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May 20th, 2022

Our stories: Returning to her Indianapolis roots  

Juanita Easterling to lead production manufacturing facility at 38th and Sheridan

Editor’s note: We believe that it’s possible to do good business while doing good in our communities. We’re proud to work in collaboration with partners on a community development effort by building both a manufacturing site and a grocery store in Indianapolis. Located at the northwest corner of 38th Street and Sheridan Avenue, the project will help people and communities reach their full potential. The story below is one of many stories about the impact of this project. Find out more:

From left: Production Engineer Riana Dozier, Plant Manager Juanita Easterling, and Quality Manager Clara Walker.

Born in Indianapolis with fond memories of attending Auntie Mame’s Preschool near 38th and Emerson and attending elementary school at IPS School 92 a few blocks from the Goodwill Commercial Services manufacturing facility at 38th and Sheridan, Juanita Easterling, newly hired plant manager, is returning to her roots. During her elementary school years, she moved to the heart of Detroit, Michigan, where the Big 3: General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler are headquartered. The Big 3 were thriving in those years. She remembers the automotive industry being an important element of her family life growing up.  

“My Dad retired from Chrysler after 35 years,” Juanita recalled. “Chrysler would have family events like carnivals and family days. I spent a lot of time as a child at the plant with my Dad. The automotive industry was part of our lives.”  

The automotive industry became part of Juanita’s career as well. Immediately out of college, she began working for Ford. A year later, she moved to Chrysler.  

“With no experience at all, it was just someone taking a chance on me, saying ‘Hey, you can do this,’” she said.  

Juanita started as a supervisor for Ford and then moved to a supervisor position at Chrysler where she diligently worked her way up in manufacturing. She had a dedication to the automotive industry, and her father recognized her determination.  

She remembered her father’s inspirational words, “I want you to not just work on the line; I want you to be the boss of the line.”  

Juanita beamed with pride as she described her largest project for Chrysler. She worked in the truck assembly division of the high-profile Dodge RAM project and then moved to the interior division, becoming responsible for managing the interior of the vehicle, including manufacturing, assembly, and sequencing.  

But even at the height of her career with Chrysler, Juanita had a longing to be back in Indiana. The automobile manufacturing mecca of Detroit might have been in her family background, but Indianapolis was in her soul.  

“My husband looked at me like, ‘You’re just gonna leave your career here?’ And, I said, ‘Yeah, I wanna go home,’” she said with a grin. 

From left: Kenneth Johnson, Juanita Easterling, and Clara Walker perform a quality check on a sheath during production training at Goodwill Commerical Services Tremont facility.

Back home in Indiana  

In 2018, Juanita moved her family back to Indiana. She worked in Shelbyville for an automotive glass manufacturing company and a mattress manufacturing company. Several years later, a golden opportunity came knocking to continue her manufacturing management career in Indianapolis in the 38th Street area where she spent her young childhood and where her grandmother lived and three aunts still live.  

When Juanita learned about the Goodwill Industries plant manager position, the wrap-around services they provided, the type of position it would be, and the area it was in, her “heart was full,” she said.  

“I love people. My passion is for people and people development. To be able to combine the two, my passion for people and my career as a manufacturing manager, it was a dream job for me. 

“When I got the call from Goodwill offering me the position, it was just crazy!” Juanita continued. “My Aunt was just telling me about the facility. She was saying to me, ‘You wouldn’t believe what they are doing in the community. They’re building this facility. I can’t wait.’ My Aunt had been following it from the beginning,” explained Juanita. “And, then I finally put two and two together while we were talking, and I said, ‘Auntie, the place that you are talking about, that is the place that I’ll be managing!’ So, it was not excitement just for me, but for my family as well,” added Juanita as she smiled and laughed.  

Relating to employees  

On November 29, 2021, Juanita began her new position as plant manager with Goodwill Commerical Services, which will produce devices for Bloomington-based Cook Medical

“I wish my Dad was here to see that moment, because that was the moment he always envisioned for me—to be able to run a manufacturing facility,” she said.  

