"I feel like Goodwill saved my life." - Rachel Smith
Homeless, separated from her children and stranded in an unfamiliar city, Rachel Smith was haunted by thoughts of ending it all.
But through the intervention of a modern Good Samaritan and assistance from Goodwill, Rachel found a “miraculous” path to recovery that saved her life.
It was more than 15 years ago that Rachel, after enduring multiple surgeries and debilitating pain from fibroid tumors, found herself unemployed and struggling to care for her two young daughters. They were evicted, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and Rachel was forced to send her girls to live with their father. She moved to Atlanta to seek employment, staying with a friend while job-hunting and gradually sinking deeper into depression.
When her friend kicked her out in the middle of the night, Rachel found herself with no money and no place to stay, wandering aimlessly down the streets of Atlanta and contemplating suicide. Her wake-up call came from the blaring horn of a car that almost struck her, with the driver yelling “What are you doing?” at her as it swerved.
Running on adrenalin, Rachel walked to a nearby hotel. The desk clerk, who had seen Rachel dropped off in the parking lot with her belongings sitting next to the dumpster, brought her inside and allowed Rachel to stay overnight. The next morning, she invited Rachel to stay at her own home.
Rachel soon moved back to Augusta and was reunited with her daughters in a group home, where she was able to participate in weekly group visits to the Goodwill Job Connection. “I was excited,” she said. “I was hoping it would finally turn into a job.”
It did. First hired to work at a Goodwill donation center, Rachel later moved up to cashier, and then with encouragement from Christine Butler, Goodwill’s Director of Donated Goods, applied for and was hired as an assistant manager. She found an affordable place to live with her children, purchased a car, and for the first time in years had a sense of security.
“What makes Rachel so special is she never let her obstacles to deter her from success,” Christine says. “She works hard every day and takes nothing for granted.”
Finally gaining employment “felt incredible,” Rachel says. “I finally felt like I was going in the right direction. It was a miracle. I feel like Goodwill saved my life.”
Though she confesses to being “terrified,” her new sense of confidence helped her apply for a promotion – and she was hired as manager of Goodwill’s Moody Road store in Warner Robins. Her daughters are now grown, with one attending college and the other working as a truck driver. Rachel no longer worries about where they’ll sleep, or where their next meal will come from. “I’m very thankful,” she says.
“I always tell people: Never give up. Always pray,” Rachel says. “Never let negativity get in your way.”
Havird Usry - Local Celebrity, Helms College Graduate
As a scholarship athlete at Division 1 Clemson University, Augusta native Havird Usry had dreams of becoming a professional soccer player. But when injuries derailed his career on the field, he returned home to the kitchen as the third generation to operate his family enterprise: Fat Man’s Café.
Though he already knew his way around the restaurant, having grown up in the business, Usry enrolled at the Augusta Campus of the Helms College School of Hospitality for formal culinary education. Graduating first in his class, Usry at age 28 now manages the day-to-day operations of the popular restaurant, catering and event business. Combining his family’s kitchen heritage with culinary skills, Usry focuses on a fresh, modern look to traditional Southern cuisine.
Now, the rest of the country has heard about Usry and his culinary alma mater, too.
On May 22, Usry made his debut as one of the 12 finalists appearing on the new season of Food Network Star, a competition series pitting up-and-coming chefs against each other in a weekly kitchen battle.
After weeks of suspense and buildup, including a series of online interviews “teasing” the new season, the day at long last arrived for Usry’s prime-time appearance.
Unfortunately for Usry and his many fans back home, he was the first contestant cut from the show by the celebrity judges. The experience hasn’t dimmed Usry’s enthusiasm.
“Though (I was) eliminated, it was an awesome experience,” Usry said afterward in a Food Network interview. “You learn; you learn a lot about yourself really quick.”
The Helms College family remains exceptionally proud of Usry – especially because he continues to be such a great ambassador on behalf of the School of Hospitality.
