06/07/2010 03:12 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Walking Into Goodwill Changed My Life

I'm fortunate as president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International to hear from people around the country who tell me how Goodwill has changed their lives. I can't even begin to describe the gratitude that people feel when they find a job and can finally support themselves and their families. One of those people is Autum Beel.

When Autum rings up your purchases at The Home Depot in Washington State, it's hard not to smile at her friendliness and positive attitude. She's a young woman and a mom with a promising career ahead of her. What's not apparent is that Autum overcame years of drug addiction and personal struggles and had to work hard to build her career and care for her family.

According to the recently released National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four percent of teenagers admitted to using methamphetamines in 2009. This may sound like a small percentage, but teen drug use can lead to health problems and addiction that can have a huge impact on the future of people who use.

Autum became addicted to crystal meth when she was 13 years old. She sold drugs as a teen to support her habit and ran away from home after her parents divorced. She became a single mother, but couldn't care for her two children and asked her mother to raise them for her when she was 19. She lived on the streets for several years.

Autum says she felt like she was in a black hole. "I realized I should have been doing the right thing and trying to fight for my family instead of sitting there getting high," she explains. "I did not want this kind of life, and I wanted my children back. I decided I was done."

Autum stopped using drugs when she was 30 years old. Being unemployed was a struggle for her, and she knew that finding a job would be key to finally becoming self-sufficient. She saw an ad for free job training at Seattle Goodwill (Seattle, WA) and signed up for the retail and customer service training program. Her training led her to a recruiter who was impressed with her skills and enthusiasm and hired her as a cashier at The Home Depot. She was soon promoted to head cashier, and is currently thriving in this role. Her next career goal is to be promoted to department supervisor.

Autum now takes care of her three children and is engaged to be married. "When I was having a hard time in my life, I didn't think I could ever make it," she says. "Goodwill helped me get a job, and now I've been clean and sober for almost three years. I have my kids. I have my own place. It all started when I walked into Goodwill. That day changed my life."

Autum's story is an inspiration, and reminds us that we all have the strength to make our lives better, no matter what circumstances we dealt with in the past. Goodwill helped give Autum the retail training she needed, but her perseverance and hard work are what helped her to succeed and truly deserving of Goodwill Industries International's 2010 Kenneth Shaw Graduate of the Year Award.