"I want my son to say that his dad has a disability and he still works." - Chris Cockrell
After being diagnosed with Spastic Paraparesis and Optic Neuropathy, Christopher Cockrell came to the realization that he had to quit a job he enjoyed, building cabinets, because he could no longer see how to perform his work. Christopher lost much of his independence and was forced to move in with his father for a couple of years until he was able to obtain a place near him. He sought assistance from the South Carolina Commission for the Blind (SCCB) in 2012 and gained some independence through training and an internship, but was unable to find employment. A year later, he reached out to SCCB again and was referred to the Aiken Goodwill Store where he completed 12 weeks of on-the-job training and was hired as a temporary employee through Goodwill Staffing Services. In December 2014, less than 60 days on the job Christopher was hired permanently in the electronics department at the Aiken store where he still works today. "Goodwill has helped me to gain my self-confidence back and prove that I can still do a lot of the things I previously did. Goodwill has given me the dignity of earning a paycheck again. Earning a check, instead of being given a check, is so much better. I appreciate that the management staff and my co-workers treat me like everyone else and they don't limit me. They let me do what I can and they expect the same out of me that they expect out of all the other employees. I can't give up! I don't want my son to say that his dad has a disability so he couldn't work. I want my son to say that his dad has a disability and he still works."
Determined to come out on top - Justin Bell
Justin Bell’s life has been full of peaks and valleys, but after his time at Helms College he’s determined to come out on top.
From a young age, Bell experienced the qualms of instability with his father’s irregular involvement in his life. Bell and his mother lived with his grandparents who served as his strongholds and motivators even encouraging him to help out in the kitchen at the age of 4. Bell’s devotion to his family was clear when straight out of high school he turned down a full scholarship to the University of Georgia to stay home and help take care of his ailing grandmother; little did he know she would pass away a few days later. Bell contacted UGA about changing his decision, but it was too late; the offer was off the table and he had to come up with a new plan.
Bell went on to Augusta State University (Now Augusta University) where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration while working at the North Augusta Country Club. Bell thought this time his plan was a winner until, shortly thereafter, the NACC’s new owner shut the doors and he was out of a job. Then, just two weeks later, Bell’s home caught fire.
Now jobless and homeless, with his bearings off course once again, Bell had to decide what to do next. His mother heard about Helms College’s culinary program and gave Bell the application she picked up during a visit to the campus. He thought it would be the right change in direction and decided to give it a shot.
Helms provided just what Bell needed to bring calm to his life and allowed him to go back to what he knew 20 years ago as a child helping his mother and grandmother in the kitchen. The hands-on training Bell received at Helms College provided a quick and easy-to-remember recipe for his success in the culinary field, turning an internship with the Augusta Country Club into a permanent position after only two weeks. Bell has found his niche in the kitchen at ACC. “I fill in where needed,” he said “I’m kind of the chef’s go-to…it challenges me and I like it.”
After graduating from Helms in December 2013, Bell says, “My life now is consistent and stable with a new place and working on my culinary certifications.” Bell has since worked at the prestigious Reserve Club at Woodside Plantation in Aiken, S.C., and recently was named Executive Chef.
Bell encourages those down on their luck and without direction, “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You need to be persistent and constantly pursue opportunities.”
Marie Waller - Determined to Find Work
When her 12-year career as a security guard abruptly ended, Marie Waller struggled to find stable employment and felt frustrated by the fact that her age seemed to put her at a competitive disadvantage. Marie continued to look for new opportunities stumbling across Goodwill’s Job Connection while driving through Lake Oconee one day. She was excited to learn The Job Connection offered free assistance for job seekers and Employment Specialist, Shandra Hall immediately began assisting Marie with updating her resume, job leads, and applications. Marie was so determined to find work that she visited The Job Connection at least three days a week looking and applying for jobs until eventually being offered a full-time position. “[The Job Connection is] a source to get your resume out to employers, learn resume writing, and find job leads,” said Marie, “and the staff in place to assist people here are great. Shandra did not give up on helping me and didn’t treat me like an old lady,” said Marie. Marie Waller is currently a proud housekeeping employee of Reynolds Lake Oconee and has already received a raise for her outstanding work.
