10 Mar Love Language: Woman Overcomes Vocal Barrier to Build Long Career at Goodwill
With 32 years of tenure, Carolyn Franklin is the fourth-longest-serving employee at Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee.
Supervisors describe Carolyn as dependable, dedicated and productive. They say she cares deeply about her co-workers and is always on the lookout for ways to help her team.
These traits have helped Carolyn to thrive in a long career with a single employer — a rare achievement these days. But it wasn’t always clear that Carolyn, who is now 57, would ever be able to hold a job outside her home.
Carolyn was born with a developmental disability and physical challenges that prevent her from speaking. Though she understands speech and has a limited ability to read and write, she communicates primarily through hand gestures.
Constance Plantt, a lifelong family friend, says Carolyn was an only child. Her father was only in her life for a few years. Carolyn lived alone with her mother, the late Argie Shelton Franklin, for the next five decades.
As a child, Carolyn was sweet-natured, loved people and enjoyed doing chores with her mother and others.
“She always has been a little helper,” Mrs. Plantt recalls. “I used to bring her home with me all the time and she would get in the kitchen and help me cook. I would show her how to do things — she’s always been a fast learner.”
Several years after Carolyn graduated from a Nashville special education school, it was decided that she should seek employment. In 1989, she went to Goodwill for work skills training.
Carolyn focused on her task, performed well and attended work reliably. After several weeks, she let staff know she wanted to stay on with Goodwill. She was hired and also enrolled in a state support program for people with disabilities.
Carolyn became a founding member of a large group of people with intellectual, developmental or physical disabilities who work together and are affectionately known as the “A-Team.” At that time, they worked sorting and hanging donated clothing in a warehouse in downtown Nashville.
From the start, Carolyn enjoyed her job.
“She loved to go to work and loved all the people there,” Mrs. Plantt recalls. “We didn’t have any trouble getting her to go. She would be pacing the floor until her ride showed up.
“You could see the change in Carolyn along the years as she worked at Goodwill. She got more independent,” she added.
Eventually Carolyn and her mother decided she no longer required the support of the state program. Carolyn worked downtown until 2017, when the A-team began working at the Rivergate Goodwill store in Madison.
At that time Jonathan Kelsey, a direct support professional administrator for Goodwill, became her supervisor.
“Carolyn’s got a good heart,” Jonathan says. “If she sees someone that needs help, she takes it upon herself to help them.”
Carolyn also performed the role of caregiver at home. Her mother had become very ill and wheelchair-bound. When her mother moved to hospice, Mrs. Plantt brought Carolyn to live with her.
Carolyn’s mother died in 2019, leaving her with no means of support but her Goodwill paycheck and Mrs. Plantt’s generosity. But then a second catastrophe struck — Mrs. Plantt required open heart surgery and could no longer keep Carolyn.
It was unclear where Carolyn would go or if she might become homeless. Jonathan’s supervisors allowed him to take the unusual step — for an employer — of seeking and securing a new residence for Carolyn.
“It took about three months, but we got her situated,” Jonathan explains, “I’ve met the people that she lives with, and they have a genuine concern for her. She’s well cared for.”
One day not too long after that, Carolyn did something she had never done before. She walked up and gave Jonathan a hug.
“I took that as her way of saying ‘Thank you,” he explains.