If Allison Miller had owned a magic wand while growing up, she would have used it to make her epilepsy disappear.
For Ally, as friends and family call her, the seizure-causing neurological disorder was like the evil wizard Voldemort from the “Harry Potter” books she loves – an arch-enemy scheming to cause her misery and thwart her efforts to advance. Ally had tremors. She required physical therapy and speech therapy sessions that took time away from her special education classes.
“Without epilepsy, I would have learned more, and I probably would have been more successful,” she explained.
Miller eventually graduated from high school – a point of pride for her. But because of her disabilities, she struggled to begin a new chapter in life. Her two older sisters left their parents’ Murfreesboro home and launched successful, romantic-sounding careers – one with a movie studio in California, the other as a writer in Bali, Indonesia.
Miller remained behind, trying to figure out where she belonged. She found a part-time position as a custodian in a government office, but that ended in 2013. Then came three years of unemployment, boredom and fruitless job-hunting.
“I was not connecting with people,” she said. “I was really nervous. I thought, ‘What if they don’t like me? What if I don’t get the job?’”
She sought help from Goodwill Career Solutions, getting resume assistance and completing basic computer and job readiness classes. In August of 2016, she attended a Goodwill-hosted job fair and applied for a job at the Goodwill store on Church Street in Murfreesboro. The next month, she began working with a job coach in a paid training position to become a cashier.
Supervisors recall Miller seemed shy and unsure of herself but also determined. They could see she had the drive to succeed. One cashier’s task Miller found especially intimidating was making intercom announcements about sales and merchandise. Co-workers gave her a script to read, and within a few weeks, she was speaking over the in-store microphone like a seasoned veteran.
She was overjoyed when she was told she was no longer a trainee but an official cashier.
“It made me so happy just to know they wanted me,” she said.
When Miller turned 26, she could no longer receive health insurance through her parents’ plan. She worked hard and was soon given more hours at Goodwill. She is now a full-time employee with benefits.
“My goal is to make my parents proud and to be more independent,” she explained.
Her mother, Dorothy Miller, sees emotional and physical changes in her youngest daughter, who has fewer seizures than in the past.
“Ally’s a happier person now that she’s working at Goodwill,” Dorothy said. “It seems to have really lightened her life.”
What Miller loves most about the “Harry Potter” series is that the young wizard has to overcome so many challenges to grow and ultimately vanquish his enemy. Her own struggles have taught her to be grateful for her life, to seize opportunities and to make her own magic – even if she can’t make her epilepsy vanish.
“I’ve learned a lot, and I think I’ve grown up more than I was doing. I come home and tell my parents how my day was, and I’m just so happy about it,” she said. “I love everything about Goodwill. I love being there, I love what I do – it’s just amazing to me.”