Dedication to Serve
2006 was the year Alexandru “Alex” Balla graduated from high school. While most high school graduates prepare for their next steps in education or employment, Balla was preparing to move to the United States. Born and raised in Transylvania, a region in central Romania, Balla’s parents were selected in the Diversity Visa Lottery program in 2006, which allowed their family to move to the United States.
“I knew zero English. I couldn’t drive. I had no work experience since I was just graduating high school and to top it all off, I was born with a disability called paraparesis,” says Balla. Paraparesis is partial paralysis of the lower limbs, and it was only one of the barriers he faced in trying to adjust to new life in America. Confronted with new challenges and experiences Balla was determined to not give up. “It was really tough, but I knew I had to work as hard as I could,” he says.
Referred to Goodwill of North Georgia’s Workforce Development program by a friend in 2007, Balla was able to gain valuable training, work experience and a new support network. Upon completing the program, he was hired to work as a Goodwill store associate. For nearly four years, Balla worked at the organization’s Duluth, Oakwood and Hamilton Mill stores. In that time, he recommended Goodwill as a possible employer to his mother, Ana, who continues to work as a store associate in Hamilton Mill. As Balla was gaining work experience at the stores, he was also taking English courses at Gwinnett Technical College. “I knew the only way to retain what I was learning was to talk to people. Working in the stores allowed me to speak with the customers and my coworkers,” he says.
In 2011, Balla decided to further is education. He enrolled in classes at the University of North Georgia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in human services delivery and administration with a minor in sociology. Though Balla didn’t work full-time while he was in school, he stayed connected with Goodwill by completing more than 650 volunteer hours at its Oakwood career center. “Volunteering as a career coach was really rewarding,” he says. As his interest in helping individuals grew, Balla knew he wanted to pursue a career that would allow him to fulfill this passion.
“I was really hopeful that there would be an opportunity at Goodwill after graduation,” he says. As luck would have it, a temporary job coach position opened the day after his graduation. In 2017 he was promoted to a permanent job coach position at Goodwill’s Decatur career center. In his role, Balla equips program participants with training for real-life work experiences and assists job seekers with résumé building, job searching and completing job applications. “Putting people to work goes hand in hand with putting a smile on people’s face,” he says. Balla, who has a genuine desire to help and serve individuals, has now developed a career in doing what he loves.
“Without the support from Goodwill, I would not have gained the work experience or gone back to school,” he says. Able to put his cumulative Goodwill experience to work in his day-to-day tasks, Balla delights in his opportunity to give back to the organization and the community that offer him, and his family, so much.