Grace’s Story

Blog_Post_Grace-215x215When Grace came to Goodwill Career Solutions in 2011, she’d been unemployed for more than a decade.

“It had been a struggle to try and live life and care for my children without a job,” she said. “I had a lot of depression.”

She said it particularly troubled her that her mother had to help take care of her children.

One day, on a whim as she was riding the bus around Nashville looking for work, she stopped in at Goodwill Career Solutions. She signed up for job readiness classes and met one-on-one with a counselor. A week later she was offered a job as a production associate in one of Goodwill’s downtown Nashville warehouses.

“From that day, I began to take back control of my life and also gained self-respect and dignity,” she recalled.

Even though Grace had suffered a stroke that limited use of her left side before coming to Goodwill, she did not let her disability slow her down. She routinely produced more than most other employees in her department. She now audits the sorting of garments.

“This job has put a whole different light on my life,” Grace said, adding “I’m able to pay my bills, help do things for my grandchildren and just live a comfortable and decent life.

“I love you, Goodwill.”


Organizer on Spring Cleaning: Start Small, Get Help, Consider Donating to Goodwill

A Nashville-based professional organizer recently offered a few tips to make Tennesseeans’ spring cleaning efforts easier and more successful, including a suggestion on how to help others in the process.

Debbie Keller, owner of Home and Office Transitions and a board member of the Nashville Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, said she recommends donating unneeded clothing and household goods to Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee.

“I encourage my clients to donate to Goodwill, because every item donated to Goodwill finds a new home with someone who does need it or it is repurposed for another use,” Keller said. “Another reason I love giving to Goodwill is that money they raise from selling our donated items helps someone else find dignity and purpose in learning new job skills and finding employment. It excites me to be able to help people help themselves.”

Keller also offered the following suggestions for spring cleaning:

  • Start small: Begin with a drawer or closet, then take a break and reward yourself by doing something you enjoy. Repeat. Your enjoyment of the spaces you have finished will encourage you to keep going, and you will find you are able to tackle larger projects.
  • Enlist the help of a friend who will support, encourage and challenge you, or hire an organizing professional.
  • Pull everything out and divide into categories. Include one pile for items to be donated, one for trash and another for items that you’re not sure about. Don’t belabor decisions at this point — just sort the items.
  • Love it, use it or lose it: We “collect” and accumulate things for a variety of reasons but aren’t that attached to them, nor do we use them. Donate them to someone who can use them.

Goodwill suggests that when people are unsure about whether to part with an item, they should consider the One-Year Rule, which states, “If you haven’t worn it, used it or played with it in a year, it is time to donate it to Goodwill.”

Goodwill relies on donations of clothing and other household items to support its mission of providing employment and training opportunities to people who have trouble finding and keeping jobs. Last year, through the sale of donated items in its stores, Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee assisted more than 28,000 people across the 48 counties it serves, helping more than 9,500 of those land jobs.

Donations to Goodwill are 100-percent tax-deductible, so donors should remember to keep their donation receipts for tax records. There are more than 80 Donation Express Centers located across Middle and West Tennessee. More information can be obtained by visiting


Jerry’s Story

Blog_Post_Jerry-215x215After nine months behind bars, Jerry walked out of jail and into a world almost as cold and hostile as the one he had left.

He was homeless and unemployed for a year. He finally entered a church seeking help. From there Jerry was taken to a halfway house in Baxter, where he tried to get back on his feet.

“I attended church every Sunday, but with the charges I had, no one would hire me,” he said. “I went everywhere but no luck.”

The turning point came in December of 2011, when the halfway house referred Jerry to Goodwill Career Solutions in Cookeville. There he got training in job readiness skills, forklift operation and more. He was ultimately offered a job working in the nearby Goodwill store.

“It just clicked for me and I’ve been there ever since,” he said.

Jerry has worked in several capacities, from accepting donations to running the cash register.

“It’s a challenge every day there, believe me, but it’s fun,” he said. “The people I work with are good people, and we have a good time.”

Stable employment has lifted Jerry’s outlook.

“I’m no longer homeless, and I have a great place to live thanks to what I earn at Goodwill,” he said.

But the chance to feel useful again has been just as important.

“(When) I worked my way up to register — at that point I realized that I was making a difference in others’ lives,” he said. “I love to go to work every day and see all the smiling customers.”



‘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 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: