When Brenda was 12, her mother was killed in an automobile accident. For the next two years, Brenda rarely spoke.
“I didn’t want to say nothing to nobody,” she recalled. “My mom was my world.”
It was just one difficult episode in what many people might consider a hard-knocks life.
Brenda was born without eyesight. Her mother, a textile factory worker in Sparta, Tenn., had been her closest friend, guide and protector. When Brenda had to move more than an hour away as a young girl to attend a school for the blind in Nashville, both she and her mother were distraught. But Brenda’s mother had taught her the importance of education, and Brenda adapted.
Later, Brenda had to adapt to life without her mother. She struggled for a few years in school but eventually graduated, an achievement she credits to her mother’s lasting influence.
After school, Brenda raised a son. She was nearly 40 before she took her first job with a nonprofit in Nashville that employed visually impaired people to make everyday necessities — such as mops and eyewear-straps — for the military. She blossomed, having finally found a place she felt she belonged. She remained there for a decade. But when work orders at the organization slowed, Brenda was laid off.
The loss of income forced Brenda to adjust her finances and move into a low-income apartment, but what she missed most was going to work.
“I missed just being around other people and getting out of the house — having something to do each day,” she explained.
Brenda was unemployed for a year. Through the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services program, she applied with several employers, but none called her. Then in 2010, she tried Goodwill Career Solutions. Brenda entered into Goodwill’s Transitional Program and was assigned a job coach who trained her to work as a garment hanger in Goodwill’s downtown Nashville processing warehouse.
Using only her sense of touch, she learned to quickly hang many different kinds of clothes in different sizes — from women’s blouses to children’s shirts to men’s jeans — on several types of hangers.
Brenda’s co-worker Aleshia Batey said though Brenda learned quickly, in the beginning she was overly sensitive and got her feelings hurt easily. Over time, her confidence has grown, and she now feels at home.
“It’s amazing to see the things she can do and how far she has come,” Batey said.
Brenda says Goodwill has given her a support network and daily reasons to smile.
On a recent morning, as she sat at her work station hanging clothes, Brenda cracked several jokes, including, “Why did the boy put ice in his father’s bed? Because he wanted a cold pop.” She drew laughs from everyone around her.
“Where else could I go and find the understanding of people I’ve found here?” Brenda asked. “Goodwill gave me a chance, when a lot of places wouldn’t. They made me realize there were more things I could do. They taught me to not let my disability cause me to be disabled, if that makes any sense.”
Looking back, Brenda feels she has made meaningful progress in her life.
“I think my mom would be proud,” she said.