“Skill and confidence are an unconquered army.” — George Herbert
Danny sometimes says he knows half the town of Jackson, and his sister Jessica Carter says that may not be an exaggeration.
“You really cannot take Danny outside in our community without someone recognizing him from Goodwill,” says Jessica, who is Danny’s primary caregiver. “It’s pretty awesome.”
There was a time when Danny shied away from contact with strangers, standing or walking behind his family while in public, not speaking to anyone. That began to change 16 years ago, when Danny, now 44, got a job at the North Jackson Goodwill store.
“He is much more approachable now. He can carry on a conversation, and he’s more relaxed around people,” Jessica explains. “He used to kind of follow you, and now he’s out front, leading. It feels really great for me, as his sister, to see that. I love it.”
For many years, Danny, who has a intellectual disability, struggled to find his place in the broader world. Danny and Jessica’s father was in the military, and they lived in many places growing up. For a few years, Danny worked for a Goodwill nonprofit organization in Hawaii while his father was stationed there.
But after Danny came to live with his mother in Tennessee, he ended up staying at home, playing his favorite Nintendo games but often bored to the point of frustration and behaving badly.
“My mother tried to get him a job out in the community, and it proved really hard because he lacked a useful skill that could translate into employment,” Jessica says.
Danny’s mother arranged for him to work with job coaches. He got a job at a restaurant making hamburgers.
“They put me behind one of those hot grill things, and I said, ‘How many burgers?’” Danny recalls. “They said, ‘Twenty,’ and I said, ‘That’s too many.’”
Restaurant jobs were not a good fit for Danny. A position cleaning offices also did not work out. Remembering that Danny had worked for Goodwill in Hawaii, his mother contacted Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee. Danny was hired to work in the North Jackson Goodwill store.
Store manager Terri “T.J.” Haycraft remembers meeting Danny on her first day at work several years ago.
“He was introduced to me, and he hugged my neck immediately and said he was excited I was going to be the new manager,” she says. “I asked him whether he was going to be my rock star, and every day since he has reminded me that he is.”
At that point, Danny’s primary duty was placing children’s clothes on hangers. Terri challenged Danny to learn new tasks, such as using a tagging gun to place price tags on clothing, moving shoes from the processing area to shelves on the sales floor and assisting customers.
Though Danny loves learning new skills, they don’t always come easy.
“I don’t know how many shirts that were donated have a little tiny hole in the shoulder because he missed the seam with the tagging gun, but they finally trained him to do it right,” his sister says. “That’s one thing I really appreciate about Goodwill. They expect things from him. They don’t let him get by or make excuses, and he rises to meet what they want from him.
“What other place would do that?” Jessica adds. “Other jobs — they’ve given up on Danny. Goodwill just hasn’t.”
With patient support, Danny has blossomed. His family and supervisor agree that he’s become more confident and independent, whether at home or at work.
“I’m catching on pretty good at Goodwill,” Danny says. “Ms. T.J. chose me to be her rock star, I work so hard in there. Goodwill helps me, that’s the important thing.”
Danny lives in Jackson with his sister Jessica Carter, her husband, their three children and three dogs in what his sister Jessica calls a “wonderful, wonderful, busy house.” Jessica admits that she and other family members enjoy fondly teasing Danny.
“Harassing my brother is fun,” she says, grinning.
Danny generally shrugs it all off with a meek smile. But there is one topic Danny does not find humorous in the least — safety. After participating in numerous safety training meetings at Goodwill, Danny began identifying himself at work and at home as “the Safety Guy.”
One safety rule Danny particularly took to heart is that floors should be kept clear of objects such as clothes hangers to ensure that no one will trip or fall. A cousin, having frequently heard Danny mention this rule, decided to have a little fun with Danny.
He went to Goodwill and recorded himself throwing a few clothes hangers on the floor. Then he posted the video for Danny to watch on Facebook. Danny was not amused.
“He got so bent out of shape that I think if he’d had a license to drive he would have driven to Goodwill that minute to make his cousin pick those clothes hangers up,” Jessica recalls, laughing.
Jessica quickly adds that the humorous anecdote demonstrates how Danny’s job at Goodwill fills him with a sense of purpose.
“It’s important to him because they drilled safety into their heads at work, but also because he was called ‘the Safety Guy,’” she said. “Now he’s got this mission to fulfill.”