As a child, Karen Polly was painfully aware that she had a learning disability. Other children teased her.

“I was a slow learner, and people thought I couldn’t make nothing of myself,” Karen recalls.

Karen struggled in special education classes but pushed herself to graduate high school. Her goal was independence.

She went to the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center in Smyrna for job training and then found work in a nursing home. But her employer was not patient in teaching Karen new skills, and she lost the position. Her next job also failed to work out.

Karen, who lives east of Ardmore, went to Goodwill Career Solutions for job readiness training. She also had several training sessions with a job coach at Goodwill’s Fayetteville store. One day in August of 2010, he called her and told her they would like for her to start working at the store full-time.

“I was shocked,” she recalls. “I didn’t think I could get a job there, but they offered me a job.”

Karen says this time, as opposed to her previous jobs, supervisors were patient with her.

“They helped me and encouraged me, “ she says. “They took their time and taught me how things were supposed to be. I love the people at Goodwill. They are my friends.”

Today, Karen, now 41, stocks and maintains the store’s shoe department and does many other tasks. The store’s office manager, Pam Leach, says Karen is one of the store’s top team members.

“She always wants to make sure that her shoes are in perfect order,” Leach explains. “ She's very proud of the work that she does out there. And customers are always coming to her for help because she’s just so friendly. All of our regulars love Karen.”

Karen says she used to be very shy but now makes friends easily. For many years she suffered from depression, but her outlook on life is much brighter now.

Because of Karen’s bright smile and cheerful disposition, Leach calls her the store’s “little ray of sunshine.” But what fewer people see is her grit and determination.

“What she went through early in life — I don't know if I could recover from it. To me, she’s a really strong person,” Leach said. “We always try to encourage her. And now I think she can succeed at whatever she does.” 

About Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, Inc.

For more than 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. More information about Goodwill’s Career Solutions, retail stores and donation centers can be obtained online at or by calling 1-800-545-9231.