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.

February 2018

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.

October (14)

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.”

October (2)

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.

Creating a New Path

While studying special education at the University of Georgia, Jonathon Clark’s life took an unexpected turn. Clark had a brain aneurysm burst which resulted in a stroke. He survived the incident, but was left with limited mobility and some traumatic brain damage. At that point he had to find a new path for his career.

Clark sought assistance from Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation and was referred to Goodwill of North Georgia’s Workforce Development program. “When I met with Goodwill, the most helpful thing for me was all the various job leads,” he says. “Otherwise I wouldn’t even know where to look or how to apply for jobs.” ThJonathonough Clark is unable to drive himself, his Goodwill job coach even helped with transportation assistance to and from job fairs and training.

After completing his training, Clark was hired as a cashier at a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Marietta. “He really didn’t need coaching, he was already professional and knowledgeable” says Goodwill Job Coach Cassandra Wimberly. “He was so excited and grateful to be working. I was just there to make sure he was comfortable.”

Checking in every 30, 60, 90, 120 and 180 days, upon program completion is another way Goodwill Job Coaches ensure the job is a good fit and that graduates have what they need to continue to succeed at work. Wimberly enjoys the visits with Clark because of his optimistic personality. “I’ve never visited or spoken with him where he wasn’t positive or upbeat. He is truly a pleasure,” she says.

One of the last faces customers see before they leave the store, Clark wants to make a positive lasting impression. If customers are happy when they leave, they are more likely to come back and to spread the word to their friends. Clark’s manager has also noticed his initiative and exceptional service. “The job is going really well,” Clark says. “I’m approaching the two year mark [with the company]. I’m so happy with my job I’m hoping to see what kind of mobility I have if I stay there.”

When Clark was recovering from his life-changing injury in 2014, he was told he may never walk again. That didn’t stand in the way of Clark pursuing a career. “Jonathon is awesome,” says Wimberly. As a proud job coach, she is grateful to see the opportunities Clark is embracing and the positive impact he will continue to have on those around him.

Meet Curtis…A Veteran, Trainer and Helping Hand

While serving for four years in the Air Force as an Aircrew Life Support Specialist, Curtis Sigur was responsible for ensuring that all flight and safety equipment was in perfect working order before departure. “I was in charge of inspecting survival equipment on the planes,” he says. From packing emergency items to inspecting survival kits, the attention to detail provided by Sigur protected and helped many members of the Air Force.

Sigur’s interest in joining the Air Force came when he was 18 years old. “I’ve had relatives serve including my dad who served in the Army and I had a friend who was in the Air Force. The Air Force just seemCurtised interesting to me,” he says. Through his time serving, Sigur received the Kuwait Liberation Medal for participating in Operation Desert Storm. A prestigious honor, the medal recognizes service during the liberation of Kuwait. In addition to the medal, Sigur also received an Outstanding Achievement medal for his hard work and leadership.

Upon returning from duty, Sigur came across the Smyrna Career Center on his way into the store. “I was just walking into the store to look for some vintage items and noticed the sign for the career center and everyone looked friendly inside, so I walked in,” he says. After speaking with the career center facilitators, Sigur was referred to the First Choice Veterans Program.

Sigur’s desire for helping others shined through his time spent at the career center. With a background and passion for information technology, Sigur assisted visitors at the career center with logging in, building their résumés and searching for job postings online. “Being a part of the program really brought out my skillsets and allowed me to help others look for employment,” he says.

Today, Sigur continues to help people. As a Corporate Trainer for Coca-Cola, he helps associates grow and expand their knowledge. Through the process of onboarding employees, training employees on machinery and updating and presenting procedures, Sigur has been a valuable contribution to the Atlanta-based company for nearly a year.

With hopes to inspire other veterans returning for work Sigur says, “Goodwill is a good place for a veteran to go. It’s good to know there’s an organization like Goodwill to help you and respect you for serving your country. It was a very positive experience for me.”

A Rewarding Leap of Faith

Success Story Template (5)Inspired by her daughter Kaylee to transition her baking hobby to to a full-blown business venture, Amber Tellis took a leap of faith and started her own business, Kaylee Cake Pops and More. Before this leap, Tellis worked for a local railroad company, but the hours didn’t allow her much time with her family, and she was eager to pursue work that allowed her better balance between her growing career and growing children. Working full time, building a family with her husband and finding the time to bake was a challenge. “I knew I needed to work for myself if I wanted to make time for everything. I decided to jump out on faith and go out on my own instinct,” says Tellis.
Enrolling in Goodwill of North Georgia’s GoodBIZ program helped ease her transition from baking as a hobby to starting and running a business. “The GoodBIZ program helped me determine what exactly I wanted from the business. I used to look at it as a hobby, now I look at it as a business,” Tellis says. Through the program, Tellis received assistance in developing a business concept and plan, and was exposed to different events and resources to help her refine her business strategy.
Now, Tellis proudly earns a living doing what she loves with her inspiration by her side. “Kaylee still pitches in when she can. She usually does the taste tests for me,” Tellis says. Having only baked for one year before making the decision to launch her own business, Tellis is thankful for Goodwill’s support. “[The program] really prepared me to become business minded,” she says. Sharing her success story at Goodwill’s Metro graduation, a recognition ceremony for the organization’s metro-area program graduates, was momentous for Tellis. “I was nervous, but being able to share my story with other graduates was rewarding,” she says.
Since its small and sweet beginning, Kaylee Cake Pops and More has continuously grown into a successful and stable business. Tellis stays busy, competing in various baking competitions and catering events, ranging from baby showers and weddings to graduation ceremonies and corporate meetings. “I’ve been blessed,” she says. Critical to her business’s success has been an emphasis on quality. Whether she is baking cake pops or packaging her grab and go treats, she understands top-grade product is essential to cultivating repeat customers. As for next steps, Tellis is focused on continuing the expansion of her business, either on the shelves of local grocery stores or inside her own storefront property. She landed on both feet after her career-changing leap of faith, and she is eager for the next leg of the journey.

