To observe LaShawndra at work is to see efficiency elevated to artistry. The 32-year-old Hermitage resident is a book- and media-shipper in Goodwill’s E-commerce division at its Nashville headquarters.
First, LaShawndra takes a book from a large stack and scans a barcode from a sheet of information tucked into its pages. Then, she verifies the mailing address, typing numbers into her computer. She weighs the book on a scale, seals the book in an envelope, prints a label and attaches it, then, without hesitation, flips the package into one of 21 U.S. mail sacks arranged by zip codes around her standing desk.
All this occurs in seconds. LaShawndra’s eyes seldom leave her computer, but her hands move in a blur. She often prepares 500 books for shipping in under four hours. Then she moves on to numerous other duties.
By all accounts, this cheerful, highly-skilled and self-assured worker bears little resemblance to the young woman who was hired by Goodwill back in 2011. That LaShawndra, she recalls, was “frustrated and hurt.”
At 17, LaShawndra had been diagnosed with a learning disability. The news crushed her. She worried what other people thought about her and whether she would ever be able to support herself.
She found jobs, first at a warehouse and later at a store, but despite having an excellent work ethic and never missing shifts, neither position panned out. She couldn’t keep pace with her duties and struggled with new tasks.
“I never had any good supervisors,” LaShawndra said.”They were rude to me, and they never wanted to help me or teach me anything.”
In 2009, her father suggested she visit Goodwill Career Solutions for help. LaShawndra completed a Goodwill job readiness course and was placed with a temporary staffing agency, but the company was unable to find her a position. In May of 2011 she came back to Goodwill and was enrolled in a paid training program in Goodwill’s E-commerce division. Soon, she was hired on full-time.
Goodwill Online Manager Gail Champion recalls meeting LaShawndra for the first time.
“You could tell she didn’t have any self-esteem. She just really didn’t realize what her potential was,” Champion said. “She was a young lady who was trying to gain employment so she could feel good about being a citizen and contribute to her family.”
LaShawndra was assigned to an entry-level task — cleaning and polishing compact discs and DVDs. When Champion saw she was performing well, she moved LaShawndra to pre-scanning, a position that requires the use of a computer.
LaShawndra had no experience with computers. She was terrified and told Champion she was not smart enough to do the job.
“I told her she absolutely could and we would train her,” Champion explained. “After a while, she loved it and was so proud of herself for learning to do something she just knew she couldn’t do.”
Eventually, LaShawndra was introduced to an even more complex job — listing merchandise for sale at onlinegoodwill.com. With patient guidance, she was soon meeting her daily goals. Finally, she was promoted to her current position in shipping, where she has once again displayed excellence. She has now mastered almost every task in the E-Commerce department.
“All the things I thought I couldn’t do — I’m doing them now,” LaShawndra said, beaming. “I realized if I put my mind to it and have faith in myself, I can do it.”
What’s more, LaShawndra has begun training new employees in the department’s various positions — a role she never dreamed she would be able to fulfill. She is also now a full-time “trainer” of sorts at home — raising a 1-year-old daughter.
“Ever since I’ve been at Goodwill, I’m proud,” she said. “It’s like my family. I’ve got people who help me. I’m not frustrated. I’m not sad. I’m completely happy with my life.”
Among those LaShawndra credits with helping her most is Champion, whom she said has been there to support her every step of the way.
Tears fill Champion’s eyes when she considers LaShawndra’s progress.
“The great thing about the job I get to do here is is to mentor somebody as great as LaShawndra and get to see her success as my success,” she said. “I feel very overwhelmed, as you can see, and so proud.”
About Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, Inc.
For 60 years, Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee has provided job training and job placement free of charge to people with disabilities or other barriers to employment through the sale of donated items. Goodwill’s vision is that all people will have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential through the power of work. More information about Goodwill’s Career Solutions, retail stores and donation centers can be obtained online at www.giveit2goodwill.org or by calling 1-800-545-9231.