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An Independent Man’ Hits His Stride at Goodwill

Laibao, a housekeeping employee at Goodwill’s downtown Nashville headquarters, was once hit by a car while making his daily, 30-minute bicycle commute to work.

The driver wanted to call an ambulance, but Laibao wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, he loaded his smashed bike into the man’s car and demanded a ride the rest of the way to Goodwill.

“All he wanted to do was get to work,” recalled Laibao’s supervisor, Rick Hamlett. “I don’t know how much better work ethic you can get.”

The story is even more remarkable because Laibao — who arrives at work by bicycle every weekday without fail at 5:10 a.m. — is 81 years old.

Laibao lived most of his life in China, growing up on a farm and then spending 45 years as a chauffeur. For him, hard work has been a way of life, and he attributes his mental and physical fitness to it. After his wife died, he emigrated to America in 2007 and settled in Nashville to be closer to his daughter.

He struggled to find work, however, because he couldn’t speak English. He came to Goodwill Career Solutions for assistance in 2013, was enrolled in the custodial training program and then hired by Goodwill.

At first, Hamlett had to take extra time to ensure Laibao understood instructions. But Laibao used his paycheck to buy a Chinese-English dictionary. After that, his ability to understand English improved rapidly.

With better understanding came the admiration of his co-workers, who universally respect Laibao’s work ethic and enjoy his sunny disposition, Hamlett said.

“Everybody he comes in contact with loves Laibao,” he explained. “He’s got a great sense of humor, and he’s as nice as anybody you’ll ever meet.”

Laibao has also used his paycheck to support himself and buy several bicycles, including a replacement for the bike hit by the car. It’s a point of pride for him.

I joined Goodwill, because I wanted to be an independent man,” he said in Chinese, speaking through an interpreter. “I don’t want to rely on someone else. I wanted to be independent financially and in lifestyles, too.”

Laibao also enjoys working on behalf of the mission of Goodwill.

“I hope Goodwill will grow fast and bigger, because it helps a lot of people with mental and physical disabilities,” he said. “When I see them working with me, I feel happy.”

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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.