14 Sep Formerly Incarcerated Mother of Two Finds Path to College Through Goodwill
A Goodwill program that prepares promising employees for career advancement did even more for one recent participant — it inspired her to go to college.
Mandie Underwood always thought she wanted to be a nurse. But Mandie quit high school in her senior year. Though she earned a general equivalency diploma in 2009, she was never able to get her career goals on track.
Instead, she became addicted to drugs and got into legal trouble. Mandie hit rock bottom in late 2019. She found herself sitting alone in a prison cell, a few months into a one-year sentence. It had been many weeks since she had spoken to her sons, who were then 9 and 7.
“They were staying with their aunt while I was incarcerated, and I realized that I was tired of living this way. I was tired of them having to live that way,” Mandie recalls. “I wanted to be a better mom. I wanted to be a better person, because I could feel that I had potential. I just wasn’t using it.”
Mandie entered a residential addiction recovery program in Murfreesboro in the summer of 2020. Though she had not worked in about a year, she began searching for a job. She applied to numerous employers with no luck.
“With my mistakes in my past, there were a lot of jobs that I applied for that wouldn’t give me a chance,” she says. “And there were many times when I felt discouraged.”
A SECOND CHANCE
Mandie submitted an online application with Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee. Within 20 minutes, a supervisor contacted her. She interviewed and was hired as a Donation Express Center attendant at a facility on North Thompson Lane in Murfreesboro.
Mandie’s critical thinking skills and natural leadership abilities were soon noticed. After just four months, she was offered a promotion to Regional Donations Lead. Her new duties would include creating staff schedules, keeping donation centers equipped and overseeing multiple sites when her supervisor was off duty.
For that, she needed a car. Fortunately, Mandie had been riding the bus to work each day and saving every penny she could from her paycheck. She managed to find a running vehicle for $1,000.
“It was not the best,” she says, laughing. “But it got me where I needed to go.”
JOURNEY OF SELF-DISCOVERY
In April of 2020, Mandie received an email alerting team members that applications were being accepted for GoodPaths, a 12-week leadership development program at Goodwill.
Participants take interest and aptitude assessments, explore career options, learn office productivity skills, participate in financial literacy training and more. Mandie applied and was accepted.
GoodPaths participants are matched with a mentor called a Career Navigator. Mandie’s was Jamie Davolt, a Goodwill Career Coach.
“Mandie is exactly the type of person the GoodPaths program was designed for — someone who is ready to take it to the next level and just needs a listening ear to hear their desires and give them some direction on how to get there,” Jamie says.
From the start, Mandie enjoyed the program — from revising her resume to improving her computer skills to learning to budget her finances. But she also learned a lot about herself.
A NEW PATH FORWARD
“Ever since I found out nursing wasn’t going to be an option for me, I was kind of in limbo,” she says. “Those aptitude tests and working with my Career Navigator helped me determine what I really want to do — I want to help people.”
The best way to do that, Mandie decided, was to continue her education and try to become a Goodwill Career Coach. So, with Jamie’s help, she researched the necessary steps to attend college. In August, Mandie began classes at Motlow State Community College to earn an associate’s degree in sociology.
“The GoodPaths program motivated me to take action steps, rather than just think about my future,” she says. “And it kind of had a domino effect in a lot of areas of my life.”
Mandie recently purchased a better car, and she now has set her sights on home-ownership. But she has even bigger goals.