Nine years ago, George was laid off from a job he loved, working as a maintenance man at a Nashville sports facility.
The blow came at a delicate time. He and his wife had recently purchased a home, allowing them to finally move out of the rough neighborhood where they raised two children of their own and four others belonging to a drug-addicted relative.
George, who had worked every day of his adult life, was unemployed for a month and a half. His sudden inability to find another job – and mounting financial concerns – wore on him, and his wife warned he was sinking into depression.
“I ain’t no quitter, and I ain’t no failure,” George said, “but I was getting depressed. So I got on these old rusty knees and prayed for help. Then a guy at the Inner City Church of Christ said, ‘George, keep your head up. I know where you can get a job.’”
The man sent George to Goodwill. He was hired and put to work helping open what was then a new Goodwill store in East Nashville. George eventually became a donation attendant. Eight years later, he is an institution at Goodwill’s Donation Express Center on Gallatin Pike in Nashville.
“The best part of the job is meeting the donors,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful people, and some who come by just to visit. They say, ‘I’m not coming unless I see George.’”
At 53, George has had more than his share of grief. He’s lost his mother. He’s lost a beloved nephew.
And then, there was a terrible day 21 years ago, when George lost both a parent and a child. His father died of natural causes that morning. That evening, he and his wife lost a 4-month-old son named George Frank Jr., to pneumonia.
“I didn’t ask God why,” George said. “God just sent them home. I don’t regret what happened to them. We are all just passing through.”
But the gentle, soft-spoken man walked outside the hospital and beat his fists against the wall.
To this day, George’s knuckles swell when cold weather moves in. And though his job requires him to work with his hands outdoors, George says he doesn’t mind. His hands are a reminder of his father and his son.
They also remind him to treasure the time he has with everyone he meets, including Goodwill donors.
“Have a blessed day,” he tells each and every one before they drive away.
In May 2016, a funeral was held in Nashville for the aunt of Gail Champion, who manages Goodwill’s online sales unit. The funeral procession of 30-40 cars traveled down Gallatin Road.
Some motorists pulled off the roadway out of courtesy, and some did not. But as the procession passed the Goodwill Donation Express Center, Gail saw that one of the uniformed donation attendants, whom she had never met, had run out to the edge of the street.
“He took his hat off and placed it over his heart, standing tall and showing so much respect to my family,” she recalled in an email shared with all 2,000 Goodwill employees. “It brought tears to my eyes and my families’ eyes as well. My heart was filled with so much pride.”
The man was George.
“I do that anytime a funeral is coming down the road,” George said. “I know how it feels to lose someone. You don’t have to know a person to show respect.”
In 1998, George was robbed by two men he knew who broke down the door of his Nashville home. Finding nothing to steal, the men became angry. One of them hit George in the head with a pistol. The other struck him in the face with a stick, knocking out most of his top row of teeth.
Because George’s employer at the time didn’t offer benefits, he went without those teeth for more than a decade. He was self-conscious about how it made him look, so he rarely smiled. It wasn’t until he landed his job with Goodwill that George was enrolled in benefits – including a dental insurance plan – and was able to get his teeth fixed.
“Goodwill helped me smile again,” George said – and he grins to prove it.
For 60 years, Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee has provided job training and job placement free of charge to people with disabilities or other barriers to employment through the sale of donated items. Goodwill’s vision is that all people will have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential through the power of work. For more information about Goodwill’s Career Solutions, retail stores and donation centers, visit giveit2goodwill.org or call 800-545-9231.