At the core of Tony Harrington’s determination to help others succeed is the Army value: “If you aren’t going to quit, neither will I.” As a Retention Specialist with MERS/Goodwill and 30-year Army veteran, Tony believes that every person has the capacity to gain meaningful employment and become more self-sufficient. He instills this belief in the people he works with, and over time, his clients believe in themselves and go on to great successes.
“Tony is such a special addition to the MERS/Goodwill team,” said Ben Williams, Tony’s supervisor. “He is the perfect example of a Veteran bringing successes of a military career into the civilian workforce and installing that can-do attitude into the lives of the people he works with. He is deeply invested in the current and future wellbeing of Goodwill’s clients, which truly makes him a Hometown Hero.”
Originally from Indianapolis, Tony began his 30-year tenure with the United States Army right after graduating from high school in 1980. He entered the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. where he trained as a TOW DRAGON missile repairman. In 1996, eager to further his military career, Tony switched to the Chemical/Decontamination Infantry Division and became a Noncommissioned Officer. As a First Sergeant with the 256 Infantry – a position he held for 10 years – Tony fulfilled his responsibilities of accomplishing missions and ensuring the welfare of his soldiers. In 2004, Tony supervised nearly 300 soldiers in Iraq and brought every troop back home with him the following year. Perhaps the most rewarding experience during his time with the military was training the next generation of soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas. Tony worked with the National Guard, Army, Air Force and Navy through a series of events and training exercises to prepare for deployment to Iraq.
“I began and ended my military service in basic training,” said Tony. “Even after 30 years, I still wanted to be out in the field serving others.”
In 2011, Tony moved to St. Louis and enrolled in St. Louis Community College’s Engineering Science program. Obtaining an engineering degree seemed like the natural choice for Tony. While his physical capabilities were limited as a result of back injuries during his service, Tony realized he wanted to further his education and gain the administrative skills needed to be successful in a civilian entry-level position.
Tony heard about MERS/Goodwill’s skills training programs from other Veterans in the community and decided to enroll in the 26-week Office Computer and Administrative Skills Training (Office CAST) Program. The Office CAST Program equips individuals with entry-level office skills, including typing and data entry, clerical applications, personal computer operations, Windows operating systems and word processing applications.
There, Tony assumed a natural leadership role, connecting with fellow Veterans in the course as well as at-risk youth. Bertha Vinson, Instructor for Office CAST, took note: “Tony would coach the youth about being professional, showing them how to dress, what to say and not say. One day, Tony had organized for everyone in the class to come in dressed professionally; that’s something I’ll never forget.”
When Tony’s Office CAST course was coming to an end, Bertha recommended he apply for an open position as a Retention Specialist with MERS/Goodwill. “Tony is a good mentor and has a gift of keeping unity among groups,” added Vinson. “His ability to build trust is a rare quality that underserved individuals truly need.”
Just a few months later, Tony got the job. Still enrolled in the engineering program at STLCC, Tony’s passion for helping others only grew stronger. He decided to switch his focus to Human Resources. “Tony is an incredible person,” said Ben Williams. “When he walks in a room, everyone stops to say, ‘hello.’ Tony creates this space where everyone is equal, regardless of their disability or barriers.”
“Sometimes, individuals may not have a support system in their personal lives to encourage them to do their best,” added Ben. “Tony fills this gap by demonstrating how to do a job and, perhaps more importantly, continually reminding others that they have the ability to do it.”
At any given time, Tony works with up to 25 individuals with disabilities to help them set both personal and career-focused goals in order to be successful in a job setting. When a consumer struggles with aspects of his or her job, Tony is the diplomatic advocate that works with a supervisor or employer to modify job requirements when needed so that the client can continue working effectively for their employer, and for themselves.
“I get to help people who really need the support to cope and survive by building a sense of independence in each and every client,” said Tony. “As a retired Veteran, this is the best job in the world.”