No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main … .” — John Donne
Saini wears a ring, given to her by her oldest daughter, on a chain around her neck. She wears a tropical flower in her hair. Other reminders of her native American Samoa — and her family there — fill her heart.
But in February of 2017, Saini traveled from the U.S. territory in the South Pacific with her son to Clarksville, Tenn., to live with a childhood friend. The mother of three left her own mom, her husband and two children behind in hopes of finding a job to better their financial situation.
Her husband is employed on the island, but Saini says there were no opportunities available to her there beyond caring for an elderly aunt. She needed money for another reason as well: her 67-year-old mother was desperate for an expensive kidney surgery that could only be obtained in Hawaii.
Saini, who is 44, has limited mobility and knee pain from climbing stairs and walking on concrete during many years working at a tuna canning facility. She also spoke English poorly when she arrived in Tennessee. She expected finding work to be very difficult.
But her friend, who at that time worked for Goodwill, encouraged Saini to apply with the nonprofit, and she was hired in March of 2017 to work as a donations processor at one of Goodwill’s three Clarksville stores.
“I never know I would have a friend like her,” Saini says, “and I never know I’m going to have a job like this.”
At first, Saini worked in the store’s Donation Express Center, accepting items from donors. But after a few months, her manager told her he wanted her to begin sorting, testing, pricing and tagging electronics.
“I says ‘Donnie, no! I will burn down the Goodwill!’” she recalls with a laugh, explaining
that she knew nothing about electronics. “But he says, ‘No, go ahead and work on it,’ and I says I would do my best.”
Soon, Saini’s work was getting noticed by supervisors and customers, but not because of any fire alarms. Saini developed a reputation for being able to process an amazing amount of goods in a short time. She also became extremely knowledgeable about electronics, even vintage models — mostly through natural curiosity and teaching herself. The store’s electronics section is now among the best at any area Goodwill.
“She’s a one-woman show, and I wouldn’t trade her for anything or anybody,” says Sabrina Yeargan, the office administrator at Goodwill’s Madison Street store in Clarksville where Saini now works after being transferred from Goodwill’s Fort Campbell location. “She is also so kind and comes in every day smiling and happy and ready to work. She is just the best.”
Saini says her mastery of the electronics job boosted her confidence.
“Since I work there, I try my best at everything. It proves what I am doing,” she says. “It tells me that, ‘I can do it! I can do it!’”
She beams when asked about her co-workers, marveling at how they work as a team, despite being from so many different states and countries.
“It’s like a family,” she says. “We’re close and share with each other.”
And there is another reason for celebration. Saini’s mother recently received her operation, thanks in part to funds from Saini’s income at Goodwill. She is healthy and has returned home to American Samoa.
Saini’s goal now is to eventually bring her husband and all her children to live with her in Tennessee. And she hopes to bring her mother for a visit. It all seems possible now.
“Goodwill made my dreams come true,” she said.
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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.