Badge of Goodwill: Retired Lawman Finds New Mission

Herman Barnes knows the value of a second chance.

Every day, as a donation attendant at Goodwill’s South Jackson retail store, Mr. Barnes receives items people no longer need, processes them for sale and sees customers purchase them to give them new purpose.

“Recently, a man donated a hover chair made for people with limited mobility,” he recalls. “I told the donor, ‘Be of good cheer, my friend, this is going to prosper somebody.’ Later in the same day, I helped load the chair on a customer’s truck. It was going to someone who needs it. That’s a good feeling.”

Mr. Barnes, a Mississippi native, also has helped many people discover renewed purpose. During a nearly four-decade career in law enforcement — including stints in Missouri as a police chief, a jail commander and a school system security director — he had an influence on numerous offenders who turned their lives around. He has also led people toward redemption as a church pastor.

After retiring from police work, Mr. Barnes taught school for six years at Northside High School in Jackson, becoming a mentor to many students. He was known for plain talk and sage advice: “Set high goals. Be willing to start at the bottom. Get out of your comfort zone.”

In 2020, the year he turned 80, Mr. Barnes needed his own second chance.

With the pandemic upending most aspects of American life, he decided to retire again, giving his notice at Northside High School in July. But as summer wore on, he grew increasingly anxious and dissatisfied.

“At my age, you sometimes end up spending money that you had not put in your budget,” he said. “Also, I told my wife, I’m tired of just sitting around.”

His wife, Yolanda Barnes, a lead retail associate at Goodwill’s North Jackson store, suggested he consider working at Goodwill. But after a lifetime in very different roles, he struggled to picture himself as a retail employee.

He applied for several security-related positions but got no responses. Suspecting that companies were unwilling to take a chance on someone his age, he turned to the local Goodwill Career Solutions Center for help.

After discussing his goals, a Career Coach helped him identify several other employers of interest. She also suggested he talk to a Goodwill store manager — just to see if the work might interest him.

After an interview, Mr. Barnes was offered his current position at the South Jackson Goodwill store.

“One should never turn their nose up at an opportunity,” he recalls. “When I told my wife I was going to work for Goodwill, she said, ‘You’ve never done this kind of work as long as I’ve known you. Go into it with an open mind and enjoy it.’

“And that’s what I’ve done,” he adds. “It’s good for me that I’m here.”

Mr. Barnes enjoys seeing the items people give to support Goodwill’s mission of changing lives through education, training and employment.  But meeting people is his favorite part of the job.

“Many of our donors have attachments to the gifts they bring us, and sometimes they tell me stories about those items. They’re not just bringing us things to get rid of them — they want them to mean something to someone,” he says. “I tell them how they are truly giving a gift of goodwill. The human side of giving is just so genuine for me, and having those conversations has been very rewarding.”

The store’s manager says Mr. Barnes is an outstanding employee, and his wife says he has more energy these days.

“He’s the type of person who can’t sit still. He needs something to keep his brain going,” she explains. “Now he comes home excited to tell me about all the people he meets on the job.”

Mr. Barnes says he wakes up each workday with the same thought.

“I think, ‘I’m going to help somebody today,’” he says. “God has granted me another chance to endow someone with just a smidgen of Goodwill.”

  • Emerald Anyanwu
    Posted at 15:44h, 01 February Reply

    Mr. Barnes is and will always be a great man. He was my mentor in high school, he gave me the money to applied for the college I recently graduated from. And I honestly don’t know anyone who would do that for someone. I love you mr. Barnes you will be missed.

  • Angela Beaton
    Posted at 14:55h, 17 April Reply

    What an amazing example! People need to realize that older folks still have so much to give!

  • Miriam McKinzie
    Posted at 09:21h, 17 April Reply

    That is such a wonderful story . I’m thinking from reading this story that he may be at the Jackson Tennessee store or Mississippi ? I live in Tennessee and have been to the Goodwill in Jackson Tennessee several times . I wish that I knew which store that he works at so that I could meet him in person if I happen to be at his store . I am a huge fan of Goodwill . I’ve been to Goodwills from Miami Florida to Los Angeles California .

    I have a great Goodwill story myself ! I met my husband ( now deceased ) at my job . I was his nurse . We both had been divorced for years . He asked for my number and he called me almost every day . When he finally asked me if I wanted to go out with him he asked me if I liked Goodwill and I said yes , I love Goodwill ! Our first date was to Goodwill and the park to feed ducks . Four months and one day after meeting him we were married and we went to Gatlinburg Tennessee on our honeymoon and we stopped at the Goodwill’s along the way !

  • Joseph D. Anderson
    Posted at 08:59h, 17 April Reply

    An inspiring story. Godspeed, Mr. Barnes.

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