Nathan at work station.

GSI Associate Overcomes Disability, Turns Curiosity into Career Success

Nathan Cherry, a die-hard Boston Celtics fan, barely contained his excitement when he attended his first Celtics basketball game in April. “It was awesome. I went with my family and it was a lot of fun,” he said. He believes the Celtics, who have not won an NBA championship since 2008, will soon return to their legendary status. “They can do it. They just have to play hard,” he added.

Cherry knows a lot about hard work. He has worked for Goodwill Services Incorporated (GSI) for 15 years, meeting success in several different jobs, each more challenging than the previous.

GSI is an entity related to Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia that offers business solutions to government agencies, contracting its services at federal courthouses, the IRS, commissaries, military warehouses and community colleges. Services include janitorial, logistics, and warehousing, shelving and supply fulfillment. These services are part of the Ability One Program, a federal program that is the largest employment source for individuals with documented disabilities.

Cherry started working for GSI as a shelf stocker in 2003 at Fort Eustis near Newport News. From there, Cherry applied for and earned a promotion to material handler. Now, he is in his most challenging position as a warehouse specialist in Portsmouth at St. Julien’s Creek, a U.S. Navy support annex of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR).

“I handle many domestic and international shipping and delivery tasks,” he described. “My supervisors have always helped me develop my skills. When I wanted to master a position and learn a new one, my success coach prepared me for the next step,” he said.

Joan Cugle, a Goodwill success coach who works with Cherry, says the Ability One program is designed to help people with disabilities advance in the workforce by leveling the playing field. “We give job seekers an extra layer of support in the workplace to overcome their challenges,” said Cugle. “Many of them have a different work pace, and we take that into account, helping them along the way,” she added.

Cherry agrees. “Goodwill let me be myself. Even if I made a mistake, they reminded me that no one is perfect and helped me get back on track,” he said.

Cugle said Goodwill’s workforce support for job seekers goes further than applications and resumes. “We also help develop soft skills, including interpersonal communication. That was one of Nathan’s challenges to work. Now, he is more skilled at analyzing other people’s speech and non-verbal behavior. He includes himself more in conversations and asks more questions,” she said.

Cherry believes Ability One’s support helped him climb the employment ladder for more than a decade and showed him everyone can have a chance at success in the workplace. “Having a disability is not a negative – it’s a positive because it makes you special,” he said.

When he realizes he has worked for Goodwill longer than his favorite player, Larry Bird, played for the Celtics, Cherry chuckled. “I played basketball when I was young and I was good, but I doubt I was THAT good,” he said with a smile.