‘She’s a great role model for all of us.’ Longtime Goodwill volunteer honored with picture on company truck

To honor a longtime volunteer for decades of service, Goodwill Manasota presented her with a special surprise — her photo on one of their semi-trucks. 

(C) THOMAS BENDER/SARASOTA HERALD-TRIBUNE Jo Rita Stevens, 89, has donated her time and resources to the Goodwill organizations for the last 54 years.

Here Stevens, 89, stands by the Goodwill semi truck with her photograph on the back of it.

For more than half of a century, 89-year-old Jo Rita Stevens has volunteered in many Goodwill stores, served on numerous committees and helped with fundraisers to support the organizations. She’s the longest-serving volunteer in the history of Goodwill operations.  More: Goodwill and Guardian Fund partnership to help hundreds of children

Grand Openings: Goodwill reopens Job Connection office in Arcadia Goodwill: Organization expands veterans program into South County Stevens says her connection with Goodwill started when she was a child, but it wasn’t until later that she grew to love the store.

When her mother became deaf from scarlet fever, she remembers a neighbor suggesting one of the Goodwill stores in their neighborhood, one of the few places in the 1940s that would employ someone with disabilities. Admittedly, she was ashamed at the thought.  “I was humiliated to think that I would have to tell my friend that my mother worked at the Goodwill,” Stevens said. “It was a place, as far as I knew, only people in the bottom of the barrel worked.” 

(C) THOMAS BENDER/SARASOTA HERALD-TRIBUNE Jo Rita Stevens, 89, has donated her time and resources to the Goodwill organizations for the last 54 years. Here for the first time, she sees a photograph of herself on the back of a Goodwill semi truck.

Her mother ended up at a defense factory packing parachutes during WWII.

In later years, Stevens learned more about Goodwill and the organizations’ goal to help with training and employment for those who struggle to find jobs.  “I was so ashamed,” Stevens said. “And lived with this guilt as I got older.”  When Stevens was invited to join as a volunteer with the Goodwill Service Guild in Indianapolis, she wanted to give back as a gesture to make up for her negative thoughts when she was younger.

That began a 50-year relationship with Goodwill. 

(C) Jo Rita Stevens Jo Rita Stevens Goodwill newspaper clipping.

In 1971, Stevens was named Woman of the Year and Volunteer of the Year by Goodwill Industries. She spent more than 25 years volunteering in Indianapolis, where she was featured in newspapers for her work.

(C) THOMAS BENDER/SARASOTA HERALD-TRIBUNE Jo Rita Stevens, 89, has donated her time and resources to the Goodwill organizations for the last 54 years. Here for the first time, she sees a photograph of herself on the back of a Goodwill semi truck as Bob Rosinsky, Goodwill’s President & CEO looks on with her.

And for the last 25 years, Stevens has been doing the same in Sarasota.  Bob Rosinsky, president and CEO of Goodwill Manasota, said kindness is the most valuable asset that Stevens brings. 

“She’s a great role model for all of us, and the whole organization feels it,” Rosinsky said. “She’s just a lovely lady. She’s so genuine, she’s so authentic and she’s so caring.”  Rosinsky has also been with Goodwill for decades, 49 years and counting.

He says although Stevens is in her 80s, she never lets that hinder her from being active. Her dedication at this age keeps employees inspired.  “Sure you can’t do the things that you used to do,” Rosinsky said. “But if you still are really engaged in the things that you love and you believe in, and you take the opportunity to actually do them and not just think about it, that’s Jo Rita.” 

Rosinsky said the idea to put the longtime volunteer on one of their trucks came from Stevens herself. She mentioned it as a joke, and he loved the idea. As Stevens saw herself on the semi Thursday, she stood in awe. 

She said that she hopes when people see her on the truck, they follow in her footsteps to try and make the world a better place. 

“People who know me think of Goodwill when they see me,” Stevens said. “And this is what I’d like to leave before I leave this Earth.” 

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: ‘She’s a great role model for all of us.’ Longtime Goodwill volunteer honored with picture on company truck

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