“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” — Aristotle
Sian’s long trek during the winter of 2016 wasn’t entirely made up of hardships. She smiles wistfully as she recalls sitting around a campfire in the desert, sharing a meager meal.
“It felt good to be there with other homeless … well, I won’t call them ‘homeless,’” she says, correcting herself. “They were just a bunch of people. People who made mistakes, like I did. We all make mistakes.”
Between December of 2016 and May of 2017, Sian walked — and sometimes hitchhiked — with her great Dane, from Santa Fe, N.M., through Arizona and into California. Sometimes she worked odd jobs or panhandled; sometimes she went hungry. Then she walked back.
While Sian was walking away from a troubled past, she was also walking toward hope. It’s a journey she remains on to this day.
Sian, who is now 42, spent much of her childhood in Boston with her parents and sister. Her father, who was an assistant headmaster at a private school, instilled in Sian a love of travel and adventure, and she visited many countries through student programs: Uruguay, Venezuela, Morocco, Egypt, Spain and others.
But the relatively stable life Sian had led began to disintegrate when she went to college in Connecticut. She removed herself from classes without telling anyone and moved to Texas. Then she moved periodically from place to place before landing for a few years in New Mexico.
She worked wherever she could, until 2009, when she injured herself on the job and developed a chronic pain condition. Sian would not hold a “regular job” again for seven years.
About that same time, Sian got married — “for all the wrong reasons,” she says. Then Sian’s mother, after learning she had cancer, moved to Santa Fe to live with them. Sian cared for her mother until she died, a loss she says was emotionally devastating.
By then, Sian’s marriage had become toxic and abusive. She moved out and spent some time living in her van — until that, too, was taken from her. That’s when Sian began her long walk across the Southwest. It was a humbling “trip of faith,” she says.
When it was over, she was determined to find a new path for her life.
In October of 2017, with the help of a friend, she moved to west Nashville to live with her sister and her sister’s family. She began looking for a job. One of the first places she applied was the Goodwill store in Bellevue.
At varying times, Sian had worked as both a life coach for people with disabilities and as a thrift store employee, so she was drawn to the idea of Goodwill — a nonprofit that sells donated goods to help people with disabilities and others with barriers to employment.
Sian was quickly hired and began by sorting donations in the back of the store. She found that the structure and routine of a full-time job helped her to focus on self-improvement and healing.
“I’m learning to trust myself again,” she said.
Assistant store manager Asia Norman said Sian puts her heart into the job and has benefited from it in return.
“Sian is great. She’s on time, works really hard and, despite her being a small woman, she is really tough,” Norman said. “She’s told me before that she loves being here because she is surrounded by a lot of good energy, and it distracts her from some of the personal things she’s been through.”
Norman added that Sian is well-loved by her fellow teammates at Goodwill and routinely goes “above and beyond” to help them and the store’s customers. She believes Sian has the potential to one day move up into management.
Thanks to her paycheck, Sian has been able to buy herself a van and regain some of her independence.
Sian says she loves being part of Goodwill’s mission of changing lives through education, training and employment. One day, she’d also like to work with people who are homeless, helping them down the same path she has walked — toward self-confidence, stability and community.
But for now,she is focused on continuing her own journey of self-improvement through the support she has found at Goodwill.
“You need to believe in yourself,” she said. “I’m my own worst critic. It takes trial and error, and I’m learning that it will come in time. Goodwill’s encouragement means the world to me. I’ve become more social, more responsible, happier, and I feel as though I can move forward.”