Shelley Pope has faced a lifetime of challenges, from losing her home and possessions in 2015 to her boyfriend Bobby Jenkins’ death less than two weeks ago.

Through it all she pressed on, walking the 35 minutes between her apartment and Goodwill each day — until Thursday, when her employers surprised her with a 1999 Lexus ES 300.

“I can see my grandkids now,” she said. “I can go drive to the doctor or the pharmacy. I have the freedom to go anywhere now. Hopefully, it’ll help me move up in my career with Goodwill. Having this car — I could probably get a promotion.”

For Pope, the car marks an important step in an ongoing effort to rebuild her life and her first vehicle in three years.

“I stay in good shape, I walk off everything I eat, but I am getting too old for this,” Pope, 48, said when describing her life without transportation. “There’s a lot of challenges to not having a car. Even going to the grocery store is hard. I can’t get a week’s worth of groceries because I can’t carry them all. I have to go every other day after work, toting groceries all the way home.”

Every one of Pope’s personal errands was carried out on foot for those three years, and she saved any extra money for Uber rides to take Jenkins to the doctor. Receiving the car lifted some weight from her shoulders, and she was able to take several days off to grieve for her boyfriend and spend time with family.

“It’s bittersweet,” Pope’s daughter Stephanie Ramsey said in a news release from Goodwill. “I mean — it’s only bitter because Bobby can’t be here to see it. But I can’t think of anybody who deserves this car more than her.”

Pope filled out an application for the car donation through Goodwill’s Wheels-to-Work program, becoming the first employee in the Middle Tennessee area to receive one this year.

A committee selects the recipients, and 16 cars in total have been distributed to Middle Tennessee employees. The frequency of the gifts depends on the number of used cars donated in good condition.

“The program was established in 2013, and the basic idea is to use vehicles donated to Goodwill for our workers who have a barrier to employment,” Chris Fletcher, a communications manager for Goodwill, said. “That’s a problem for many of employees, and about eight out of 10 come to Goodwill initially because they needed our mission services to overcome things like skills barriers or disabilities.”

Pope was unemployed before she came to Goodwill and had previously worked a variety of temporary jobs. Since starting with the company in 2014, she has maintained steady work — first as a lead retail associate and now as a donation site attendant.

“I would say Shelley has been one of the employees you never have to question or worry about,” Danny Rhodes, the director of donations for Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, said. “Sometimes it feels like that’s the highest praise out there … and the simple fact that she’s that kind of employee and she still had to walk to work and back augments the compliment. Even in rainy weather, we always knew the Lebanon donation center would be running smoothly with Shelley on the schedule.”

Rhodes said Pope is known for her friendliness and strong customer service, and Goodwill donors enjoy meeting her whenever they drop by.

Pope feels the same way and appreciates her time on the job, whether interacting with the community or her coworkers.

“I think it’s the best thing in the world,” she said. “They can actually help people. I like everything about my job, except for the weather sometimes. I love talking to people, and I’m glad they come out here and donate. They are the reason we all have jobs.”

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