Why I Am Thankful This Thanksgiving

I have a lot to be thankful this Thanksgiving. In the past six months, I have graduated college, moved into an apartment, and gotten a position at Goodwill through AmeriCorps. I am able to pay my bills, put food on the table, and I also get to work with amazing people every day at Goodwill. I love my co-workers, but what really makes my day is interacting with clients that we are helping. Seeing our job training and placement programs has really shown me that people from all walks of life sometimes need help getting back into the work force, whether it be because of a career change or because of a barrier to employment such as a physical, emotional or intellectual barrier.

This past week I had the opportunity to talk to one of our clients that has had huge success through our employment programs. I spoke with Johnny Lundy, who has an intellectual disability stemming from Down syndrome. When he was unable to find a job, he came to Goodwill for our work adjustment program and supported employment program; during his time here, he was able to build his confidence, gain skills, and make the connections he needed to get hired.

Johnny is currently working in a custom designed position as a dining room attendant at Cracker Barrel. His position was created by the General Manager and Human Resources to fit his abilities and goals; they also created a system for him to advance in his job so that he can excel like all their other employees.

“I bus tables, I sweep floors, stuff like that… I like it here… it’s great food!” Johnny said. Johnny’s primary role is to roll silverware and assist the servers with bussing and wiping down tables, according to his manager Nate. He is currently a server assistant, but is also going to be able to learn about other positions.

Cracker Barrel has assigned a trainer to work with Johnny to help him acclimate to the environment and become comfortable with his surroundings, his co-workers, and his job. According to Nate, his training “is going really good… [He was] a little shy at first, but we’ve gotten over that.” One way they have been able to connect is through talking about sports. “Johnny is a huge wrestling fan… and I actually have a lot of employees that follow, and watch, and go to… wrestling events,” said Nate. “Finding those soft pieces that we can all kind of acclimate with each other on is what we are going for first.”

Cracker Barrel has been amazing to Johnny. They have gone the extra mile to make sure that he is able to work and move forward, and, in return, they have received a loyal employee. “They are my family, and my friends, my homies,” says Johnny.

I am thankful for community partners like Cracker Barrel that work with our clients and give people like Johnny a chance. Johnny is one of many individuals who have come to Goodwill to be given the tools and support they need to successfully overcome obstacles in their lives to gain employment. Seeing his success in his relationships and career at Cracker Barrel reminds me what Goodwill is all about, and for that, I’m thankful.


About Alyssa Watson

Alyssa is an AmeriCorps member serving at Goodwill Industries Knoxville in the Marketing Department.  She loves cats and cat videos, and she likes to spend the time that she is not working at Goodwill searching for sweaters at Goodwill so that she can expand her collection.