Michael Davis - A Dream Realized
"My culinary education at Helms College has helped me develop a firm foundation in the cooking industry. The courses I have completed along with my personal and professional experience, has prepared me well for a position in the culinary arts. After graduating in 2009, I started working in the field while starting up my business as a personal chef. I now run my own catering company, SDR Personal Chef Service. I have always enjoyed, and have had a passion for cooking; however, the chefs and instructors at Helms guided my path with the education I needed to succeed and has taken my interest to a whole new level. I not only enjoy cooking and entertaining guests, but now I get paid doing what I love. I find myself even more enthusiastic when I can someday teach others what I have learned."
Helms College Success Story - Shelton Nash
As a teenager "in a rough spot" and needing to escape from a troubling environment, Shelton Nash managed to land a part-time job washing dishes and cleaning up at a Macon restaurant. His culinary talent soon took him to the line, where he became a cook and Garde Manger, and led a team of two during the weekends.
When he graduated from high school, Shelton wanted to attend culinary school but couldn't afford it. His mentor recommended he apply for Helms College.
There, he found himself surrounded by "amazing and talented like-minded individuals, who all shared the same aspirations," Shelton said. "It just could not get any better than that."
Since graduation, Shelton has gone on to work with high-profile restaurants in New York, Washington, D.C., and Florida, and currently working with Eco Caters and SuperFD Catering in Washington, D.C., with hopes of branching the sports nutrition business into Atlanta.
"I give all credit for my success to the students, the staff and instructors, and the ultimate experience I had at Helms College," Shelton said. "I could not be any more grateful for everything Helms College has done for me and my career."
Charquala Andrews - Reynolds Plantation, Steward
Charquala Andrews had little to no experience and 3 children to care for making it difficult to look for work. Through Goodwill Staffing Services Hospitality Training, Andrews qualified for a position at Reynolds Plantation.
“I was struggling to find a job and I was finding myself falling into debt trying to pay bills and take care of my children with no income. I came into Goodwill Staffing and The Job Connection and they were able to assist me. They placed me at Reynolds Plantation and now I have been transitioned as a permanent full time employee. Now I have the means to pay my bills and provide for my children. Thank you, Goodwill Staffing and Job Connection for the assistance. I would recommend all your services to friends and family within the community.”
"I feel like Goodwill saved my life." - Rachel Smith
Homeless, separated from her children and stranded in an unfamiliar city, Rachel Smith was haunted by thoughts of ending it all.
But through the intervention of a modern Good Samaritan and assistance from Goodwill, Rachel found a “miraculous” path to recovery that saved her life.
It was more than 15 years ago that Rachel, after enduring multiple surgeries and debilitating pain from fibroid tumors, found herself unemployed and struggling to care for her two young daughters. They were evicted, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and Rachel was forced to send her girls to live with their father. She moved to Atlanta to seek employment, staying with a friend while job-hunting and gradually sinking deeper into depression.
When her friend kicked her out in the middle of the night, Rachel found herself with no money and no place to stay, wandering aimlessly down the streets of Atlanta and contemplating suicide. Her wake-up call came from the blaring horn of a car that almost struck her, with the driver yelling “What are you doing?” at her as it swerved.
Running on adrenalin, Rachel walked to a nearby hotel. The desk clerk, who had seen Rachel dropped off in the parking lot with her belongings sitting next to the dumpster, brought her inside and allowed Rachel to stay overnight. The next morning, she invited Rachel to stay at her own home.
Rachel soon moved back to Augusta and was reunited with her daughters in a group home, where she was able to participate in weekly group visits to the Goodwill Job Connection. “I was excited,” she said. “I was hoping it would finally turn into a job.”
