‘Who I am today’
HUNTINGTON — As the popular saying goes, if you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Brandy Epling is that phrase personified.
Today, she is the first face you see when you enter Goodwill of the KYOWVA Area’s headquarters. It had been nearly 10 years since the mother of two worked when she entered Goodwill’s work adjustment program three years ago. A convicted felon, even the fast food restaurant she applied to had turned her down.
“I just wanted a job,” Epling, 40, said. “I just wanted to work.”
After completing the program, Goodwill offered her a part-time job working in the warehouse of the Virginia Avenue store, where all the donated merchandise is sorted. After just a few months, she was promoted to full time. Then a few months later, she was offered a position at the Recycling Center, previously located on 19th Street.
“I was so nervous because I couldn’t even turn a computer on,” Epling said. “I didn’t know email and Gmail.”
Alissa Stewart Sparks, Goodwill of the KYOWVA Area CEO, told Epling about the free computer classes Goodwill offers.
“I jumped in Introduction to Computers and Welcoming to Computers. I took Microsoft and Excel. I took any and every computer class they had over there. I took them three times to be exact, but I got them,” she said. “The first time you hear the words but you don’t understand what you are saying. The second time I understood the words and I really started to understand the programs. Then it was like, hey, this is email and this is my Gmail. It opened up so many opportunities I didn’t even know. I realized I can learn and I can catch on.”
While running the recycling center main office, Epling’s success story was submitted to Goodwill International and in 2016 she was selected to attend the international conference in Indianapolis.
“We went up there for three days,” she said. “I was so honored to go. I had never been on vacation in my life, that was a vacation for me. I got to go with (Stewart Sparks). My job has turned into a career and I can make something of my life. I can be someone my kids can be proud of. That’s when it really hit me, just because I made some mistakes in my past and I hit rock bottom like so many people do, that doesn’t make who I am today.”
At the conference, Epling was awarded the Family Financial Wellness Center of Excellence Award.
Today, Epling is the administrative assistant in Goodwill’s headquarters on Memorial Boulevard. She oversees 12 stores, doing supply orders and price checks. She said she finally found where her puzzle piece fits.
“I come every day and pay it forward,” Epling said. “Like right now, I get to train this 19-year-old girl and she’s had a rough past. She’s had some times in her life that are hard to overcome, but she did it. Here she is coming in, first job ever, and I get to train her. I see now I am in a leadership role. I get to show her everyone has bad days. It’s all a mindset.”
In May, Epling went on another trip with Sparks, this time to Washington, D.C., for Goodwill on the Hill, the organization’s lobbying week.
“I was kind of like, you go. You talk. You know what to say to these people,” she said. “It was people like Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito and Evan Jenkins. These were just names off the news to me before that. When she said we are going to go up there and explain why Goodwill is so important for people like you. I said you tell them. (Alissa) said it doesn’t mean anything from me. But you, someone who has been on food stamps, and you don’t have that any more. They want to hear that from you.”
She was also featured in an Elder Beerman commercial this year during the department store’s Goodwill campaign and she is the newest board member of the Tri-State Literacy Council. Epling said before Goodwill, she felt her life had no purpose.
The mother of two boys in their late teens, Epling’s life was put on hold after she divorced and moved back in with her parents. She did what was best for her family, but it was hard for her to shake feelings of worthlessness.
As she began looking for work, she realized she was missing more skills than just how to use a computer.
“I needed to learn how to talk professionally,” she said. “I needed to retrain my brain. People don’t realize when you live low-income, you talk differently. You eat differently. You slap (your lips). You don’t talk professionally. You say a lot of swear words. If you don’t know better, it’s really hard to jump to the other side and it limits you to where you can work.”
She knows now that even with the mistakes she made, those mistakes were moments preparing her for the future. For example, she received her GED while incarcerated.
“I look around in this town, I grew up here. There are so many troubled girls out there,” she said. “They are in bad places. I have family members that are there, so I get it. I can help them to see, even if I’m just planting a few seeds right now. I know one day someone might think ‘I remember that girl. I know she’s had some hard times, but look at her now.’”
The confidence Epling gained in the past three years has completely changed her life. She’s even lost over 80 pounds because her lifestyle changed so much.
“Goodwill has been the best thing for me,” she said. “It gave me a life. Before I was just existing. I wasn’t for sure who, when or why. I was just here in the moment and I felt like Iwas blowingaway. I didn’t realize multi-tasking was a good thing, you just channel it into taking care of 12 stores, running a front office, and taking care of supply orders. I feel like I am somebody now. People depend on me and I walk around with my head held high now.”
For others who are like her, trying to find work or dealing with feelings of unworthiness, Epling said she wants them to know it’s possible to change your situation.
“Everybody has (bad times), it’s about how are you going to fix it? Let’s come up with a solution,” she said. “If you focus on that problem, you’re never going to fix it. Sometimes we get stuck in little circles and we outgrow them. You got to find yourself a whole new circle.”
Epling said she is ready to shine now, and that shine surely will lead others through the darkness she left behind.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.