Cleo Edwards

SunTrust VP Pays It Forward To Goodwill

It started with a Philly cheesesteak.

Edward Garner, a groundskeeper at Goodwill for the past three years, felt a tap on his shoulder last month when he was in line ordering dinner for himself and his wife. “A woman saw my work shirt and asked, ‘Do you work for Goodwill?’ I said yes. Then she asked, ‘Can I give you a hug?’”

That stranger, Cleo Edsall, said giving a hug was the least she could do. She admits she was in a dark place 15 years ago when Goodwill became a light that saved her life.

“I was depressed, mentally unstable and dealing with PTSD,” Edsall said. “I was on disability for five years. Eventually, I got counseling and wanted to get back into the workforce. My case worker referred me to Goodwill.”

With the help of an employment specialist, Edsall enrolled in Goodwill’s free computer classes in Richmond. She learned how to use Microsoft Office programs, including Word and Excel. “The classes really boosted my self-esteem. Goodwill also helped me find business clothes so I would look professional in the workplace,” she said. With the skills she learned, Goodwill helped Edsall find an administrative position with a construction company.

“From there, I got a job as an administrative assistant at SunTrust Bank. Over the next 15 years, I worked my way up to becoming the vice president of consumer banking analytics. I’m in a position now where I can give back and I believe in karma. Seeing Edward reminded me how blessed I am and of the people who helped me get here,” said Edsall.

Back at the sub shop, Edsall paid for Garner’s dinner and told him thank you. She even took a selfie with Garner and posted the photo on her Facebook page with a message of gratitude.

“I felt great,” Garner said. “She didn’t even know my name when she offered to pay for my food. No one had ever done something like that for me. It makes me want to pay it forward, the same way Cleo did.”

Edsall will retire from SunTrust at the end of October after her 70th birthday. She said her small gesture to a stranger at a sub shop represents a bigger lesson. “Goodwill was there for me when I needed help. If you can touch one life, that matters. To be able to say thank you – it’s better than money.”