When Theresa took her last drink and stopped doing drugs in January of 2013, she set an initial goal for herself of staying sober for at least 90 days.
Her success emboldened her to take another step — trying to find a job. She went to the Goodwill Career Solutions in downtown Nashville, a place she had visited several times in the past. But this time things were different. She was determined to make a change.
“This was my opportunity to come off the streets, have my own income and not to have to ask anybody for anything,” Theresa explained. “I’ve never been a responsible type person. That’s basically what I wanted.”
After working with a job coach and attending several Job Jams — meetings at which Goodwill career counselors share resources and job leads with clients, Theresa was offered a position as a part-time associate in Goodwill’s garment grading department.
She still remembers getting that phone call.
“I was screaming and hollering, ‘I got a job, I got a job!’” she recalled. “I went in the bathroom and couldn’t do nothing but cry. It still makes me teary-eyed when I think about it.”
At that point, Theresa had been out of the workforce for four or five years, and she was still living with a relative in a neighborhood where there were many temptations to backslide on her sobriety. So she made another deal with herself.
“I gave myself 90 days,” she said. “I said, ‘If I can last for 90 days on the job, I got this made.’”
Theresa completed her self-imposed probationary period, and slowly she started to become the responsible person she hoped to be, always giving herself another 90-day deadline.
She paid off her debts, got her own place to live and began helping her grown children.
At Goodwill, she gained a reputation for working hard and maintaining a positive attitude, no matter what challenges she faced. She thrived on helping others and drew strength from working every day among people who succeeded despite serious disabilities.
“I’m like, ‘Hey, what do I have to complain about?” she said. “Just to see smiles on their faces — that’s very uplifting.”
In January, Theresa was promoted to assistant production supervisor over grading. Then, three months later, she was confronted with perhaps the greatest test of her character: a diagnosis of cancer.
But Theresa, now 50, has learned how to beat the odds. She gave herself a new goal: complete surgery and chemotherapy in 90 days while missing as little work as possible.
Her co-workers find her resolve and her attitude amazing.
“Even when she lost her hair, she stayed positive. She pulled her hat off and said, ‘Look at my hair!’” Goodwill Production Supervisor Dollie Lillard said. “Sometimes when I am feeling down I look at Theresa and try to be more like her — upbeat all the time even when things are bad.”
Theresa said her cancer was responding well to chemotherapy, and she had set a new 90-day goal of working throughout her radiation treatments. She said she continues to draw inspiration from her co-workers.
“I have so much support here at work; that has helped me a lot. Being at Goodwill gives me strength,” she said.
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— By Chris Fletcher
Prior to joining Goodwill as its PR & Communications Manager in 2014, Fletcher was a professional journalist for
more than 25 years working at media outlets in three states, including the Associated Press.