From Rock Bottom, a New Beginning

“I am a recovering alcoholic and addict,” says Richard “Rick” Lang. No stranger to the trials of addiction, Lang is a U.S. Army veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who doesn’t shy away from his past. He meets it head-on, and occasionally uses it to show others what is possible with determination and direction. His road has been one of peaks and valleys, ranging from great success in the corporate world to the low of getting arrested on alcohol-related charges. “I was almost relieved to get arrested because I couldn’t break the cycle on my own,” Lang says. Committed to turning a new leaf following his release from jail and rehabilitation, he set out to find a new job with a fresh perspective on life. RickLang

Lang soon learned first-hand the challenges of job hunting with a criminal record. Despite an impressive career in the Army and later in janitorial management, he struggled to find an employer willing to give him a second chance. Frustrated with his job search he turned to the Veterans Administration (VA) for help. The VA referred him to Goodwill of North Georgia’s Workforce Development program, opening his eyes to a resource he never knew was available. “I didn’t have a clue what Goodwill’s mission was,” he admits. “[While in the program] I got a great appreciation for what Goodwill does.” A standout participant in his program cohort, Lang was identified by April Smith, Goodwill’s regional manager for community engagement, as a top prospect for her new volunteer program.

As a Goodwill volunteer Lang has helped with every part of job search assistance – from résumé building to mock interviews, and even follow-up phone calls to confirm whether job seekers found work. Gaining tips for his own search for employment along the way, Lang was able to connect with those having a really hard time finding work. He uncovered a passion for understanding and helping other people. “I have seen some people the whole way through their job search to finding work,” Lang says. Energized and inspired by his volunteer experience he re-enrolled in college after a 40-year break in his formal education.

Today Lang is a psychology student at Georgia State University on track to graduate in the spring of 2018. He is also a part-time caterer for Proof in the Pudding, and still regularly volunteers his time at Goodwill career centers. Lang hopes to continue to give back to veterans, addicts and at-risk youth after he finishes school. “When I came to Goodwill I was broken,” he says. “But I’ve been blessed because I did the things I needed to and I’ve had some good things come my way.”RickLang2

Lang’s road hasn’t always been an easy one. Throughout his journey he has learned valuable lessons and is grateful for a second chance to reach his fullest potential. An advocate for Goodwill and for others seeking a second chance, he draws on his own lessons to empower and uplift others.

 

A Savory Solution

Nothing ignites passion in Orlena Stocks quite like food. For her, food is almost a universal language, whether she is discussing it, preparing it or enjoying it. “I love to cook because I learned it through my mom from the age of six,” she says. “When you cook, you have to cook with love, because your food tastes like how you feel.” Through cooking she is able to share her talents with others. It seems only fitting that, in some ways, food is what brought Stocks to Goodwill of North Georgia.

Referred to Goodwill’s Smyrna career center through the Department of Family and Child Services Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps), Stocks was looking to fulfill the program’s work requirement. While in an information session at the career center she found that she could do more than that. Through Goodwill’s Hospitality program, Stocks realized she might finally be able to pursue her dream career of becoming a chef. “They didn’t look at it just as a job – they said a career,” she says of Goodwill’s staff. “[Goodwill’s program] would also assist me with job readiness skills and job placement after I completed the training.”April (2)

Before coming to Goodwill Stocks faced many setbacks in her life, including an abusive relationship and a run-in with the law. For a while she settled on working temporary positions at warehouses. Her heart wasn’t in those jobs, though, and health challenges started impacting her ability to accept those positions. The work wasn’t consistent either, which made it difficult to stay on top of paying the bills.

When Stocks enrolled in Goodwill’s Hospitality program she was ready for a major change. For six weeks she received hands-on training at a local hotel, learning to balance speed and quality in her work. She also worked with Goodwill’s staff on soft skills, such as how to interview for jobs and perfect her résumé. She excelled in the program.

After graduating from the program Stocks got a chef and prep cook position at SunTrust Park. “I work for the Braves stadium,” she smiles. “It’s a huge building and we feed thousands and thousands of people.” Finally, in a position to earn a living doing something she loves, Stocks speaks highly of Goodwill’s training program and its role in helping her realize her goal. She is gaining valuable experience every day and already has a vision for her future. Her next move: opening a restaurant of her own.

