You’ve Probably Never Heard of the Excel Center, Career Centers, and So Many Other Services That Goodwill Offers
In 1863, the Civil War was destroying lives and homes, as a nation reft by anger and hatred, fought to survive. In this uncertain time, a child was born in New York. After the war, his parents followed their dream of owning land to a small farm in Iowa. Edgar J. Helms grew up on that farm, but it was not his future. With his parents’ reluctant permission, the young man returned East. At Cornell University, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy. He had found a calling. Iowa was left behind again, as he attended Boston University, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Sacred Theology.
Helms was more than a good student. He earned the highest grades ever at Cornell. At Boston University, he was awarded the Jacob Sleeper Fellowship. He spent a year in London, studying poverty and the poor.
After he came back, he became a Methodist minister. Returning to Iowa briefly, he married a young woman from his hometown, Jean Preston. His dream was to become a missionary in India, but that was not to be. He was assigned to be the minister in an impoverished neighborhood in Boston, populated mainly by immigrants. And because of this assignment, millions of Americans have gone from poverty to financial security in the past 117 years.
In Boston, Helms started his life’s work. He had learned about ‘settlement houses’ in England, large buildings in poor neighborhoods, where middle-class families and students lived. These people spent their time educating their impoverished neighbors, teaching English to immigrants, and providing food and clothing for them. Edgar and Jean established several settlement houses in the poorest districts of Boston.
Helms, though, had a somewhat different philosophy, a farther-reaching idea. Instead of merely giving to poor people, he built an industry run by poor people. Living in a neighborhood populated by immigrants, many of whom spoke no English, thieves, criminals, prostitutes, alcoholics, and drug addicts, Helms and his wife started providing jobs for people. Anyone willing to work was given a job. If they didn’t have the skills to qualify for the position, he trained them. Helms did not recognize any barriers to hiring, except for a conscious refusal to work. To his mind, no disability, such as blindness, absence of a limb, decreased mental capacity, or substance addiction, was a barrier to employment.
Reverend Helms went around the wealthy neighborhoods of Boston, collecting old clothes, shoes, anything that could be refurbished. He hired men and women in the immigrant ghettos to repair the clothes and items, which were then sold for affordable prices to the immigrant population. The money was used to pay his workers, pay for rent and maintenance on the buildings, and pay his teachers. He provided jobs and training to the people of the area, not just charity. He lifted them out of poverty. Rev. Helms gave them futures for themselves and their families.
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Matthew 4:19
From the dreams of one Methodist minister, a large, multi-billion dollar international industry was born. Goodwill Industries now serves more than 35 million people around the world.
What Is Goodwill Industries?
- It is an American nonprofit organization.
- The organization is funded by a web of interconnected but independent local Goodwill associations.
- There are 165 Goodwill associations, operating more than 3300 Goodwill stores in the United States and Canada.
- Each organization is nonprofit, run by a board of people from the local area.
What Does Goodwill Industries Do?
Reverend Helms’ philosophy that started Goodwill was “not charity, but a chance.” This concept of the power of work is the mission of Goodwill.
- Jog training – Especially for those who have barriers to employment, such as the disabled and those with criminal backgrounds.
- Employment placement services – Once trained, they help their people get jobs.
- Skill development – Even including how to write a resume.
- Education – The Excel Center is a free high school for adults.
Their primary mission is to train people for a job. They teach useful skills. Then they help their graduates find employment, turning impoverished, unemployed people into job holders, who pay taxes and contribute to their society.
Goodwill Career Center
The Career Center is a facility for learning job skills, getting hands-on experience, classroom teaching, training in handling your finances, and online courses. All services are free.
- The Career Center will provide one-on-one counseling on how to get and keep a job. Your counselor will stick with you for as long as necessary.
- They will teach you how to write a resume, and they will critique your final product. They will also teach you how to conduct yourself at an interview, even how to dress appropriately.
