The typical student at The Excel Center® – Goodwill’s high school for adult learners – is between 18-24 years old, but returning to school at the age of 47 isn’t the only characteristic that separates Brenda Leake from most of her classmates.
Lorena Salas, Goodwill’s 2003 Achiever of the Year, is a valued associate who has consistently demonstrated excellence during her 17-year career with us. Despite living with blindness and cerebral palsy, Lorena has continued to persist and thrive.
Since 1997, Nancy has worked as a janitor at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. She is described as the heart of her team of nearly 20, remembering co-workers’ birthdays and coming in early every day to eat lunch with others before her shift starts.
Dawn Baxter was a wonderful person to work with. She was one of the first graduates of our janitorial training program and had been a long-time employee in our Commercial Services area. Dawn passed away this last weekend. Our deepest sympathies to her family and friends. We will miss her very much.
In the last five or so years, Ralph McClury has come full circle at Goodwill. Much has happened along the way, and his road was not easy. Ralph comes from humble beginnings, growing up in Kentucky with 17 siblings, working on the family farm and picking tobacco to make ends meet. He volunteered for the Air Force in 1973 after graduating high school, but chronic kidney issues led to an honorable discharge. Ralph then moved to Indianapolis and found employment as a security guard during the day and bused tables in a downtown restaurant at night. It was at this job that Ralph began a long and unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Though he lost those jobs, he managed to obtain employment as a maintenance man at his apartment complex for six years.
“I got fired six or seven times due to drinking, but they would always re-hire me due to my skills as a handyman,” Ralph said. “But one day, they let me go for good.”
Soon after, he lost his wife and kids as well. He continued a lifestyle of drinking and drug use for many years, moving back and forth between Indianapolis and Kentucky. In 1996, Ralph served 24 months in the penitentiary. He was released on parole in 1998, but soon fell to drugs and alcohol once again, living “on the run.” The law finally caught up with Ralph, and he was put on parole again, but this time, he finished parole and started to head down the right track.
He was living with his girlfriend in Tennessee at the time, working as a tobacco picker when he was the victim of a farming accident in which his foot was crushed by a 3,000-lb. wagon. Ralph was bedridden for almost a year, unable to work due to this injury. In 2005, Ralph and his then-girlfriend welcomed their daughter, Lakin. Before Lakin turned one year old, her mother was arrested and still remains in prison today. Ralph attempted to raise his baby girl as a single father, but as drinking and drugs came back into Ralph’s life, he lost custody. He knew it was time to take control of his life and get back on the right path. Being a veteran, he reached out to the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation (HVAF) as well as Goodwill for help. Due to a criminal history and his disability, Ralph was having a very difficult time finding employment.
Chelsea Armistead’s educational path veered off course in junior high when she was diagnosed with a learning disability. At the time, to qualify for an accommodation, a student had to be failing all subjects or courses. Chelsea was only failing two. Rather than have her daughter continue to struggle without assistance or fail all her courses, Chelsea’s mother decided to home school her. After about a year of home schooling, her parents became too busy to continue, so Chelsea taught herself to be a better reader and writer but had trouble with math.
Anymore it can be rare to find an employee with decades of working for one employer, but at Goodwill we have had the honor of a few of these gem employees. Dennis Schneider is one of them. He began his tenure with Goodwill in July 1975, when the programs and services we offered were different than today’s. First, he was in the Evaluation program and later hired by Industrial Services (now called Commercial Services). Originally from southern Indiana, Dennis initially lived in the organization’s dormitory (which was where The Excel Center Michigan St. is now) and then moved into the group home operated by Goodwill back then. After several years of group-home and supported-living services, he achieved the skills and support to live independently for most of his life.
After becoming pregnant at a young age, Ashlee Roy dropped out of high school and thought her dreams were over. However, in 2015, she graduated from The Excel Center in Lafayette, earning her high school diploma. As a member of student council, she spoke at the graduation ceremony. The following are her words of encouragement to her classmates.