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Revving Up Careers: Two Goodwill Employees Receive Donated Vehicles

Two Goodwill employees who faced serious challenges getting to work can now make their commutes with the turn of a key.

Theresa Banks of Nashville and Carolyn Smith of Jackson each received a donated vehicle through Goodwill’s Wheels-to-Work program, which helps employees and clients of Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee who need reliable transportation to get to work.

During a ceremony Thursday morning in downtown Nashville, the nonprofit organization’s president and CEO Matthew Bourlakas presented Banks with the keys to a 2001 Mercury Mountaineer and Smith with the keys to a 2001 Volkswagen Passat. He noted that Goodwill strives to help people with disabilities and other barriers to employment, and a lack of transportation can be a major impediment to finding and keeping a job.

“The challenge is, can they show up to work on time, every day? Are they dependable?,” he said. “I’m excited that these two individuals are going to have that opportunity to not have to depend on someone else, but to be able to wake up tomorrow and say, ‘I can drive myself.’ And that’s a wonderful thing.”


Banks, who is now an assistant manager at Goodwill’s Rivergate store in Madison, began working at Goodwill in 2013 after making a decision to become sober and regain control of her life. She set a personal goal of staying clean for 90 days.

Banks had been out of the workforce for nearly five years, so she visited a Goodwill Career Solutions for help. She was hired as a donations processor in Goodwill’s downtown Nashville warehouse. She set a new goal of staying employed 90 days.

In 2015, she confronted perhaps the greatest test of her character: a diagnosis of cancer. She continued working while receiving chemotherapy. She remained positive, despite many challenges, and continued the practice of setting 90-day goals for herself. With the support of her co-workers, she has never failed to achieve them.

Today, Banks’ cancer is in remission. After moving to Goodwill’s Rivergate store seven months ago she received several promotions. One major challenge remained, however: transportation. She had not had a car in 25 years. Instead, Banks took a daily two-hour bus ride to work. She also had to walk several blocks to and from the bus, enduring pain in her feet and legs from neuropathy — a lingering side effect of chemotherapy.

Banks said it is difficult to quantify how happy she was when she heard she would be receiving a vehicle, donated to Goodwill by a generous member of the community, through the Wheels-to-Work program.

“I wanted to cry, laugh and rejoice,” she said. “It was a real blessing.”

Not only can Banks get to work on time without assistance or a long commute, she also plans to give rides to co-workers who live near her. And because of her new transportation, she intends to go back to school to study business management and social services.


Like Banks, Carolyn Smith also faced cancer. The Jackson convenience store manager underwent chemotherapy and successfully overcame her illness, but the treatment damaged her ability to retain short-term memories. Her work performance suffered, and she was forced to quit her job.

Soon after, Carolyn’s husband was involved in a serious automobile wreck that ruined their only car — a 1995 Honda Civic. He was badly injured, leaving him out of work as well. Desperate for a job and a source of income, Carolyn went to Goodwill Career Solutions for help. She was quickly hired as an associate in Goodwill’s South Jackson store.

Working in Goodwill’s supportive environment, Carolyn’s abilities have improved and her self-confidence has returned. But having to walk or catch a bus to go anywhere has made life difficult for Carolyn and limited her availability on the job.

She said she is “beyond thrilled” about receiving the Volksawagen, which was donated by a generous Franklin couple.

“I cannot express enough how much it means to me to have an employer who cares about me as an individual as to whether or not I can get to work just to even do my job,” she said.

To qualify for a car, Wheels-to-Work participants are required to meet certain qualifications, such as being employed at least 32 hours per week and having a valid driver’s license and good driving record. After being notified of acceptance into the program, participants must complete training classes on budgeting, defensive driving and car maintenance.

Goodwill has now given away 15 cars through the Wheels-to-Work program. There is a waiting list for employees hoping to  receive an automobile. People who choose to donate vehicles to Goodwill support not only the Wheels-to-Work program but also Goodwill’s mission of changing lives through education, training and employment. More information can be found at www.giveit2goodwill.org/vehicles.




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