Mothers and sons often have a special connection. For Randy Revell and his mother, Edna Revell, their bond has been virtually unbreakable since Randy’s birth nearly half a century ago.
“I went into labor on my birthday, June 3,” she said. Her son was born the next day, but the family’s celebratory spirit quickly turned into sadness, in Edna’s words, when a nurse told her Randy had Down Syndrome.
“I started to cry,” said Edna “It was 1970 and in those days, special needs children were considered a burden. But my mother told me, ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to raise him right.’”
Randy’s parents raised their four children in a modest home in Norfolk, where the products of Randy’s industriousness are proudly displayed. Decorations and cards that he made through a special arts and crafts program line a doorway. Nearby, a mantle brims with trophies that Randy won in the Special Olympics, and a display of his achievement ribbons are stacked three inches thick.
Randy proudly lists his Special Olympics sports. “I play basketball, golf, swimming and track and field,” he said. A mention of his bowling trophies brings an undeniable smile of confidence to his face. “I love bowling. I throw a lot of strikes. I’m good at it,” he said.
Randy is one of the longest-serving retail associates at Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia, with 25 years working as part of a group supported employment program – one of Goodwill’s hallmark vocational programs. He is a jack of all trades at the Lynnhaven retail store in Virginia Beach, helping in the textiles, housewares and donations departments.
“I like putting the wares on the sales floor for customers. I keep it neat and color-coordinated,” he described.
He is also a social butterfly. In fact, a running theme across the Goodwill organization is “Everyone Knows Randy.” Goodwill President and CEO Charles Layman presented Randy with a 25-year service award at a ceremony in May. The ceremony is part of Goodwill’s annual Spirit Visits, where leaders make visits across the organization to recognize associates’ achievements and service milestones.
“Randy takes great pride in his work and is extremely reliable and diligent,” said Layman. “He demonstrates teamwork and high standards of excellence in all of his endeavors.”
Randy’s journey to workplace success started in Goodwill’s School-To-Work program when he attended Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk. The pre-vocational program is a career pathway model for students receiving special education and combines skills-building with real-world, on-the-job training and wage earning. When he graduated, Randy transitioned into a Supported Employment program and a permanent employment position as a textile hanger at Goodwill’s former Woodtide retail store in Virginia Beach.
The program offers a high level of training, assistance and specialized supervision to individuals with disabilities in an integrated work setting. Staying true to their mother-son connection, Edna volunteered to work side-by-side with Randy during his first three months of work. “I wanted to make sure he was okay,” she said.
Tasha Greene, a Goodwill employment skills trainer who works with Randy’s group at the Lynnhaven store, said she quickly noticed Randy’s motivation.
“When I first met Randy, he said he was ready to do something different,” she said. “His ultimate goal was to be a donation attendant. That job can be demanding because it involves greeting customers, taking their donations and sorting them into production. We came up with a plan to learn new skills and progress at his personal pace to achieve his goals,” Greene added.
Greene said Randy thrives when he does something that aligns with his personal interests. “Because he wanted to be more involved with the donations, we worked together and found an opportunity for him to receive housewares and donation training,” she said. Randy learned new skills and successfully transitioned into manning the store’s housewares section.
“I am amazed at Randy. He rises above his disability and proves people wrong all the time,” said Greene.
Goodwill’s supported employment model includes open communication with participants’ family members. Greene stays in contact with Edna to make sure he’s also doing well at home. “My communication with Edna is key to Randy’s continued progress. Sometimes I might not know how to assess a situation with Randy at work. But, I’m able to call his mom for clarity, which helps a lot,” said Greene.
Edna credits Greene to much of her son’s success. “Tasha is a beautiful person and she is so patient with Randy. It takes a special person to work with those with disabilities because you can’t bring anything but constant positivity to their space,” said Edna.
She also has good things to say about Goodwill.
“I appreciate everything they have done for my son. I would have never imagined at his birth that he would grow up to be the Randy he is now,” she said.
“Goodwill has supported Randy since day one,” she added. “Tasha, his co-workers and managers are understanding and always willing to work with him. I’m glad the world is different, too. It’s a better place for people with disabilities. They are accepted and included.”
Edna’s husband passed away after Randy received his 20-year service award. “I’m glad he got the chance to see Randy grow up and thrive in society, regardless of his disability,” she said.
Edna wants as many people as possible to know about Goodwill and its mission to create pathways of opportunities and success for individuals facing challenges to employment.
“I tell people all the time – Goodwill is not just a thrift store. They help people find opportunities to become independent and successful. I think Randy does more for me now than I did for him as a child. Raising a special needs child is not easy, but you love them and you do what you can,” she said.