Congratulations to Archie Gibbs, 2015 Goodwill Industries International Graduate of the Year
"I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't have faith, God and Goodwill in my life"
Archie Gibbs describes his life journey as being "as long as the yellow brick road." At age 7, he woke up one morning unable to hear from his left ear and barely able to hear from his right. After suffering physical abuse at the hands of his mother's boyfriend, Archie went into foster care at age 12. He worked at a series of restaurant jobs through high school, all while moving to various foster homes, and his attempt to attend college after graduation failed from lack of money and transportation. Unemployed and out of school, he arrived on foot at a Goodwill career center in 1998 in search of assistance.
When Archie Gibbs arrived at Goodwill, he lacked direction and focus - but he more than made up for it in his desire to learn and his willingness to work despite his disability and disadvantaged background. He first trained as a material handler and sorter, but he found his niche with Goodwill's custodial service training program, and with the assistance and mentorship of Goodwill's custodial supervisor, Archie soon became a valuable and trusted member of the Goodwill custodial staff. He demonstrated that value when he was named the Graduate of the Year of for our Goodwill in 1999, and later named Exemplary Employee of the Year for the city of Macon. What Archie learned during the custodial program proved to be the key to his success as he later became a custodial supervisor for the city of Macon, cleaning Mayor Jack Ellis' executive office suite. Archie then took full advantage of his Goodwill custodial and entrepreneurial training by establishing his own commercial and residential cleaning service that has since crossed the $1 million mark in annual revenues.
"Stay positive, follow your dreams, and always put God first." - La'Quadrick Davis
Diagnosed with attention deficient/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), La’Quadrick Davis continually strives to overcome barriers with help from Goodwill. “It’s been a life changing experience,” he says.
La’Quadrick, “Quad” as his friends call him, gave up on high school in 2013, because it was a challenge, not realizing what a challenge it would be to find a job without a diploma.
In November of the same year, Quad came to Goodwill looking for work and was assigned a case manager who determined the best route was the Goodwill Retail Training Store program where he sorted donated items and got real-world experience.
After his training ended, Quad worked several temporary jobs through Goodwill Staffing Services until being placed in a dishwashing position at Edgar’s Grille. After just a few short weeks, Quad was hired on permanently at Edgar’s in April 2014.
While working, Quad again attempted the high school diploma challenge with tutoring from the Helms College Academic Achievement Center and his diploma arrived the same day he turned 21, in January 2015.
This fall, Quad plans to attend Augusta Technical College. He’s still narrowing down what to study, but has a good idea it will be a hands-on program, which helps concentration for individuals with ADHD.
Though Quad admits, “It’s still a challenge and sometimes I mess up, but every time I learn something new.”
Quad’s guidance to others struggling with challenge is to “stay positive, follow your dreams, and always put God first.”
Life has Taken a Positive Path - Tawny Gladney
When Tawny Gladney was released from a correctional facility after serving time for drug offenses, she knew that she wanted to turn her life onto a different path.
"I chose to change my playmates - so-called friends - and environment... believing that would change my old habits," Gladney said. She entered a three-month program at Grace Village in Perry, which Gladney says helped guide her into her new life.
It was when Annette Perryman, Gladney's caseworker at Grace Village, took her to Goodwill to search for a new career path that her prospects continued to improve. Perryman helped Gladney with everything from selecting the right clothes for an interview to remembering to bring her identification and Social Security cards, and Gladney credits Perryman with being the one person who really made a difference in getting her life on the right track.
A visit to Goodwill's Job Connection provided Gladney with information on a serving and housekeeping position with Henderson Village, where Perryman took Gladney for her first job interview. From there, Gladney moved on to a position with Concessions by Cox at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry, while she also worked in a restaurant kitchen on the weekends. Thanks to this great start, Gladney was able to save enough money within three short months to move into her own apartment.
A year later, Gladney is happily married, and her youngest son lives with her and her husband. She works in the front office at Concessions by Cox where she oversees the catering operation. She hopes to pursue a business degree in addition to finishing her remaining credits for cosmetology certification.
Her life has taken the positive path that she needed.
"I have all of my family back and am getting to be a part of their lives again," Gladney said. "I am honored that Goodwill has people like Annette."