17 Sep A Friend in the Storm: Boy With Autism Connects with Goodwill Cashier
It was a Friday, and for 13-year-old Joshua West, that meant shopping with his dad at the Shelbyville Goodwill and talking with Ms. Vivian.
But on this particular Friday — Aug. 28, 2020 — the remnants of Hurricane Laura were sweeping through Middle Tennessee. With the safety of their four children to consider, Joshua’s parents, Jimmy and Amanda West, reluctantly told him he would have to wait until the next day to visit Goodwill and to see his favorite Goodwill employee.
Joshua, who has autism, did not take the news well.
“He was like, ‘It’s Friday. I have to go see Ms. Vivian!’” Amanda recalls. “He kept repeating it, and I was worried he was going to have a meltdown.”
Like many other people with autism, Joshua struggles with social interaction and is comforted by repetition and routine. Goodwill has always been a part of the West family’s routine.
“Having four children, we are always trying to buy clothes ahead and stay on budget,” Amanda says. “Wherever we have lived, we have shopped at Goodwill. And we love that Goodwill supports people with special needs.”
Like clockwork, every Friday after Josh’s occupational therapy session, his dad takes him to Goodwill and then for pizza. Joshua, who is a prolific collector of movies and movie trivia, likes Goodwill because of its DVD selection and its cashier, Ms. Vivian.
Vivian Haggard, a native of the Philippines, has been employed with Goodwill since 2011. In 2008, at age 43, she immigrated to the U.S. after meeting her future husband — a Shelbyville resident.
She initially worked in a factory, but seasonal layoffs forced her to seek more stable employment. Vivian applied at Goodwill and was hired to work at the Shelbyville store. In 2013, Vivian became a U.S. citizen. She is now a shift leader at her store.
About a year ago, Vivian began to notice a shy young man with brown hair who would come through her line with his father every Friday. It was Joshua.
Vivian treated Joshua and his father the way she treats all customers — with pleasant conversation, a listening ear and an easy laugh that carries through the store.
“At Goodwill, our goal is changing lives,” Vivian says. “So, to make a difference in someone’s life, I always try to give my 110% best with customer care and customer service. I’m not perfect, but I always try.”
Her efforts were not lost on Joshua, who normally struggles with conversation and making friends. Something about the diminutive cashier with the broad grin put him at ease.
Over time, Joshua became increasingly comfortable chatting with Vivian. He even started doing a little dance each time he would reach the front of her line — changing up his moves to make Vivian laugh.
Then came the Friday of the storm. With Joshua on the verge of tears about missing his trip to see Ms. Vivian, Amanda did the only thing she could think to do: She called Goodwill.
Vivian answered. Amanda told her what was happening and asked if Vivian would speak to Joshua. Vivian said yes. Joshua was jumping up and down with excitement.
“She said, ‘Hi, Joshua. I was just sitting here wondering where you were and missing you,’” Amanda recalls. “And then he said, ‘I miss you, Ms. Vivian.’ And then she said, ‘I love you,’ and he said, ‘I love you, too, Ms. Vivian.’”
It was the first time Amanda had ever heard Joshua say that to anyone outside of his immediate family.
“Joshua sometimes has been places where people have not shown him kindness, because he’s quirky and he’s different. None of that matters with Ms. Vivian.” Amanda explains. “When you have a hard time with social interaction and you find somebody that connects with you, it makes your whole world feel more special. That’s what she has done for him.”
Vivian says until she talked to Joshua the day of the storm, she had no idea he had autism or that she was important to him.
“We had a special bond, and I didn’t even know,” she says. “I just praise the Lord for that. I’m making a difference in someone’s life, and I count it as a blessing. It encourages me to do more for Goodwill.”