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“Friends of Goodwill, be dissatisfied with your work until every handicapped and unfortunate person in your community has an opportunity to develop to his fullest usefulness and enjoy a maximum of abundant living.” — The Rev. Edgar J. Helms, who founded Goodwill in 1902

Asked to name his hobbies, Tim mentions raking leaves, painting houses and washing cars.

Tim enjoys other things, too, like traveling, going to the mall and rooting for the Tennessee Titans. But Tim especially loves to work.

Tim is employed by Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee. He is part of a group of about 20 people with intellectual or developmental disabilities who work together and are affectionately known as the “A-Team.” The nickname was acquired long ago, likely inspired by the 1980s TV show of the same name.

For more than a decade, the group worked at a warehouse in downtown Nashville, but in February, the A-Team moved to the Rivergate area Goodwill store in Madison. With supervision from two trainers, the A-Team processes donated goods to sell in the store. Some hang clothing or sort hangers. Others — including Tim — sort “hard” goods such as toys and decor and then place them out on the sales floor.

Back at the warehouse, Tim was a top performer, sometimes hanging more than 1,000 pieces of clothing in a day. A-Team Supervisor Randy Buchanan says Tim has adapted extremely well to his new duties and has received compliments from several shoppers for his excellent customer service.

“I like having a job where I can help other people,” Tim says.

During the majority of his shift, Tim prefers to stay focused on the task at hand. But it’s not all about work. Tim’s job provides him with a social network. He enjoys frequent celebrations on the job, such as birthdays and holidays. For the A-Team, that always means a party, with refreshments, singing, dancing and a lot of laughter.

Tim’s co-workers are also his friends.

“People tease me and stuff,” he says, laughing. “I joke around a lot sometimes.”

It wasn’t always so. Goodwill Case Manager Jonathan Kelsey first met Tim in 2001 when Tim was working as a courtesy clerk at a Nashville grocery store. Tim had developed tendonitis and needed a job where he could spend less time on his feet, and Kelsey helped him transition into a job with Goodwill.

“He came to Goodwill because he did not want to sit home and do nothing,” Kelsey recalls. “He wanted to work, and Goodwill gave him the opportunity to work and be around positive people.”

In the 16 years since, Tim — who is now 50 — has matured and blossomed in many ways.

“He is more confident, more outgoing,” Kelsey says. “He’s always been a good worker, but he will engage you in in conversation. He’ll walk over and engage co-workers. There was a time he would not do that.”

Tim’s job has helped him in other ways. Tim grew up with foster families in Nashville. After his last foster mom died of cancer, Tim was advised to move into a group home. Instead, using his paycheck from Goodwill, Tim chose to rent his own apartment. He has the help of a personal assistant, and he takes a Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority paratransit van to work each day.

“He enjoys his independence, and I admire that about him,” Kelsey says. “A lot of people with developmental disabilities have choices made for them — ‘You will eat here, you will live here, you will go here,’ but they have the right to live the life they want to live.”

Of Goodwill’s roughly 1,800 employees, more than 400 have some kind of disability. The nonprofit organization’s goal is to provide a safe, supportive environment for all its employees to do meaningful work, earn a paycheck and achieve their fullest potential.

For Tim, that means confidence, independence and friends.

“Goodwill helps me get a better life and better experience,” Tim says. “They treat me real nice.”


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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.