Adaptable and Dependable

At the age of 12, Tossapop Strickland developed an interest for electronics and soldering. “I began soldering when I was a kid in Thailand with my uncle’s soldering iron. I would take apart toys and piece them back together,” Strickland says. In 2013, he and his family relocated to the United States to be near family and better schools. Strickland’s surroundings changed, but his interest in soldering stayed with him.    24

Adjusting to his new home and a new high school, Strickland learned the importance and value of being adaptable. “At first it was hard. The weather, time and language were difficult to adjust to,” he says. Learning to speak English as a new high school student, Strickland worked even harder to maintain his grades and develop the ability to speak with his peers.

His English continued to sharpen as his friend group grew, but Strickland’s listening and comprehension skills lagged behind. “My speaking was off the charts, but not really my listening or reading,” he says. Upon graduating high school, he looked to transition directly into the workforce. He worked as a delivery driver for a family restaurant, but it did not provide him with a feeling of satisfaction.

With a seasoned interest in electronics, Strickland hoped to find a career that aligned with his passion for solving technical problems and working with his hands. He was referred to Goodwill’s Electronics Assembly and Soldering program by a friend. While in the program, he received technical soldering training and obtained industry-recognized credentials, including IPC 610 Specialist/Inspector and IPC J-STD Board Repair Tech certifications. Even with extensive knowledge in the area, Strickland needed help getting his foot in the door. “Goodwill helped with my English and communication skills for interviews,” he says. “I learned how to sell myself when applying for jobs.”

Overcoming the challenges of interviewing and networking, Strickland got the chance to put his skills to work when he gained fulltime employment as an electronic assembler at Scanfil. “I didn’t know it was possible to have a career in electronics. I never had the chance to try, but Goodwill gave me the confidence,” he says. In nearly half a year on the job he has distinguished himself as a top performer at his work site.

Bringing a great attitude, a natural interest in the work and strong technical ability to every task, Strickland surpasses expectations for every project presented to him at Scanfil. “I work in all of the departments. They put me in departments that are backed up or need to get ahead,” he says. As a valuable asset to the organization, his supervisor Roxana Flores says, “Tossapop masters each department right away and produces quality work. He exceeds the daily goals that some people take weeks to do.”23

Now that he’s hit his stride in his new country, Strickland hopes to continue advancing his career. “I really love what I do and I am thankful Goodwill helped me get here,” he says. Strickland took the opportunity to showcase his skills and not only loves what he does, but excels at it.

Meet Katie: From Anxious to Confident

Stephen Hawking once said, “Quiet people have the loudest minds.” For Katie Crunkleton, Hawking’s quote speaks volumes of truth. “Quiet people are deep and interesting,” says Crunkleton, who is one of 40 million Americans suffering from anxiety, the most common mental illness.IMG_9051

Crunkleton graduated college with a bachelor’s degree in art, but due to her anxiety considered herself to be ‘unemployable.’ “Overcoming anxiety is not easy,” Crunkleton says. She was referred by her doctor to Goodwill of North Georgia’s Workforce Development Program, which eased her transition into the workplace. “I was excited when she recommended the job training at Goodwill,” she says.

She completed mock interviews, learned about the many aspects of retail stores and how to work with others. “Being able to come somewhere everyday gave me a sense of accomplishment and I felt encouraged,” she says. With the help and support of the Cornelia Workforce Development team and Employment Specialist Velma York, Crunkleton secured her first full-time job 15 miles from home as a cashier at Dollar General. While she was relieved to have a job, Crunkleton hoped for a job closer to home. Two months later, she successfully secured full-time employment at Shoe Show in Toccoa. Crunkleton, who once feared job interviews, phone calls and the judgment of others, now confidently interacts with customers and co-workers on a daily basis.

Having worked at Shoe Show for only a year, Crunkleton is now a key holder for the store, a responsibility held only by the manager and herself. Through volunteering at job fairs with the career center staff and other program participants, Crunkleton stepped out of her comfort zone and gained confidence, as well as a community. “I put myself out there and it gave me the feeling of having a job,” she says.

Though her fear of social situations was once much stronger, Crunkleton’s creative and determined mind has remained constant. She has always enjoyed communicating with people through art and creating merchandise displays at Shoe Show is just one way she is able to express her creativity. “Visual merchandising is something that I want to continue learning about,” she says.

Grateful for a larger support system and a full-time job, Crunkleton looks forward to where her career is headed. With hopes of further using the skills obtained from Goodwill and expanding her creativity, Crunkleton dreams of owning an art gallery consisting of her unique paintings and pottery, as well as teaching art classes to the community of Toccoa.