15 May I Change Lives: Keri Lynn Dougherty
A Q&A with an employee who is making a difference through the mission of Goodwill
Meet Keri Lynn Dougherty
Keri is an attendant at Goodwill’s Donation Express Center at 1055 Mineral Wells Ave. in Paris, Tenn. Her job is to greet the many generous Paris-area residents who support Goodwill, accept their donations of clothing, home goods, furniture and other items, give donors receipts for tax-deductions and then sort the donations for transport and sale. Donations received at Goodwill’s 80 donation sites across middle and west Tennessee are sold in the nonprofit’s 36 retail stores to raise funds for its mission of changing lives through education, training and employment.
Keri has autism. She is 21 and lives with her aunt and uncle and Buchanan, Tenn. When she and her younger sister were very small, their mother became ill, and the children were placed in a home where things “did not go well,” Keri says. Eventually, they were placed with their aunt and uncle. Keri says they have done a wonderful job of raising her, and she credits them and her strong Christian faith for helping her become a well-adjusted, happy person. “I definitely am lucky to this day,” she says. Keri once worked a summer job for a retailer while attending high school, but Goodwill is her first full-time position since graduating.
What brought you to Goodwill? I was looking for a job. I wanted something that would allow me to help support my family some with bills. My uncle took me to a job fair at the National Guard Armory in Paris about a year ago. The Goodwill rep happened to be there, and I walked up to her and said, ‘Hello, how are you?’ — just like a Goodwill employee should do. She thought I would be good fit for the job and explained the benefits of working there. I liked what I heard, so I applied and got the job.
What are some of the challenges you face? I am working to overcome some challenges with my autism. I have never really had a problem talking to people, but sometimes I have trouble knowing when to communicate something and when not to communicate something. For example, my co-workers will make a joke, and it’s all in good fun, and usually I can recognize it but sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I can’t pick up on whether someone is upset about something. I have to work harder than others who don’t have autism to understand how I can help.
How have you changed since taking the job? It most certainly has helped me to socialize. I’m learning very quickly about what it’s like in the real world, since this is my first full-time job. I am learning the ropes very well. I have improved at talking with donors. I have a mental script of what to say: ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Have a good day,’ and I can carry on short conversation. A few years ago I was in a training program in Smyrna for people with different disabilities, and they talked to us about different things that are appropriate and not appropriate — politics aren’t but weather is. I can tell how it all comes easier to me now.
What has surprised you most in your time with Goodwill? Goodwill’s willingness to hire me in the first place. I was so happy when first got the job, and I still am thankful to this day that I’ve been able to keep it. They put me through training, and my supervisor has been very accommodating. He’s done whatever has been needed to help me learn to do a better job.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy talking to people. I like meeting new people and learning things out there. I also like Goodwill’s mission, the fact that they try to help other people. I like helping the community. What more could a person need, right, than helping someone else?
How do you change lives? I feel it’s like a ministry of sorts. I love seeing all the good people around Paris who are willing to give up something — a pair of shoes, a shirt or whatever — to help their neighbors. I may not go to homeless shelters and preach the Bible to them, but by taking in donations I’m still helping people. I take great pride in that.