People with Brain Injuries Get Back to Work in Goodwill® Program

Herbert GarvinHerbert Garvin was working as a baggage handler at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport in 2005 when he experienced a ruptured brain aneurysm. After brain surgery and hospital rehabilitation, Garvin was unable to care for himself and moved back home with his parents.

Herbert tried to return to his job at the airport but was unable to perform the work. He attempted several other jobs, but his brain injury caused him to make mistakes like wandering off, forgetting his shift and not remembering to return after lunch.

Motivated to provide for his family and daughter, Herbert came to Goodwill Industries of the Coastal Empire’s ADVANCE Acquired Brain Injury program. The program, an award-winning day program, provides assistance to people who experience a brain injury or other neurological disability.

“Individuals and families impacted by brain injuries come to us confused, exhausted and desperate for something that will make a difference,” says Paula Ruehling, who directs the program. “The work required is tremendous, not only for us but just as much so for them.”

Herbert’s Road to Success

Determined to succeed, Herbert woke up at 4:30 a.m. each day to leave with his parents for their job at the airport, then waited at the airport until it was time to take the bus to ADVANCE. He would take the bus back to the airport at the end of the day and ride home with his parents. He kept this schedule for more than a year.

Despite initially experiencing low physical and mental endurance, Herbert soon mastered basics like packing and bringing a lunch, and within nine months was able to attend the program five days in a row.

“ADVANCE has been great for me, it’s been very important,” Herbert notes.  “It’s been the starting point for me bouncing back and getting back to work. I come to work every day, I do my job, I make sure it’s done right. Before, I was sitting around all day, doing nothing. The things I thought I couldn’t do, I can do. It feels good.”

Celebrating Personal Milestones

ADVANCE creates a personalized plan for each person, and cognitive and literacy instructors teach strategies for problems such as organizational skills, time management and memory problems. In addition to an independent living instructor, ADVANCE has certified vocational rehabilitation counselors, case managers, job coaches, and also employment and training specialists.

“When they begin to make progress – when they begin to be able to speak again or write their name or use a memory notebook to keep track of their life – it is like coaching the winner of the Boston marathon,” Ruehling said. “We all celebrate. After the end of about 18 months of hard work and celebrations, we return them to a life where they can be an asset to their community.”