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Q&A with Joan Sundstrom, Goodwill’s Director of Production


Director of Production Joan Sundstrom will retire on Sept. 24, 2015, after more than 18 years working with Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee. Joan was hired on Sept. 7, 1997, as a vocational evaluator.  Over the years she has served as a career counselor, retail trainer, commercial services manager and plant manager. She was promoted to her present position in 2008. As director of production, she provides oversight of the donations dock, processing, shipping, warehousing and onlinegoodwill.com and the roughly 500 employees working in those departments.  

Q: In all your years working at Goodwill, what one moment sticks out for you the most?

A: It happened many years ago, but well after I first started working for Goodwill. I really thought I had a good understanding of our mission and what it is we strive to do. This incident included a young lady and gentleman; the young man passed away not long after this. He had some fairly severe disabilities. He was nonverbal and had very limited facial expressions, but I could show him a task and he would complete the task to perfection! He and this other employee were pretty much inseparable, and on this particular morning the two of them were coming toward me in the plant. She had him by the hand and was sort of pulling him down the pathway, and he had the biggest grin on his face — a grin like I had never seen before. He was so happy, and it stopped me in my tracks! Tears of joy, understanding and just pure peace came over me. I finally really understood. I will never forget it.

Q: Do you have any humorous anecdotes you could share?

A: There are many! I think I will just answer this by saying how much I always enjoyed meeting with my staff. I don’t believe there was ever a meeting where we all didn’t just burst into laughter about something. Sometimes we would laugh so hard we would cry — I’m sure even when we had the doors closed people could hear us. Great people, great laughter, great times that I will always hold dear and truly miss.

Q: Were there times that brought you to tears? What were they?

A: I already mentioned one in regard to the first question. We have so many people working here with incredible stories of just surviving; you can’t help but be moved. One of the other times was just a few days after the flood in 2010. Many of us had been here for hours working — the day of the flood, the day after and so on. By then some of the employees in the plant and on the dock started coming to work. Slowly but surely, we continued to clean up what the waters had left behind. There was so much to do, but I took a moment to look out over the plant area and what I saw brought me to tears. Here in the middle of all this mess were all these good people working in complete harmony to restore normalcy to our “work” home. There was quiet, but it struck me as a well choreographed dance where people moved almost in unison. It was truly a thing of beauty and again, something I will never forget.

Q: What has this job taught you about people?

A: That regardless of race, culture, religion, gender, where we were born, where we’ve lived or anything else; we are all the same. Deep down inside, we all want and need basically the same things. None of us are all really that different. I’ve always said Goodwill is like a mini-New York with all the diversity. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about Goodwill.

Q: What has it taught you about yourself?

A: Not to take myself too seriously, that I can love almost endlessly and that I’m stronger than I ever thought possible.

Q: What has been your favorite thing about working at Goodwill?

A: If I have to pick one thing it would be working with the A-team. They are constantly teaching me about life.
Q: If you hadn’t done this, what other career would you have liked to pursue?

A: I’m not totally sure. I’ve mostly been in positions where the outcomes have been to help others, so I would probably be doing something in that field. Early on, I wanted to be a doctor or a pilot, but I grew up in an era where women didn’t do too much of that sort of thing, so I really didn’t understand I could do that. I did, however, get my private pilot’s license many years ago, so I guess I could say I fulfilled one of my dreams.
Q: What are you most proud of from your time here?

A: WOW, that’s a hard one. We’ve come such a long ways, but still have so far to go. I guess I’m most proud of knowing that I might have had a small part in helping someone lift themselves up. There are a few people who have come through Goodwill that say that if it wasn’t for me they would have never made it. What they don’t understand is that we just gave them the opportunity; they were the ones that made the difference. Anything is possible with the right mindset.

Q: How do you think this job has changed you?

A: I don’t think we have enough time to discuss all of that, but I can tell you for sure it has humbled me. Some people think they have it all figured out, but I’m one of those lucky ones that got to spend time here where I learned, for the most part, I didn’t have a clue. Many of the people in the plant give me hope and inspiration and have made me a more caring and accepting individual. My advice to others who don’t have the opportunity to spend much time in the plant is to make time. On a bad day go spend even 30 minutes with the A-team and, suddenly, you’ll be having a fabulous day!

Q: What are your hopes for the future of Goodwill?

A: I wish everyone would stop and smell the roses. They are everywhere. We do great work; breathe it in, enjoy it for a minute — then get back out there and get after it!


Read the Fall edition of The Ambassador for more great stories like this.

Ambassador is Goodwill’s quarterly magazine which provides readers with stories of events, activities and the inspiring changes Goodwill is making in the lives of others.

Did you know Goodwill of Middle Tennessee served more than 28,000 job-seekers in 2014 with job placement and training services? 

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