Story Behind the Stores: Lukas

Lukas has struggled in many ways despite being gifted with an off-the-charts IQ level. He lacked interpersonal skills, and as a result, his personal and working relationships suffered.

“I could do anything, but I couldn’t keep a job,” he said.

A native of Lexington, Lukas dropped out of high school at 17 and joined the United States Air Force. After serving one tour in military intelligence abroad, Lukas returned to the United States to pursue an art career in Virginia. During this time, he also married and welcomed a daughter.

The birth of his daughter stirred up old memories of abuse Lukas experienced as a child. Unable to cope, a nervous breakdown sent him to the hospital and resulted in both a diagnosis of a post-traumatic stress disorder and a divorce.

After his hospitalization, Lukas moved back to Germany, where he found some success as an exhibiting artist. He also married and divorced again. Distraught and frustrated by his inability to communicate effectively and build lasting relationships, Lukas returned home to Kentucky where he locked himself in his basement and refused to leave the small community of Booneville.

“I used to curse at God. I didn’t understand why he gave me so many skills and talents but placed me in one of the poorest counties in America,” Lukas said. “I thought there had to be one place on this whole planet where I belonged, even if it was just a little niche.”

Determined to find a place in society, Lukas sought services through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR). He was pre-diagnosed with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder. Through OVR, Lukas was referred to Debbie Perry, former vocational evaluator for Goodwill Industries of Kentucky.

“My world was confusing until I met her,” he said. “Debbie understood me, and for the first time in 10 years, my life had value.”

Debbie referred Lukas for a job at Goodwill, and Lukas trusted her enough to take that huge step. In 2013 – for the first time in seven years – Lukas left Booneville and drove alone to Lexington for an interview.

“Until I interviewed with Goodwill, I had no idea what they did,” Lukas said. “When I found out, I was flabbergasted. They are truly miracle workers.

“Goodwill didn’t just give me a paycheck. They gave my life purpose and that changed me.”

Lukas was offered a job working from home as a security clerk for Goodwill. For Lukas, this opportunity was instrumental in helping him heal.

Step by step, Lukas regained the confidence to begin interacting with society. After working for Goodwill for two years, he was approached with an opportunity to work as a peer specialist for an eastern Kentucky rape crisis unit. He went on to work as a therapeutic artist for children and adults who have been victims of sexual and domestic violence.

“I didn’t want to leave Goodwill. I cry thinking about it,” he said. “But this opportunity served its purpose for me, and I wanted to give another person the same opportunity I had. I am forever grateful for Goodwill. After years of being misunderstood, I was acknowledged and valued. They opened up my eyes, and now I understand why God put me here.”

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