It did. First hired to work at a Goodwill donation center, Rachel later moved up to cashier, and then with encouragement from Christine Butler, Goodwill’s Director of Donated Goods, applied for and was hired as an assistant manager. She found an affordable place to live with her children, purchased a car, and for the first time in years had a sense of security.
“What makes Rachel so special is she never let her obstacles to deter her from success,” Christine says. “She works hard every day and takes nothing for granted.”
Finally gaining employment “felt incredible,” Rachel says. “I finally felt like I was going in the right direction. It was a miracle. I feel like Goodwill saved my life.”
Though she confesses to being “terrified,” her new sense of confidence helped her apply for a promotion – and she was hired as manager of Goodwill’s Moody Road store in Warner Robins. Her daughters are now grown, with one attending college and the other working as a truck driver. Rachel no longer worries about where they’ll sleep, or where their next meal will come from. “I’m very thankful,” she says.
“I always tell people: Never give up. Always pray,” Rachel says. “Never let negativity get in your way.”
"Goodwill gave me a chance at work." Chris Smith
Chris Smith had been out of college for almost three years before his perseverance finally landed him a job through Goodwill and Good Vocations.
At age 17, Smith spent 6 months in a detention center from getting into trouble hanging out with the wrong crowd. Lesson learned; he was able to turn his life around, earning his GED and later graduating from Bob Jones University with a major in Bible. But Smith had a hard time finding a job.
"Working is very important to me because it is commanded by God in the Bible to work, and through my faith I feel it is important to be productive for my family and in my life," says Smith. But having a criminal record, no matter how minor, can make getting a job very difficult.
While looking for work, Smith joined the Kairos prison ministry and shared the Bible with those incarcerated like he had once been. It was at Kairos where he first met Jack Flowers, Goodwill of Middle Georgia and the CSRA's Vice President of Contracts. Flowers hired Smith to work as a supervisor on a contract for 9 months. Once the contract ended, Flowers was so impressed that he hired Smith permanently with Good Vocations.
"My mother is grateful that I found a steady job," Smith says. And so is he. "It makes me feel more fulfilled in life and gives me the opportunity to help provide more for my family."
Smith has already referred others to Goodwill's services by explaining the mission of helping people with barriers to employment find and retain a job to fully reach the American Dream.
At 33 years of age, Smith says, "My life is much more fulfilling now, I feel better about myself and feel my life is more productive now. [Goodwill] gave me a chance at work."
Congratulations to Archie Gibbs, 2015 Goodwill Industries International Graduate of the Year
"I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't have faith, God and Goodwill in my life"
Archie Gibbs describes his life journey as being "as long as the yellow brick road." At age 7, he woke up one morning unable to hear from his left ear and barely able to hear from his right. After suffering physical abuse at the hands of his mother's boyfriend, Archie went into foster care at age 12. He worked at a series of restaurant jobs through high school, all while moving to various foster homes, and his attempt to attend college after graduation failed from lack of money and transportation. Unemployed and out of school, he arrived on foot at a Goodwill career center in 1998 in search of assistance.
When Archie Gibbs arrived at Goodwill, he lacked direction and focus - but he more than made up for it in his desire to learn and his willingness to work despite his disability and disadvantaged background. He first trained as a material handler and sorter, but he found his niche with Goodwill's custodial service training program, and with the assistance and mentorship of Goodwill's custodial supervisor, Archie soon became a valuable and trusted member of the Goodwill custodial staff. He demonstrated that value when he was named the Graduate of the Year of for our Goodwill in 1999, and later named Exemplary Employee of the Year for the city of Macon. What Archie learned during the custodial program proved to be the key to his success as he later became a custodial supervisor for the city of Macon, cleaning Mayor Jack Ellis' executive office suite. Archie then took full advantage of his Goodwill custodial and entrepreneurial training by establishing his own commercial and residential cleaning service that has since crossed the $1 million mark in annual revenues.