“The great recipe for success is to work and always work.” — Leon Gambetta
Priscilena, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology, loves cooking because of the science involved.
“It’s like a chemistry experiment,” she explains. “You take a cup of this and half a cup of that, and you mix it all together in the right proportion and you make something delicious, like a pound cake.”
But sometimes having the right ingredients and following instructions is not enough. Priscilena learned this lesson the hard way, both with cooking and with her teaching career.
In 2014, the now 54-year-old Clarksville resident had a job instructing girls at a juvenile detention center. She was good at her job, and the girls looked up to her.
“I told them, ‘Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you don’t have worth, no matter what you have done in your past. Let it be in your past, and you make a new path. Make your future brighter,’” she recalls.
There were things about the work Priscilena could not abide, however. The program was supposed to help the girls return to their families and integrate back into society, but many did not. Turnover among staff was high, too. So Priscilena left the job.
For the next several months, she struggled to find work. She estimates that she submitted at least 50 applications. She had some phone interviews, but no one hired her.
“I was really pounding the pavement,” she says. “It was the longest I’d ever been without a job. I began to feel really low. I was at the end of my rope and becoming very closed off and withdrawn. It just seemed like nothing was opening up for me.”
Adding to her stress was that Priscilena was the primary breadwinner for a family of four, including her two daughters — one of whom was in college — and her mother.
“I had a lot of things on my plate — a lot of bills, and I mean, it’s really scary. I’d never been in a place like that before, and it was just so scary,” she says.
One day, Priscilena saw a job fair mentioned on TV and decided to attend. The job fair was hosted by Goodwill Career Solutions in Nashville, and Priscilena spoke with a Goodwill training coach who told her about several training programs that were available as well as jobs with Goodwill.
Priscilena returned for classes in job readiness, resume assistance, mock interviews and more. And then one day the training coach asked what types of work she would be interested in.
“I said I wanted to try something different,” she explains.
Priscilena applied for a job as a donation attendant, and she was hired. She first worked at a Donation Express Center in north Nashville, greeting donors, accepting their items, thanking them and then putting items into a trailer and sorting them for sale in Goodwill’s stores.
She later moved to a Donation Express Center behind Hillsboro High School in Nashville’s Green Hills community — one of Goodwill Industries of Middle Industries’ busiest donation sites. Priscilena would become one of the longest-serving employees at that location and would be promoted to lead attendant, working as acting supervisor. She would remain with Goodwill for nearly five years.
“I stayed because of the people I worked with, and because of the donors that come in. More often than not, they’re really friendly and they care and want to help people who are less fortunate than them,” Priscilena explains. “It’s amazing that people are willing to give such high quality items for a good cause, and many of them came in and told me, ‘Thank you for what you do.’”
Thanks to her job at Goodwill, Priscilena was able to stabilize her family finances and even save a little money. Feeling productive and earning the respect of her co-workers and supervisors restored her self-esteem. And Priscilena says the job also helped her to better recognize and value the opportunities that come her way.
“Goodwill kept me grounded and focused, and it made me appreciate everything,” she says. “Every detour I’d taken was for a reason, and it led me back to my career as a teacher.”
In June, Priscilena accepted a position teaching high school science for TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, a national provider of behavioral health services to at-risk and adjudicated youth.
Danny Rhodes, Goodwill’s director of donation acquisitions, says Priscilena is a great example of the power of Goodwill’s mission of changing lives through education, training and employment.
“At Goodwill, our goal is to help people achieve the ‘ABCs’ of employment: ‘First, A job; next, a Better job; and finally, a Career,’” he says. “Priscilena’s story perfectly illustrates how that is possible through a good work ethic and determination. She is an inspiration to others.”
Through trial and error and online research, Priscilena also eventually figured out the secret to baking a great pound cake: time.
“I found out I’d been mixing the ingredients too quickly,” she says, laughing.