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2021 Ambassador of the Year Found Much More Than Fashion at Goodwill

Each year, Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee names an Ambassador of the Year — someone for whom Goodwill is not just a store or a nonprofit organization, but more like a way of life. This year, nominations were accepted on social media, and the winner was selected by Goodwill’s communications team. 

Andrea Alexander moved to Middle Tennessee six years ago, determined to build a meaningful life focused on service to others. She succeeded. 

The Atlanta native, who had recently earned her master’s degree from Auburn University, took a rewarding job as a legal secretary in the Nashville District Attorney’s office. She then began volunteering twice a week to help children battling cancer and other serious illnesses at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. She also began serving on the Juvenile Court Foster Care Review Board, providing oversight to ensure the care and development of children in foster care. 

But as Andrea’s life got busier and busier, she overlooked one important necessity: Taking time out for herself.

“I struggle with depression,” she explains, “and I was under a lot of stress. That’s when Goodwill came into my life.”

Andrea began searching for a hobby to boost her mental well-being. Her interests included fashion, and she enjoyed shopping at department stores. She had noticed style influencers posting about the cool apparel they found while thrift shopping on social media and was intrigued. She decided to give thrifting a try. 

With numerous Goodwill stores in the area, including one near her home in Springfield, it was an obvious place to start. 

Right away, she was hooked. Clothing organized by size and color, accessories, shoes, furniture, books — there was a lot to browse. And, unlike department stores, at Goodwill Andrea never knew what she might find.

The treasure hunt strongly appealed to her. A red Saks Fifth Avenue dress and a pair of brown suede leather boots were among her favorite finds. 

Because the prices were low, especially when she bought Goodwill’s Color-of-the-Week and 99-cent Sunday merchandise, she could take more home. And there were other benefits. When her closet got full, she just gathered up the things she no longer wanted and donated them back to Goodwill.

“My rule is, if I haven’t worn it in a year, I donate it,” she says. “It makes you feel good to avoid throwing away things that have value.”

Andrea liked that her donations — and her purchases — support a nonprofit that provides education, training and employment to people with disabilities and other barriers to employment. Being a “people-person,” she enjoyed chatting with Goodwill employees and other customers — often asking them to take photos of her with her finds.

She began posting photos and videos from her thrift adventures to social media under a handle suggested by a friend: @GoodwillShawty. She started with Instagram, and then moved on to Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. 

Andrea never wears the same outfit twice and says she is the “diva of the DA’s office.”

“When you thrift, nobody else is going to be wearing what you have on because it’s unique. I found a vintage zebra-print shirt, and nobody else can rock it the way I do, because I found it at Goodwill,” she says.  

She gets asked every day where she found the pieces in her outfit, and she loves seeing people’s surprise when she answers, “Goodwill.”

But for all of this, Andrea says inner peace has been the most rewarding result of her Goodwill thrifting hobby.

“It has improved my mental health and my well-being,” Andrea says. “It’s like a way to meditate because you’re in there, and you are focused on the clothes or listening to the music. It’s also helped me to feel better about myself, because when you dress good, you feel good.”

“Goodwill changed my life,” she adds.

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