Forging a New Future

Australian Actress and Director Rachel Griffiths is quoted saying, “There’s nothing as exciting as a comeback – seeing someone with dreams, watching them fail, and then getting a second chance.” On Tyeisha Marshall’s eighth year of a 20-year sentence at Arrendale State Prison, she was ready for a comeback. But in order to take full advantage of her second chance she knew she would need a job, which would be difficult to land with a criminal background.

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Marshall was referred to Goodwill of North Georgia’s Welding program, a work-based learning program hosted in collaboration with North Georgia Technical College and sponsored by Georgia Mountains Regional Commission Workforce Development. The program is designed to equip participants like Marshall with industry-recognized welding skills along with soft skills, such as workplace etiquette.

“Everything about the program was surprising,” she says. “I learned that I like welding, which is something I never thought I would do. I wasn’t the type of girl who worked with power tools or did manual labor.” This changed as Marshall learned the ins and outs of welding, added new skills to her résumé and learned how to interview with an employer. Welding was more than a new skill; it was Marshall’s ticket to a comeback.

Upon graduation of the program Marshall was hired as a welder for Fanello Industries, Inc. Her co-workers helped show her the ropes, and she wields a welding gun with confidence. One thing she loves about her job is the family-like atmosphere – she says someone is always there to help her if she needs it and her colleagues are very friendly and supportive.

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Marshall is already planning her next career move, hoping to advance her welding techniques with additional courses at North Georgia Technical College. “I never thought I would do something like this because I’m kind of girly,” she laughs. “But I really like it here. This company rewards hard work and I’ve already earned a raise. I want to see how far I can go.” Crediting a combination of soft skills and technical skills for her new career path, Marshall is eager to take full advantage of her second chance. The embodiment of a comeback, she is embracing a new life and a promising career head-on.

A Chance to Come out of her Shell

Step one – tap your shoes on a sticky mat, step two – place shoe covers over your shoes, step three – put a hair net over your hair, or beard if applicable, step four – pull the lab coat over your clothes, step five – wash your hands thoroughly without touching any surfaces, step six – enter the work space of Kelly Ngu.

 “Working in the sterile room is the best part of my job because we get to wear lab coats and build packs for our clients,” she says. Ngu, who is a production assistant for Global Resources International (GRI), spends her days recording inventory for thousands of packs. Each pack that Ngu checks contains sterilized materials for medical facilities around the world. From gloves to gauze pads ordered by hospitals, Ngu is responsible for ensuring the quality and quantity of each pack before it is sent to the warehouse, where she then prepares it for shipping.

Before joining the team at GRI, Ngu was referred to Goodwill of North Georgia’s Workforce Development Program from her vocational rehabilitation counselor. For three months, Ngu worked in Goodwill’s Oakwood store as a greeter and on the sales floor, where she developed customer service skills. “I’m shy and get nervous. Going to the career center really helped me with my interviewing skills,” she says.

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After working closely with employment specialist Carol Griffin for three years, Ngu learned to come out of her nervous shell during interviews. “Kelly has a really great personality and work style, but would shut down in an interview and employers couldn’t see in an interview what I already knew. We had to find that perfect match,” says Griffin. Both Griffin and Ngu were determined to find that perfect match and after three years of job searching, GRI was the answer.

From being nervous and shy to securing employment at a job she’s passionate about, Ngu is thankful for Goodwill’s continuous support. “Goodwill helped me get the job I have today,” she says. As an appreciated member of the GRI team, Ngu’s supervisor Angela Mandujano says, “She’s a very hard worker and she loves her job.” Always having a smile on her face and a resilient work ethic, Ngu is excited and hopeful to continue developing her career with GRI.

Breaking Barriers

The United States Department of Labor defines a non-traditional career for women as one in which 25% or less of those employed in the field are women. Yashika Jones has been a part of that statistic for nearly 14 years. While living in Connecticut, Jones was employed by the Sheet Metal Union. Working in this industry can often times be demanding, with long hours and unpredictable weather conditions.

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“I wanted a change,” Jones says. “If I’m going to be working outside, I wanted to work outside somewhere where the climate is nice.” In between jobs, Jones saw an advertisement for a job fair at one of Goodwill of North Georgia’s career centers. “I was really interested in the training opportunities available,” she says.

