Twenty-five-year-old Jake Cunningham and his family moved from Long Island, NY to Lawrenceville in 2013. They had friends in the area and were pleased with the quality of life in greater Atlanta they had observed when visiting. After the Cunninghams relocated, Jake graduated high school and began vocational rehabilitation, where he was referred to Goodwill by his GVRA counselor, Mrs. Eckhart. Jake had been working with another area agency but was seeking a better fit for his work style.

Upon arriving at Goodwill’s Pleasant Hill Career Center, Jake met Job Coach Felicia Moran and Case Manager Melissa Stockard. Jake appreciated their patience with him, especially their commitment to making sure his questions were answered.

Jake has many good memories of his time at Goodwill. One of his favorite job duties was working at the donor door, helping to bring in the many donations from generous donors. He liked seeing what was being donated and remembers one day when a large collection of sports cards came through the door. Jake is a big sports fan – hockey, baseball, and football are his favorites.

After several months of working with the Goodwill team, Jake was ready to look for a job. In April 2018, he attended a Goodwill job fair and found a seasonal position at Lowe’s. This role allowed Jake to use his outstanding customer service skills, greeting customers as they shopped in the Garden Center and making sure that the plants were watered.

Jake also distinguished himself as a very hard worker. He made sure to always keep busy, sharing that it is important that managers who walk by always see you working. When his position at Lowe’s ended in September 2018, Jake hoped that he would be called back. In the meantime, with the help of Goodwill, he began looking for a new opportunity.

By March 2019, Jake successfully interviewed for a position at Home Depot. He recalls the interview was challenging and that he was asked many detailed questions about how he would handle certain situations. His role at Home Depot comes with a lot of responsibility. He assists with loading customer purchases of mulch, stones, and other garden items, ensuring that the items have been paid for and that the pickup has been recorded. He also directs customers to the flower experts as needed. When the holiday season arrives, Jake enjoys helping to load Christmas trees.

Jake’s favorite part of his work is “getting to help customers to the best of my ability.” He is frequently celebrated for his stellar customer service and has received several awards. His knowledge extends beyond the Garden Center and he can often be seen directing customers to other parts of the store. The app on his phone allows him to look up any product’s location on the salesfloor and he takes the time to not just tell the customer where the item is, but to accompany the customer to the correct area.

Jake says that his parents have been very supportive throughout his life and he is grateful that he can count on them to provide transportation to Home Depot. His experience at Goodwill was also meaningful, as he learned a lot about teamwork and other soft skills, and most importantly, he became comfortable talking with people other than his parents.

Recently, he’s been working closely with Employment Specialist Nakya Marshall. He shares his schedule with her and appreciates her guidance when he needs to go to his boss with challenges or questions. Nakya is very impressed with Jake and says that she is inspired by his willingness to try. It is that quality that has played a big part in the long-term success he has enjoyed since leaving Goodwill’s training program.

In his free time, Jake enjoys jiu jitsu, video games, and watching his favorite New York teams – the Islanders, the Mets, and the Jets. He also likes to learn and frequently looks things up on Google when he wants to gain better understanding. A current interest is investigating how much things cost now versus what they cost in the past.

With three years of work experience since graduating from Goodwill that include increasing responsibility and awards recognizing him for customer service, Jake Cunningham embodies the outcomes Goodwill hopes our participants will achieve. Goodwill of North Georgia is delighted to honor Jake with the 2021 Outstanding Alumni Award.