Charleston, South Carolina – Anthony Green had to hit rock bottom before he found his redemption. When he was desperate for a second chance, Palmetto Goodwill reached out a hand.
For months he was homeless on Meeting Street in Downtown Charleston; a time in his life he describes as “rough.”
“Those were some scary times down on Meeting Street sleeping. I mean, just me and my meager belongings, I used that as my pillow. I would pay a guy 10 dollars just to grab my mattress and save me a spot on the floor.”
The Navy veteran, struggling with his recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder, went to the Department of Veteran Affairs to start taking medication.
“Finally got a room at the VA, I did their Comprehensive Work Therapy program. After 5 months I reached out to Goodwill. Goodwill called me back,” he says.
Palmetto Goodwill’s Commercial Services Department is not often seen or talked about. Separate from their well-known retail stores, Goodwill employs nearly 400 individuals with disabilities in South Carolina.
It’s called the AbilityOne Program. Goodwill manages multiple government contracts that provide employment opportunities for people with severe disabilities.
Reginald Hughes, VP of Commercial Services, says having the chance to hire and mentor people with disabilities is the reason he gets out of bed everyday.
“We are the largest employer of people with disabilities in the state of South Carolina,” says Hughes, “Our goal over the next 5 years is to create more opportunities for those individuals that maybe get left behind.”
The AbilityOne program was able to help Green get back on his feet.
“I took the job as a food service worker. I subsequently moved to cook, then supervisor, then moved to a janitorial site as assistant project manager. And now I’m a project manager,” says Green.
Paula Jenkins, project manager at the Naval Weapons Station Galley, was Green’s mentor as he moved up the ladder. She calls him one of her “baby birds” that left the nest.
“I used to tell him back in the day, ‘I could see you one day doing my job!’ and he was like ‘nah, Ms. Paula nah’ but, he’s now a project manager,” says Jenkins.
While it’s always bittersweet to see her “baby birds” move on to their next venture, Jenkins says it’s the reason why she loves working for Goodwill.
“You don’t notice the guy that mows your lawn, you don’t notice the girl who’s washing down the windows or cleaning the inside of the courthouse. But somebody’s doing it; and while they’re doing it they’re picking up those skills, they’re making friends that last forever and realizing that they’re a person in society that’s making a difference and they’re able to go to the next step.”
Today, Green is a project manager with “baby birds” of his own. He manages 2 custodial sites in Downtown Charleston with the motto “we don’t cut corners – we clean them.”
He doesn’t always share his disability with others, but he knows that people can be uplifted when they hear what he’s gone through.
“When they do hear my story, they go ‘oh Mr. Tony really?!’ and I say yeah, I’m just like you,” says Green.
Alongside Palmetto Goodwill, Green advocates for people with disabilites on Capitol Hill. His biggest hope is to give others the same opportunity he had for a happy ending.
“Married my wife who works at the VA for homeless veterans and we just bought our first house. What Goodwill has done for me and my family is just totally awesome,” he says.
The AbilityOne program has helped over 56,000 people across the country get jobs; including 3,000 veterans.