Jones applied for funding and went through an interview process before successfully enrolling in Goodwill’s Highway Construction training program. As a participant in the program, Jones received hands-on skills training and job placement assistance. “When I had nowhere to turn, I learned so much with Goodwill and got some certifications under my belt to help expand my job opportunities,” she says. Upon graduating from the program, Jones received traffic control and OSHA construction certifications. She also secured employment with the local Sheet Metal Workers Union. Some of her projects have included the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Working in a male dominated industry hasn’t always been easy for Jones. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” she says. Over the years, Jones has proven her skillset and hard work ethic to her colleagues. “I’ve had to overcome being accepted for who I am. It’s been intimidating at times, but I’ve proven myself and showed that I am strong,” she says. Never letting her gender keep her from achieving her goals, Jones has remained motivated and hopes to continue advancing her career in the industry. She is currently pursuing another certification, EPA 608 Technician Certification, which would allow her to expand the type of projects she is qualified to work on. “I’m hoping to make myself more marketable, she says.

“Goodwill helped me find opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” she says. As an advocate for the program, Jones has referred many of her friends to Goodwill. “One of my greatest accomplishments is seeing my friends go through the program and come out successful,” Jones says. Crediting Goodwill for the opportunity to reenter the industry, she is now not only an advocate for Goodwill, but for women.

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The Art of Expression

In 2012, Olatoye “Toye” Olawoyin moved to the United States from Nigeria in search of opportunity. His mother dreamed of a better life for her children, but was unable to relocate to America herself. At only 17 years old, Olawoyin departed from his homeland with only a dream in his heart and two sisters by his side.

Residing in Duluth, Georgia was no coincidence for Olawoyin. His uncle, who already lived in Duluth, offered Olawoyin and his sisters a place to call home as they began this new chapter in their lives. Having a home away from home gave them the chance to be able to get a head start on taking advantage of their new opportunity. Olawoyin enrolled in school at Central Gwinnett High School, where he has now graduated from.

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Struggling with English as a second language and a hearing impairment, Olawoyin had a hard time transitioning to life in the United States and finding employment. He was referred to Goodwill’s Workforce Development program by his counselor at the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Office to get help finding a job that fit his skills and abilities. While in the program, he received hands-on training, which included on-the-job assessments for attendance, punctuality, quality of work and co-worker relations.

During these assessments, Olawoyin worked inside Goodwill’s Pleasant Hill store, processing and sorting donations. It wasn’t long before those evaluating him and working alongside him realized he was an incredibly hard worker. “Toye was a model participant while in the program. He was always on time and never missed a day of training. He always had a positive attitude and worked well with his supervisors, the other participants and the store associates,” says Job Coach Felicia Moran. In fact, store management was so impressed by his work ethic that Olawoyin secured full-time employment at the store as soon as he completed his program training.

For two years now, Olawoyin has worked hard in the store, determined to make his own way and provide for his family. He sends a portion of his weekly paycheck back to his family in Nigeria and doesn’t allow his hearing impairment to prevent him from succeeding. Though he is quiet and shy in nature, Olawoyin is also resilient and determined to succeed in everything he tries.

As a “floater” in the store, he is ready to step in wherever he is needed. Whether he’s processing donations in production or arranging merchandise neatly on shelves, he’s always smiling and giving a thumbs up. “I really like my job and I want to keep working,” he says. Looking towards the future, Olawoyin hopes to continue saving his money so that he can visit his mother in Africa and further pursue his dreams of becoming an artist.

From Past Mistakes to New Beginnings

Meet Caleb…October (13)

Landing a job after incarceration is one of the hardest aspects of adjusting back into society. For Caleb Blanton, starting his own business seemed to be the only option for getting his feet back on the ground and to stay on the right track. “I knew that if I wanted to work again, I’d have to start my own business,” he says.

Blanton was referred to Goodwill’s GoodBiz training program from his counselor at the time. With a business concept already in mind, Blanton enrolled in the program to bring his plan to life. “I knew I wanted to do something in the recycling industry, but the program helped me expand on that,” he says. Through the program, Blanton received proper business certifications, financial assistance, developed a résumé and successfully launched his own business – Toad’s Junk Removal.

