Finding His Voice: Job at Goodwill Helps
Smyrna-Area Man Learn to Interact

Joseph’s mother was at the Goodwill store in Smyrna where her son had worked for several years when she saw him do something surprising: He held the door open for a female customer.

For anyone else, it might have been a small gesture unworthy of mention, but for Joseph, it was evidence of a dramatic change.

“He didn’t used to do that kind of stuff,” his mother said. “And he used to not talk at all. You would ask him questions and get a one-word answer. Now, he’ll carry on a conversation with you. He didn’t do any of that until he went to work at Goodwill.”

Joseph’s mild autism and dyslexia isolated him for much of his life. He was extremely shy and avoided interaction with strangers. The 40-year-old, who lives with his parents in Rutherford County, tried other jobs — including janitor and dishwasher positions at a grocery store and pizza restaurant — but they never lasted long. Another job with a nonprofit in Nashville ended because his parents couldn’t continue making the long daily drive to get him there.

So he sat around the house, getting bored and “antsy,” his mother said. Eventually, she had enough and decided Joseph should give Goodwill a try. In January of 2007, she drove him to a Goodwill Career Solutions center, where a career counselor assessed his skills, goals and challenges.

In September of that year, Joseph was offered a chance to participate in paid retail training at the Smyrna Goodwill store. 

He said yes and quickly began working with a job coach. After just a few weeks, he mastered the necessary skills and was hired on as an employee.

He liked the work and, little by little, he began emerging from his shell.

“I think it was six months after I began working at this store before he began talking to me,” recalled office administrator Marianne Hunley. “He would have this shy little smile, hold up his hand and wave at me. I’m so happy to see him blossom.”

Now, after seven years, Joseph is a fixture at the store — one of the longest-serving Goodwill employees at that site. Hunley and other supervisors say he is a dependable, hard worker who will gladly take on any task and pays close attention to details.

Moreover, he communicates well with co-workers and customers. Joseph, a longtime St. Louis Cardinals fan, even chats about sports with his supervisor.

He acknowledges his own transformation.

“Goodwill teaches me social skills and makes me feel more independent,” Joseph said. “It teaches me how to take better care of myself and pay for a lot of the things I need. I thank Goodwill and especially God for my job.”

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— By Chris Fletcher
Prior to joining Goodwill as its PR & Communications Manager in 2014, Fletcher was a professional journalist for
more than 25 years working at media outlets in three states, including the Associated Press.