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 disability, 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.”
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.”
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.