Upon completion of the GoodBiz program, Blanton continued expanding his business services and experiences. “I wanted to stand out. I knew there’s no such thing as being overqualified,” he says. Having an interest in construction, he enrolled in the Apartment Maintenance Technician training program, designed to provide credentialed training and job placement assistance. While in the program, Blanton worked as an intern for Habitat for Humanity and five months into the internship, secured full-time employment with the organization.

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As a two-time Goodwill program graduate, Blanton is thankful for Goodwill. “There are so many ways Goodwill helped me. They [Goodwill] worked wonders in my life and held me accountable. Every Wednesday, I felt better because of the positive motivation and encouragement they provided me with,” he says.

Receiving a legal and dependable paycheck is only a portion of the satisfaction for Blanton’s hard work and success. “Working for Habitat for Humanity and getting to see the impact I have on other people’s lives is what feeds my soul,” Blanton says. Despite his past, Blanton now works full-time and owns his own business. With help from Goodwill, Blanton turned past mistakes into a new future. He hopes to continue his success by expanding Toad’s Junk Removal to take on bigger jobs and eventually into a house-flipping business.

 

A Blessing and a Newfound Purpose

Blessings come in all shapes and sizes. For Jovanda Martin, they arrived in the form of Workforce Development training at Goodwill of North Georgia’s Pleasant Hill career center. Martin hails from New Orleans, Louisiana, and was a dislocated worker following hurricane Katrina. With no college education, as well as a cognitive and a physical disabilitSuccess Story Template (11)y, she was having a difficult time finding a job.

She came to Georgia to live near her sister and her sister’s three children. Comfortably living on Social Security disability benefits, Martin became restless and interested in doing more with her life. “She wanted to be productive again,” says Dominic Carden, employment specialist at Goodwill. “She saw that she was capable of so much more than people assume.”

While enrolled in training, Martin sharpened her interviewing skills and learned how to work well with other people. She honed customer service skills by providing hands-on assistance to fellow job seekers in the career center. “Goodwill is a good place to start looking for a job. They have so much training and a job coach to help you,” she says.

As her training came to an end Martin applied for a job with YSS Athletics, a professional manufacturing facility specializing in athletic uniforms and apparel. She got the job and was hired as a production associate. She is responsible for quality assurance inspections of manufactured clothing, as well as order placing and maintenance of the company’s files. “I love it here – it’s a good environment,” Martin says. “Goodwill was really a blessing for me. [The training program] helped me get on my feet.” She is happy with her job and proud to come home with a sense of purpose.

Eager to inspire others to find their independence and realize their potential, Martin pays it forward by staying connected with the Pleasant Hill career center and sharing her success with new program participants. “I am very proud of Jovanda’s humility, attitude and persistence, as most people would have given way to anger, doubt and expectation,” Carden says. “She is truly an inspiring individual.”

Meet Justin

Humility is a core value for Justin McKibben. While he won’t tout his own successes very widely, he has overcome tremendous challenges to get where he is today. A major source of adversity McKibben faces is hydrocephalus, a medical condition once known as “water on the brain.” The condition, along with complications occurring in more than 70 surgeries he’s undergone in relation to the condition, cause McKibben a great deal of pain. When he was 19 years old, he decided to drop out of high school and live on disability checks. “I had fallen on rock bottom, skipping around from house to house,” he says. After some prodding from his family McKibben decided to get serious about looking for a job.

McKibben connected with his local Vocational Rehabilitation office, and he stopped by Goodwill’s Cartersville store looking for clothing when he noticed a sign for the career center. He entered the center and immediately felt a connection. “I was at the career center every day for four months,” he says. “I used every resource it offered – computers, job boards, job fairs – everything.”

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Following a work evaluation, work adjustment and what seemed like hundreds of job applications, McKibben got an offer to work at FedEX in Marietta as a package handler. When he accepted the position his connections at Goodwill stepped in again to help him. “I didn’t know my rights as a disabled citizen,” McKibben says. With support and suggestions from the career coaches at Goodwill, McKibben’s employer instituted small accommodations for him, like lowering the time clock and recycle bins.

Now eight months into the job, he has already received more than one pay raise and is working on getting his GED so he can transition into a quality assurance position at the company. He arrives early to work each day and works hard to show his appreciation for his new position. “Without the career center I wouldn’t be where I’m at,” he says. “When I go to work, I work.” Ever humble, McKibben is quick to credit others for their role in his achievements. But there is no denying he is a shining example of success in the face of extreme adversity.