donations of clothing and household goods during that period rose by 80 percent compared to other days of the year.

Donations fund Goodwill’s mission of providing employment and training opportunities for people with disabilities and others who have trouble finding and keeping jobs. The end-of-year donation rush is prompted in part by people cleaning out their closets, attics and garages to make room for holiday gifts. But many donors also are seeking last-minute tax deductions.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when donating to Goodwill:

  • Donors wishing to claim a tax deduction should request a receipt from the attendant when dropping off their donations. The IRS allows a deduction for each item, but it is up to the donor to estimate each item’s value.
  • Prepare an inventory of your items before going to Goodwill.
  • Please remove hangers from clothing.
  • If you have a single donation worth more than $500, you will need to complete IRS Form 8283. You will also need a qualified written appraisal.
  • Finally, a good rule to follow in deciding what to donate is the One-Year-Rule. If you have not worn it, used it or played with it in one year, it probably time to donate it.

There are about 80 Donations Express Centers located throughout the 48-county territory, and most are open seven days a week. Locations and hours can be found online at  www.giveit2goodwill.org, under the “Donate” tab.

Your donation at the end of 2014 will mean a happier new year for someone in need of a job.



Goodwill Ranks High on List of Most Inspiring Companies

Goodwill ranked No. 11 this year in an annual survey of America’s most inspiring companies – surging past ubiquitous and revered brand names such as Disney, Apple and Starbucks, according to Forbes magazine.

The survey was conducted by Atlanta consulting firm Performance Inspired using 3,300 online questionnaires gathered from July to November. Goodwill was the only nonprofit to appear on a top 20 list of companies generated by the study, called America’s Most Inspiring Companies.

Goodwill ranked 19th on the survey in 2013. This year Goodwill ranked behind only Tesla, Trader Joes, Target, Toms Shoes, Costco, Ford, Chik-Fil-A, Google, Microsoft and Amazon.

Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, Inc. is one of 165 independent community-based Goodwill organizations in the United States and Canada. Its president and CEO, Matthew Bourlakas, welcomed the Dec. 8 online announcement of the survey’s results by Forbes.

“We have so much to be proud of, and this recognition honors the hard work and dedication of all of our employees and the support from the community,” he said.

Read the entire Forbes report here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/12/08/americas-20-most-inspiring-companies/


Mitten Smitten: Goodwill Sweaters Warm Woman’s Heart And Hobby


For Laurie Gagliano, Goodwill’s stock of gently used sweaters is a godsend. Or part of a godsend, anyway.

After years as a schoolteacher, the pastor’s wife and mother of seven found herself in a new role: as stay-at-home day care provider to her grandchildren.

“I really prayed and asked God if he would give me something while I was at home, because I didn’t want to go out of my gourd while just watching kids,” she recalls.

One day she found the answer to her prayer lying on the ironing board in her sister’s home — a beautiful pair of handmade mittens. She grilled her sister about how the mittens were made and learned that the exterior parts were cut from wool sweaters and then stitched together on a sewing machine. A fleece lining prepared in the same fashion made them toasty warm.

“I fell in love with the mittens and the wool sweaters immediately, and the love is still there,” Gagliano says.

Finding the materials for her new passion proved easier and cheaper than she could have hoped. A veteran bargain-shopper, Gagliano was familiar with the Goodwill store near her home in Springfield, Tenn. When she learned that a large selection of sweaters was offered among the inventory Goodwill marks down to 99 cents on Wednesdays and Sundays, her new routine was born.

“The minute the door opened I would be there, trying to snatch up all the wool sweaters I could find,” she explains.

Gagliano’s hobby snowballed from there. She scoured Goodwill stores for her preferred types of sweaters — those made from lambs’ wool, cashmere, angora or Merino wool and sporting colorful printed patterns.

She gave her mittens to relatives, and her sister convinced the owner of a resale shop in Wisconsin to try selling them. That store sold 130 pairs last year, and now the mittens are available in two more stores as well.

With practice, Gagliano has become efficient at her craft and can now produce a pair of adult women’s mittens in 20 minutes. Ornate children’s mittens, in animal shapes like owls and foxes, take an hour. In total, she makes about 450 pairs per year.

Proceeds from the sale of her mittens allow her family to enjoy some extras, such as holding a large Christmas party for widows who attend her church. She also recently donated about 40 pairs of her mittens, and 15 hats she bought at Goodwill, for missionaries to distribute to needy villagers in a remote part of Alaska.

“It was really exciting to be able to send the mittens to somewhere they really needed them,” she says.

The mittens have also brought her a bit of notoriety. In May, Gagliano was chosen for a “Cheapest of the Cheap” award by Mary Hance, better known as Ms. Cheap, a columnist who writes about saving money for The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville.

“I was absolutely stunned, shocked when she called me,” Gagliano says.

Hance said she was “blown away” when she first saw Gagliano’s mittens.

“They were just so professional-looking. They’re so warm, they’re so soft — I mean, everybody I showed them to wanted a pair,” Hance said.

She said Gagliano is among a growing number of customers who scour Goodwill stores for gently used items that can be transformed into something entirely new.

“I do think that there’s a trend for people to come and repurpose things,” she said, “and I think Goodwill is such a great source for people because you have so much of everything that people can be creative with.”

Three years after she began making them, Gagliano’s mitten mania shows no signs of subsiding.

“Even when we go on vacation or travel up north, she is still looking for a Goodwill,” her husband, Frank Gagliano, says, recalling a time they followed a path cleared by snowplows to a store in Indiana.

Laurie Gagliano says its a compulsion that sometimes even drives her to  purchase a Goodwill sweater at the full price of $5.99.

“Ms. Cheap would not appreciate that, I’m sure,” she says but adds, “The sweaters inspire me. I find a sweater I love, and I can’t wait to turn it into a mitten.”