“Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of encouragement — and we will make the goal.”— Robert Collier

As a child, Karen Polly was painfully aware that she had a learning disability.

Other children teased her. Karen’s home life was difficult, and her parents eventually divorced. Perhaps worst of all was the feeling that her father loved her less than her “normal” older sister.  

“I was a slow learner, and he thought I couldn’t make nothing of myself,” Karen recalls.

Karen struggled in special education classes but pushed herself to graduate high school. Afterward, her father wanted her to remain home and collect disability benefits. But Karen had a different goal: independence.

She went to the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center in Smyrna for job training and then found work in a nursing home. But her employer was not patient in teaching Karen new skills, and she lost the position. Her next job also failed to work out.

Karen went to Goodwill Career Solutions for job readiness training in 2008, but then paused her pursuit of a career to care for her ailing father. In his final days, Karen and her father grew closer.

“I guess he was proud of me,” she says. “I feel like I was part of his life, instead of my sister always being the main one.”

After Karen’s father died, she returned to Goodwill. She had several training sessions with a job coach at Goodwill’s Fayetteville store. Then one day in August of 2010, he called her and told her they would like for her to start working at the store full-time.

“I was shocked,” she recalls. “I didn’t think I could get a job there, but they offered me a job.”

Karen says this time, as opposed to her previous jobs, supervisors were patient with her.

“They helped me and encouraged me, “ she says. “They took their time and taught me how things were supposed to be. I love the people at Goodwill. They are my friends.”

Today, Karen, now 41, stocks and maintains the store’s shoe department and does many other tasks.

The store’s office manager, Pam Leach, says Karen is one of the store’s top team members.

“She always wants to make sure that her shoes are in perfect order,” Leach explains. “ She’s very proud of the work that she does out there. And customers are always coming to her for help because she’s just so friendly. All of our regulars love Karen.”

Karen says she used to be very shy but now makes friends easily. For many years she suffered from depression, but her outlook on life is much brighter now. And her paycheck allows her to help support herself and her mother, with whom she lives.

Because of Karen’s bright smile and cheerful disposition, Leach calls her the store’s “little ray of sunshine.” But what fewer people see is her grit and determination.

“What she went through early in life — I don’t know if I could recover from it. To me, she’s a really strong person,” Leach said. “We always try to encourage her. She was just lacking encouragement for a long time. And now I think she can succeed at whatever she does.”


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