"I thank God every day for the opportunities Goodwill has given me." - Cherise Turner
Against the odds
Goodwill helped Cherise Turner help herself
By Molly Wilkins, Macon Magazine
Cherise Turner was born with an inner drive to succeed.
The single mother of three children once needed government assistance to survive. But she broke that cycle of dependence through hard work and determination. That and her connection to the local Goodwill organization played major roles in helping her turn her life around.
Turner grew up with two brothers and two sisters, moving to Georgia after her parents divorced when she was 6.
“My mother raised me as a single parent until I was 18 years old. We lived in a beautiful home in a nice neighborhood, and I loved it,” said Turner.
But Turner’s life took an unexpected turn while she was at Southwest High School. “I was five months pregnant when I walked across the stage to get my diploma.” She had to go to summer school to actually graduate.
She attended summer school “pregnant, sick and determined.”
“I did what I had to do and graduated,” she said.
She thought her baby’s father loved her and would stay in their lives, but he didn’t, she said.
Turner worked in retail, applied for work at a large local company and enrolled at Central Georgia Technical College for a degree in cosmetology. She soon changed course, deciding to pursue a degree in business at then-Macon State College. She was a 19-year-old mother, living with her mother and didn’t have a job.
“I applied for housing and received an apartment in the projects. Living in the projects I needed everything, so I applied for Medicaid, food stamps and a TANF (Temporary Assistance For Needy Families) check. With my mom’s help, I stayed in school and kept looking for a job because a TANF check was $230 a month, and what kind of life can I provide for a child with that kind of money? It was so hard.”
Turner said her mother set the example for her: “We never went without food or lights, and I wanted to be that kind of mother for my baby.”
Turner faced another roadblock when the Department of Family and Children’s Services decided being enrolled in school was not reason enough for the TANF benefit check. “ I had to be enrolled in some kind of work activity to get daycare. I ended up changing to night school and working at DFACS [during the day] Monday through Friday to get that $230 check every month.
“I was, like,’this is crazy.’ If I made at least minimum wage I could make more money working [another job]. I gave up my benefits and enrolled in the welfare-to-work program.”
Turner was placed at Goodwill in 2001 working in the warehouse. She later became a backup receptionist. The corporate receptionist, Belinda Ficklin, took Turner under her wing.
“Belinda taught me everything she knew, and I was loving [working at] Goodwill,” Turner said. Tragically, Ficklin died in a car wreck. That led to Turner becoming the receptionist.
“After Goodwill hired me, I saved money for about two years and with the help of the Hope 6 program, I moved out of the projects into my first house, and it was brand new. It was the best experience ever. I was able to provide a home for my son. I obtained my associates in business and enrolled in school (Kaplan University) again to obtain my BA in organizational communication.”
In 2007, Turner had a daughter, Keymauri. With her daughter and son, Trayshawn, to care for, Turner had the motivation to move forward. She stayed in school, worked at Goodwill, paid her mortgage and bills and obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Organizational Communication. But she wasn’t finished.
She continued her education and received her Masters in organizational psychology from University of Phoenix.
“I have obtained an associate degree in business, a bachelor’s degree in communications, and a master’s degree in psychology because of Goodwill’s tuition reimbursement for employees,” Turner said.
“Goodwill taught me work ethic and gave me opportunities to grow by allowing me to attend seminars … and learn new skills on a regular basis. I was introduced to key people in the organization, such as Laine Dreher and Angeline Ndonyi, who have been mentors to me.”
In 2010, Turner became a mother again, this time to a 12-year- old boy, Brian. He was her son’s friend and lived in a nearby project, his own mother unable to provide for him, Turner said.
“No lights, no food, no water, so Brian started coming over to my house and I started feeding him and buying him what he needed, he just became mine.” Turner became Brian’s legal guardian.
Today, Turner is a student advisor at Helms Career Institute, which is a branch of Goodwill. She advises students on educational alternatives based on their personal and professional interests.
"It has been my pleasure to see Cherise develop her many God-given gifts under the mentorship of her managers over the last 13 years at Goodwill,” said Jim Stiff, president of Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia. “Out of a deep well of wisdom obtained through amazing persistence, education and experiential learning, Cherise is now offering, as a career advisor, essential ‘hand-up’ guidance to Helms students who are on the road to success.”
“Goodwill is the beginning of my journey, and I thank God every day for the opportunities they have given me,” Turner said. “No doubt because of my drive and determination I would be successful with any company that would have given me a chance, but Goodwill is my family.
“Opportunities make people, and restrictions break people. I pray every day for Goodwill to keep blessing me with opportunities.”
And those blessings continue.
“Because of the opportunities I have obtained I am a better parent, a better employee, a better provider,” she said, “and I have a purpose.”