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“Never let anyone define who you are. You define who you are.”

Phoenix’s Fran Eastland has known struggles and hard times. But like the name of the organization that has employed her for the last 13 years, she did not let them define her, instead rising out of those challenges to become a successful member of management for the Huntsville-based nonprofit. As such she will be recognized April 27 at SourceAmerica’s national conference in Baltimore, Maryland, with the Evelyne Villines award, an annual award presented to an employee on an AbilityOne contract that has worked her or his way up from an AbilityOne job to a position in management. SourceAmerica is a national nonprofit which oversees the AbilityOne program that provides employment for people with vocational disabilities.

Eastland suffered from depression and emotional issues stemming from physical and verbal abuse earlier in her life when she moved to Madison in 2003. She said she was on a downward spiral and asked for help from a higher power.

“I was like, Lord, I need a job,” she said.

Eastland was hired on as a custodian at Phoenix and started working through some of the anger issues and emotional weights that were holding her back. She said not only did Phoenix give her a job, but they also restored some of her self-esteem and self-worth.

“I needed some help to get my balance back,” Eastland said. “My life was in pieces when I moved here and Phoenix put those pieces back together.”

As she built back her life, Eastland began to dream a little bigger. She decided to go back to school, earning a bachelor’s in organizational management. Armed with her degree and newfound confidence, she rose up through the ranks from custodian to crew leader, then to zone manager and finally to her current role as operations manager. Later this year she will undertake a new role as the assistant project manager for the Garrison’s custodial contract with Phoenix, which encompasses 7.5 million square feet total.

“Having seen Fran’s professionalism in how she performs her job and knowing the progression she’s made here at Phoenix, I felt strongly about nominating her for this award,” Phoenix Assistant Vice President of Services Bryan Dingo said. “Fran truly epitomizes the criteria of the Evelyne Villines award and her empathy and compassion toward those that work at Phoenix demonstrates that.”

Eastland credited several pivotal people in her professional success, including Dingo, Phoenix’s Adjustment Coordinator Gary Tritch who she called her “father figure,” and CEO Bryan Dodson. “Mr. Dodson has been a key player in my development,” she said. “I never expected a CEO to care so much.” She thanked Garrison Commander Col. Bill Marks for his support of her career.

Eastland also attributed her success to her favorite part of the job – the people.

“I like helping people. I love the customers,” she said. “I’ve met so many wonderful customers that treat us like family.”

Eastland lives in Madison with her husband and is the mother to three and grandmother to five. When not at work, she can usually be found spending time at home with her family, at her church home at Restoration Foursquare Church, or speaking to youth groups in the community. She said that when mentoring youth, she shares her own early life struggles, her later successes and tells them, “Everyone makes mistakes, but don’t continue to make the same mistakes.”

Eastland is excited to receive her award and plans to visit Washington, D.C., for the first time while on the trip. She said she is very thankful to Phoenix for the opportunity and for investing in her success over the years.

“This company takes the ‘dis’ off of your disability and sees your ability.”

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