She will be leading the manufacturing operations team for the 38th and Sheridan facility in production, engineering, supply chain, and quality assurance. She will also be focused on Goodwill’s mission for employees, which is assisting employees in improving work behavior and skills to enhance their employment experience.  

“We put people first,” Juanita said. “So, that will be my biggest day to day, making sure that our people are receiving the services that they need to grow personally and professionally while producing quality medical devices. People are our greatest asset. If you don’t have people, you can’t produce quality parts. If you don’t value your people, your people leave you.”  

Juanita believes the most important traits a plant manager for the 38th and Sheridan facility could have are adaptability and relatability. The goal of the facility is to focus on offering people within the neighborhood employment opportunities.  

“We will be dealing with many minorities, and the majority will be African American,” she said. “For me, it is important for them to see themselves in me. Being relatable establishes trust. More than half of the people coming in will have some type of barrier and will need our wrap-around services. I will be able to relate to them. Just because I’m the plant manager doesn’t mean I got here easy. No, it was a struggle as a kid growing up. I understand what it means to get assistance from the government, such as public assistance for housing and food and things like that.”  

Juanita understands the lack of trust in a neighborhood where she described the people have seen businesses come into the area and then leave once a profit was made.  

“First of all, this facility is here to help the community, to build the community, grow the community, and become a partnership with the community,” she said.  

Hiring goals  

Goodwill’s goal is to hire 100 medical device operators from the 38th and Sheridan neighborhood for the manufacturing space. 

Center: Kenneth Johnson. Front row, from left: Juanita Easterling, Dora Figuera, and Darryl Redeemar. Middle row, from left: Riana Dozier, Jasmyne Mayes, and Elizabeth Cook. Back row, from left; Matt Blake, Kyle Ford, Clara Walker, and Robert Chatman.

Accommodating employee needs 

Goodwill Commercial Services’ goal is to help employees grow and flourish. At the 38th and Sheridan facility, two mission coaches will serve as liaisons between the Goodwill Human Resources department, helpful Goodwill services, and the employee. Mission coaches will be the go-to persons for any employee experiencing a barrier, from abuse at home to transportation issues. The mission coach will step in and help guide that person through those barriers without interrupting the production process.  

“A lot of people haven’t been given that opportunity,” Juanita said. “That’s what I love the most about Goodwill. No matter what your education background is they have some type of job for you to be able to do and grow.  

“Look at our Tremont location, we have people who are legally blind or deaf or have some type of physical or mental barrier, but they come to work every day, and they get the job done,” she continued. “They just need someone to believe in them and trust that they are capable just like anyone else. I have been preparing for this role my whole career. It is my dream job. And to be able to do it and put people first—I tear up every time I talk about it.” 


Putting People First  

Juanita Easterling described the five key ways the 38th and Sheridan facility and Goodwill Commercial Services put employees first.  

“For any employee, we have the total package,” she said. “We are people first. When people come to work, there are five things they want from their employer.”  

  1. Clarity. We’re going to be clear about what our expectations are and what our intentions are in the community, which is to be a partner.  
  2. Adequate training. We are going to be equipped with the tools you need to be successful, not only personally but professionally.  
  3. Respect. You are going to be treated with respect, from the janitor to the plant manager. Everybody’s going to be treated with respect.  
  4. Trust. You will also need to trust us with personal information that you might provide to us. Where else will you be able to say, “Hey, I am being abused at home,” and know that you are going to be supported and know you are going to be respected and not looked down upon.  
  5. To be valued and recognized. You will be valued, no matter what your barrier is, no matter what your background is. We are still going to value you just like anybody else. You will also be rewarded and recognized as an asset to the company 

To learn more about the Cook Medical and Goodwill Commercial Services manufacturing facility at 38th and Sheridan in Indianapolis, view the recent press release and media coverage here