Goodwill Industries International Names Linda Sutton its 2020 Kenneth Shaw Graduate of the Year
By the time she was 11 years old, Linda Sutton was arrested for the first time and sent to residential juvenile detention. Despite her age, she already had more experience with illegal substances than any child should be exposed to. After many relapses, overdoses and drug-related arrests, she worked hard to become an admirable team member at Bridgeway Recovery Services, a rehabilitation center for those struggling with mental health and drug abuse. Despite even COVID-related setbacks, she has built a life and career on compassion and service. Due to her resilience, optimism and passion for helping others, Goodwill Industries International is honoring Sutton as its 2020 Kenneth Shaw Graduate of the Year.
Sutton was only five years old when she smoked marijuana for the first time and nine when she shot methamphetamine for the first time. She grew up with a single mother who worked hard to support her family. Because of her mother’s long work hours, Linda was left under the supervision of her teen sister and sometimes friends of bad character. This exposed Linda to use of hard drugs and sexual abuse.
Her difficult upbringing resulted in the next few decades of her life becoming a blur of substances, prison time and sex trafficking. Sutton was pregnant and miscarried multiple times, overdosed more than once, and claims to have been “mentally gone” for a year due to toxic poisoning from the amount of drugs she was using.
She decided to turn her life around, however, after she was arrested for selling drugs and losing her baby with a former partner. She dedicated her time in prison to recover from addiction. She attended community college upon her release, where she pursued two associate’s degrees and business certifications, and she tutored other students.
Despite her achievements, it seemed to Sutton like no employer was willing to look past her criminal record. It was not until she walked into the Salem Job Connection center at Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette (based in Portland, OR) that she learned how to turn her liability into an asset. Every day, she would network, research and pursue any opportunities with the support of staff. It was not long before she found an opening at Bridgeway Recovery Services, and realized that her background would serve as an advantage in the position.
Sutton worked at Bridgeway for five years before COVID-related layoffs eliminated her position. Although she was originally hired as a receptionist, her adaptability and authenticity allowed her to assume administrative roles with higher levels of responsibility.
My job at Bridgeway was amazing,” Sutton said. “I worked with people that had the same type of barriers and background issues that I had.”
Sutton continues to prove to herself and others that there can be life after addiction. When still with Bridgeway, she found a second, part-time job at Dollar Tree using Goodwill’s job connection services. With the additional income, she was able to help finance her own house, where she supports women in transition from the prison system and their children. She mentors them in re-building their credit, and helps provide supervision and tutoring for online learning. She continues to work at Dollar Tree and just accepted a position with the Salem VCA Animal Hospital. Her success story is an inspiration to everyone around her.
“With courage and focus, Linda Sutton used Goodwill services as a first step to forging a successful journey to change her life both personally and professionally, and we’re honored to support her,” said Steven C. Preston, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International. “We admire Linda’s positivity given her experiences as well as her perseverance and determination to pursue a profession where she can lead with her purpose of helping others in their recovery journeys.”
About the Award: The Goodwill Industries International Kenneth Shaw Graduate of the Year award recognizes an outstanding person with a disability or disadvantaging condition who completed a Goodwill career services program and is competitively employed by a non-Goodwill employer.