Business Owner Who Lost Everything Rebuilds Life with Goodwill

Caren Pressley, an associate at Goodwill’s Short Pump retail store, does not know how to perform at a level less than a “10.” She credits that to her childhood as a competitive gymnast.

“My mother enrolled me in acrobatics because I wouldn’t stop doing cartwheels on the living room sofa,” she said. The Ohio native grew up wanting to be the next Nadia Comăneci, the Romanian five-time Olympic gold medalist who received the first-ever perfect score of 10.0 at the Games in 1976.

As an adult, Pressley transitioned from athletics to academics. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Alabama, and a master’s and a doctorate degree in History of Religion from Slidell Baptist Seminary in Louisiana. She worked in the corporate world for years and owned and operated a successful insurance agency in Northern Virginia. “By all accounts, I had a very prosperous career and life,” said Pressley.

Sadly, a personal tragedy interrupted that prosperity. “I nearly lost everything. I had to sell my house, my cars and my business,” she said. “My life was shattered. I was in a desperate situation, and I needed a job,” she said.

She visited a Goodwill Community Employment Center (CEC) in Richmond in search of a job in the summer of 2017. “I was in tears when I walked in, but Goodwill treated me with humanity. I didn’t feel judged,” she recalled.

Pressley worked with a career advisor who recommended employment programs specific to her circumstance. “I attended workshops on how to build my resume, which was a huge help because I hadn’t updated mine in years as a business owner. Goodwill taught me how to network with employers and the best practices of attending job fairs and hiring events. It was unbelievable,” she said.

When Pressley saw a job posting for a cashier at Goodwill’s Short Pump retail store, she applied, got hired and experienced an awakening.

“Once I joined the Goodwill team, I saw the meaning of its mission. Helping people help themselves through the power of work – it’s true. It happened with me,” she said.

Dino Lavan, the retail operations manager at Short Pump, agrees with Pressley’s testimony.

“Caren is a real-life example of how this organization changes people’s lives,” he said. “Her journey gives her the unique ability to connect with customers and open their eyes to the difference their dollars make. Revenue from our retail stores goes directly to the CECs, where 20 employment programs help nearly 9,000 people each year,” said Lavan.

Goodwill’s CECs receive 100 percent of the proceeds from the stores’ Roundup Initiative. “Every penny goes to our mission,” said Martha Murdock, Goodwill’s director of retail operations. “Roundup is a way to directly involve customers in our mission by asking them to round up their transaction total to the next whole dollar. So, if their total is $4.50, we ask if they want to round up and donate 50 cents to our mission. That usually leads them to ask, ‘what is your mission?’ and we can educate customers,” said Murdock.

The average Roundup donation from Goodwill customers is 26 cents, and Short Pump consistently performs in the top 10 of Goodwill’s 34 stores when it comes to Roundup donations. Murdock credits some of that success to Pressley’s commitment to the mission. “Caren is a shining star and she gives her all with every transaction,” said Murdock.

Murdock said she was most impressed with an encounter between Pressley and a customer in January. “He had just left our Centerville store and rounded up his transaction there. When Caren asked him to round up at Short Pump, not knowing he just did in Centerville, he was reluctant,” Murdock explained.

“He happily rounded up again after hearing Caren explain how she walked into a CEC, used our employment programs and found a job. Caren is the poster child for Roundup,” she added.

Both Murdock and Lavan also consider Pressley a role model for her colleagues. “Caren has a passion and understanding of what Goodwill is and how we help the community,” said Lavan.

Lavan says Goodwill is dedicated to identifying and building up their associates’ strengths. “Caren is so consistent — she comes to work every day with energy, which spills onto other associates and helps the whole team. She’s genuinely interested in the store’s performance, and her dedication to learning reflects well on our core values.”

Pressley said she hopes to one day give back to Goodwill and show how the organization brought her back from the brink. “Goodwill saved my life. I’m not just a cashier. I am an ambassador for Goodwill. I feel at home here. After everything Goodwill has done for me, there is nothing that would make me leave,” she said.