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Photo: Larry McCormack/The Tennessean
Jackie Vandal, assistant manager at a Kroger market in Nashville, hugs LaShenda Williams, a woman hired by Kroger after sleeping in its parking lot for a year. Williams now has her own apartment.

I attended a high school that had us memorize Bible verses. In the story of the Prodigal Son — who “took his journey into a far country and there wasted his substance with riotous living” — a few simple words have always meant the most to me. “And when he came to himself, he said … .”

Those words are powerful because, in my view, it really takes a lot for a desperate person to say, “I can do something about this.”

So in the story of the homeless woman who had disabilities and had fought off addiction, I’m most impressed with the moment she got up the courage to ask about a job. True, the hiring manager at the market where she’d been sleeping outside for a year showed compassion, but the real turning point was the homeless woman’s fearful but brave decision to ask.

Cathy Free reports at the Washington Post, “LaShenda Williams woke up in a grocery store parking lot last year after another restless night in her car. On the window of the supermarket, she spotted a new flier.

“The East Nashville Kroger store where she had been living in her car for almost a year was advertising a job fair. Williams, 46, who has a learning disability and has difficulty reading or writing — and also had been addicted to drugs — saw meaning in the flier. …

“Williams went inside the store, as she did every day, to say hello to the employees. But this time, she gathered her courage and asked the hiring manager: ‘Maybe I could work here one day. You got room for me?’

“The manager, Jacqueline Vandal, said she’d help Williams fill out the application. Vandal sat with her patiently and helped her answer all of the questions on her application, then submit them on Williams’s laptop computer. When a prompt came up, informing Williams that she’d successfully applied, Vandal immediately gave her the good news: ‘You’re hired.’

‘I couldn’t believe it — I hugged her and cried,’ said Williams, who has been homeless off and on in Nashville for several years. ‘It was overwhelming. Somebody gave me a chance.’

“Vandal, 56, said Williams’s persistence in filling out the application tipped the scales in her favor.

“ ‘LaShenda had the right attitude, and I knew I needed to give her a shot,’ Vandal said. …

“In May, after working for five months as a self-checkout associate, Williams saved enough money to get a small place of her own. Co-workers and customers rallied to collect household items for her one-bedroom apartment, said Williams, and after her story was featured on Kroger’s website and in Nashville’s Tennessean last month, offers of help poured in. …

“Verlenteez Williams [no relation], who runs a food prep and catering company in Nashville, said he wasn’t surprised that people were eager to step up. ‘We were all feeling empty from the uncertainty of the times,’ he said. ‘All we really have are each other.’

“Until she put on her uniform and reported for work at Kroger, LaShenda Williams said, she felt for years that she had no one. …

“ ‘I walk with a limp because I have cerebral palsy, and I had a tough time getting hired anywhere, so I just did odd jobs like housecleaning,’ Williams said. ‘When I finally got treatment for my addiction, I couldn’t afford a place of my own. I’d live from place to place or stay in abandoned houses.’

“It was late 2018 when Williams decided to park her 2015 Kia Forte in the Kroger parking lot.

“ ‘It was open 24 hours and the lot was always lit up at night,’ she said. ‘I figured I’d be safe there.’ “

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

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