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Former program participant retires as program coordinator

It’s a great day at the Goodwill store!

Anyone who knows Victoria Williams Kriegl has heard that mantra lovingly repeated over and over throughout the 16 years she has worked for Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin. It’s one she shares with shoppers, team members, program participants and anyone within earshot.

It’s just that kind of positive thinking that has gotten her through the best of times and the times she wondered how she could possibly survive.

Victoria, 62, who started as a program participant with Goodwill NCW after having a stroke, retired this month as the program coordinator at the Menasha Retail Store and Training Center, where she elevated the lives of thousands of program participants over her career.

“Goodwill’s gift is giving, and if I can give some part of me that can enhance a program participant, then I have done my job,” she said.

In addition to the stroke, Victoria lived through the death of two sons, making her way with fierce determination and the support of her Goodwill family.

Here’s her story.

In the beginning

After having a stroke and undergoing therapy, the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation sent Victoria to Goodwill NCW for a vocational evaluation to determine what work she could do and what she might be good at.

Jodi Pavlak, Goodwill NCW vocational evaluator, remembers meeting an unhappy and grumpy Victoria 16 years ago when she performed the 10-day evaluation.

“I didn’t want to be here,” Victoria said, adding that she immediately was paired up with a woman in the retail store and training center’s production area who didn’t know English.

It took about five minutes to break down barriers, and the patient woman showed Victoria tricks on dealing with buttons and zippers — something that didn’t come easily after her stroke. She also helped Victoria determine her next career path along with a program coordinator, who noticed something in Victoria — she would rather help others than be helped.

That realization sent her on a path of wanting to assist people with disabilities in learning job skills. It was a disappointing path at first when she applied for job after job, only to be rejected time and time again.

Frustrated, Victoria once again returned to Goodwill, asking for a chance — this time as a job coach instead of a program participant.

And she got it.

“It’s been wonderful watching her grow,” said Jodi, adding that when Victoria first came to Goodwill she was scared. To see her come from that to where she is today makes her a true reflection of Goodwill’s mission of Elevating People by Eliminating Barriers to Employment.

“She believes in herself, and she believes in others,” she said.

‘Let’s see’

Three days into her job as a coach, Victoria’s son was killed in a car accident.

“It was devastating.”

She found support and solace at work in two team members, who didn’t shy away from her tears and didn’t want her to grieve alone and in private. “They stayed with me,” Victoria said.

Their attitude of “see what you can do” shaped Victoria and her coaching style with program participants.

“I hear the words, ‘I can’t,’ and I always say, ‘Let’s see,’” Victoria said.

If you show people they are capable of taking small steps first, they learn to take the large steps along the way, she said.

Darlene Rollins had challenges in her life before coming to Goodwill in October through Wisconsin Senior Employment Program (WISE) and said Victoria has been so encouraging and caring that not only has she learned job skills but she has found her self-esteem again.

Diane Howe, a program participant through Curative Connections, came to Goodwill and Victoria three years ago after having two strokes. “She got me going. She’s made me a better person.”

“I’m a stepping stone, and I will help you get it,” Victoria said. “Your future will be wide open.”

Over the course of her Goodwill career, Victoria transitioned from positions as job coach to program coordinator to store leadership and then to program coordinator again when she missed the one-to-one connection with program participants.

“The smiles I get — that is the best part of my day.”

And she and Jodi became the best of friends.

‘Now I can’

Five years ago, Victoria lost another son in a car accident.

“All of Goodwill held me up,” she said.

“Goodwill has given me a wonderful spirit and a wonderful chance.”

In return and in abundance, Victoria has given back to customers and to program participants, so they know they can do it, too. Just like she has proven.

“What really enthuses me is when I think of the program people I am working with — what can I teach them today that they might retain tomorrow.”

Jodi said Victoria’s legacy will be how incredibly patient, caring, empathetic, loving and persistent she is — persistent in trying to figure out a different way to do things. Rather than saying no and moving on, she works to find a way. Always find a way.

“I lift their spirits,” Victoria said.

And if it’s a bad day, make it a good day.

Jodi said program participants will say, “You have no idea what I’m going through.” Rather than saying, “Well, listen to my story,” she is empathetic, listens and makes it about the individual, not about her.

“My motivation comes from part of my life when I couldn’t do it, and now I can and can help others,” Victoria said. “I help people do things they think they can’t do.”

It’s a great day at the Goodwill store!

About Goodwill: Goodwill NCW is a not-for-profit human services organization that believes in Elevating People by Eliminating Barriers to Employment across 35 counties in north central Wisconsin. Goodwill NCW is one of four companies in the nation to be honored with a Platinum Well Workplace Award from the Wellness Council of America, which recognizes our commitment to wellness in the workplace. The organization includes 27 retail stores and training centers in communities from Manitowoc to La Crosse, 24 human services programs, a unique shopping experience at its Appleton outlet store, plus online shopping at www.reStitch.com, a women’s apparel website, and www.shopgoodwill.com. It offers four Donation Express sites and 10 convenient donation bins throughout the Fox Cities. Goodwill NCW is a Platinum Level member of GuideStar.org, the world’s largest source of nonprofit organization information. Visit www.goodwillncw.org.

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