Paying it Forward: Sylvie’s Goodwill Story

  • Michael Fox |
  • | Mission

Sylvie immigrated to the United States in 2002 when she won the visa lottery in her home country of Cameroon, Africa. She wasn’t crazy about the move, but she was excited to go to a university and study medicine. Sylvie was focused on her studies, but there was pressure back home to make money right away to send to her family. She is the oldest child in a large family which put a lot of expectations on her.

“Everyone was waiting on me,” said Sylvie. “There was too much pressure, and I didn’t know I had to take time to earn income.”

Through some difficult circumstances, Sylvie’s life took a downward turn. She dropped out of school and moved away from Washington D.C.

“My life went downhill from there. I was trying to find my way in a strange world where I didn’t have anybody that really understood me,” said Sylvie.

She spent the following years moving around and trying to find a job that stuck. Nothing really did. After a turbulent decade, she traveled to Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa for a nursing course. She thought it was a surefire thing, but grants that she was relying on to pay for her schooling fell through. She ended up unemployed and residing in YMCA housing in Des Moines, because she couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.

A Life Changer

Of all things, a brochure turned her life around. Keith was a retail training participant who brought a stack of brochures back to the YMCA to share with his fellow residents. Sylvie knew about the retail aspect of Goodwill but was unaware of its mission. 

Intrigued by the prospects of professional development from Goodwill, she visited the Johnston Career Connection Center where she met Jordan Atterberry. Jordan, a Goodwill career connector, set out to get her ready for employment. He gave her one-on-one resume assistance, taught her essential workplace soft skills and enrolled her in Goodwill’s Work Experience Program. This program is an earn-while-you-learn training for anyone experiencing vocational disadvantages or employment barriers. The fact that Sylvie could earn income while gaining valuable skills meant everything to her.

“It really helped,” said Sylvie. “They’re giving you that payment to help pays bills, and you get skills that you can use to get a job. It’s amazing.”

Training had a healing effect for Sylvie, where she was able to work on managing her depression. She was constantly surrounded by positivity from Goodwill’s staff.

“Everybody that I worked with helped me see that they cared,” shared Sylvie. “They were always there with big smiles. Eight hours of that times four times a week healed me enough to get out of my shadow.”

Taking Her Next Step

After Sylvie completed her training, Jordan continued working with her to find employment. When there was an opening for seasonal employment in Goodwill’s warehouse, he gave her interview training and worked with her in the application process.

“He was really a big help. It’s comforting to know that there’s someone who understands what I’m going through and supports me,” she said.


Thanks to the training she received, she was a shoo-in for the position and got the job. When that contract ended, she took the momentum from that position and earned employment in Goodwill’s Johnston retail store, where she has been flourishing for the past year.

“She can do everything, and she excels in everything,” the store manager said. “Out of all my employees, she’s the one who really takes our mission seriously and wants to see the follow through on all of it.”

At Goodwill of Central Iowa’s retail stores, cashiers ask customers to round up the total payment to the nearest dollar, with that amount going to support mission programs.

“I have lived it. I used that money to pay my bills and to improve my life to where I am currently,” said Sylvie. “It’s not an obligation to round up, but know that when you do, you never know whose life you’re touching.”

When you donate and shop at Goodwill of Central Iowa, you make successes like Sylvie’s possible. In fact, 85 cents of every dollar earned in our retail stores and through Shopgoodwill.com goes to support our mission of improving the quality of life for all individuals by providing skills training and helping people find jobs. Find the location closest to you

Continue Reading

SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE

Sarah Ekstrand |

TAKING A NEW PATH

Sarah Ekstrand |

SCHOOL DAYS

Sarah Ekstrand |