By Valerie Clark
Public Relations Specialist, Goodwill Duluth
Nick Marich is used to working hard.
That’s what made it so difficult for him after he had a devastating back injury while on the job as a heavy equipment mechanic.
“I heard a big crack in my back,” Nick recalls. “That’s how this whole back thing started.”
Nick’s 1995 back injury created a huge roadblock in his career. Not only did a 10-pound lifting restriction eliminate many of his work possibilities, but he also found that employers were afraid to hire him because of his previous worker’s comp claim.
“It was tough. When you walk in there and you tell them that you’ve got a broken back, they don’t want anything to do with you,” he said.
Unable to find a job and living with chronic back pain, Nick found himself in a downward spiral. But a ray of hope finally emerged through a random encounter when he happened to run into a WorkForce staff member while at the hospital with his dad. She convinced him to sign up for Goodwill programming.
Nick started working at Goodwill in 2007, starting out in the sawroom but eventually finding a position helping out in the Garfield Avenue store.
“It’s been a good fit here,” he says. “This helped a lot, to get some stability back in my life, a schedule to work. You can’t sit home every day.”
Nick is in charge of all the new goods orders for Goodwill’s 13 stores, making sure they have office supplies and shopping bags. It’s a big responsibility.
“I do all the shipping and receiving down there,” Nick says. “I take pride in that, to do it accurately and on time.”
“He’s helpful whenever you need him to do something,” says Nick’s manager, store supervisor Sherri Swenson. “He is my go-to guy for new goods orders. He does a lot of our stocking work for us.”
Nick’s longtime case manager, Denis LeRoux, praises Nick’s customer service skills, pointing out how he takes the time to chat with regular shoppers. He’s proud of Nick’s progress, as well as his helpful influence on other program participants.
“I’m very impressed that he came here and adapted to the system,” Denis says. “He’s likeable; he relates to people. He represents Goodwill in a positive way.”
Nick lives with and takes care of his 81-year-old mother in Morgan Park, where he’s lived all of his life. He credits his mother and Denis with turning his life around during a particularly dark time.
“I’m a whole different person now as I sit here than what I was back 15 years ago,” he says. “I was pretty down and out when I came here, to be perfectly honest with you. It was just good to get back to work again.”
He’s still dealing with the effects of his back condition, diagnosed as advanced multilevel degenerative disc disease. Six of his lower vertebrae are rubbing together with no disc in between, and doctors don’t have any solutions for him.
“They can do replacement discs now, but you have to have good vertebrae. I’ve seen every surgeon from here to the Mayo Clinic,” Nick says. Medication helps with the physical discomfort, while the ability to come to work each day at Goodwill makes a huge difference for his mental health.
“I couldn’t sit home every day. That would drive me wacko,” Nick says. “We all complain about work, but at the end of the day, we like to come to work, do our job and make a little money. The store is good. I want to stay where I am. It’s a place of employment where you can work with a busted back.”
Outside of work, Nick enjoys watching auto racing and spending time with his daughter and two grandchildren, ages 6 and 3.