- You will need to be able to use computers, the internet, printers, and telephones. The Career Center will provide you with access to all of these.
- With your counselor, you will determine the best strategies for your career and your future.
- They have hiring events at the Career Center.
- You will be able to access hundreds of job opportunities and useful resources in your community.
- The Career Center will provide opportunities to get on-the-job training.
In addition to the on-site teaching, the Career Center also offers online services. These services are also free to job seekers anywhere.
- The Career Center online offers training on how to write a resume.
- There are courses on the development of interview skills.
- You will find information about local job fairs and hiring events.
- They will tailor job postings according to your preferences.
- The Career Center has a new program available – Digital Skills Training. Depending on your level of knowledge, the courses will start with computer basics and can take you all the way to Information Technology Certification.
There are centers scattered all across the United States. The local Career Center will be able to help you find a future through training and skill development.
The Excel Center
A shining example of Goodwill’s educational programs is the Excel Center. One of the greatest needs in the communities served by Goodwill is education. The Excel Center is a program that has been adopted by five state organizations and that of Washington, D.C. More centers will be opening soon. It is a free high school. But the Excel Center is a lot more than just a building with teachers.
The concept started in 2010 with one center in Indianapolis. There are now 17 sites in Indiana. And a new Excel Center will be opening soon in Hawaii.
The Excel Center looks at each student to assess not only their potential but their needs. A single working mother cannot finish high school unless she has free daycare available. She may not have a car. Her work schedule may prevent her from finishing lessons or working at a reasonable pace. She may require flexibility. Because she dropped out of high school, she may need encouragement and a supportive environment, not provided by ordinary schools.
Daycare and arrangements for free transportation are part and parcel at the Excel Center. Students are allowed to work at their own pace; there are no set schedules, and the Excel Center community is close-knit and supportive. Staff and students celebrate the achievements of classmates, helping wherever they can.
In addition to graduating from high school, students at the Excel Center can earn college credits. They are encouraged to continue their education, and help is provided in finding opportunities. Excel Center counselors are available to help plan careers.
The Excel Center is everything that your last high school wasn’t.
- Beyond Jobs – Single mothers have unique problems and needs. This program helps them find jobs, and more importantly, keep them. They provide courses that train these women to plan ahead, to make wise financial decisions, and to advance in their careers. The program helps ensure financial independence for the woman and her children.
- Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) – People over age 55 are given on-the-job training to renew and update their job skills, and to build up confidence and experience. They can re-enter the job market competitively.
- Expert Guides – They match young people between ages 12 and 17 who are at risk for dropping out of school, joining gangs, becoming criminals, with trusted mentors in the community, who volunteer. This program intends to alter the negative perspective and replace it with positive life choices.
- Pathways out of Poverty – This employment program directs interested job seekers into green jobs in businesses that are environmentally sensitive.
- GCFLearnFree – The Goodwill Community Foundation produces these online courses. There are more than 750 courses, teaching math, sciences, English, and dozens of other subjects.
Programs for People with Barriers to Employment
Finding a job is hard enough for average people. For some people, it is a lot harder. These are people with physical or mental disabilities. The men and women with criminal backgrounds. The groups, who come up against prejudice, even when it’s hidden. Goodwill Industries has developed programs to help these job seekers bypass these subconscious prejudices of employers and get hired.
While they may hesitate to hire criminals with certain types of convictions, especially those involving theft, violence, sexual assault, and crimes against children, Goodwill Industries has a program that encourages felons to seek employment with them. They start by providing pre-service advice and encourage people to come to them as soon as they get out of prison. If you’ve just gotten out, you can expect to get a job at a donation center, although it is likely to be one of the entry-level positions.
Entry Level Jobs at the Donation Center
These are the jobs that you start with. Goodwill expects you to grow out of these positions.
- Sales Associate – Cashier – You need to be able to work the cash register at the donation center and provide change. Goodwill expects you to be courteous and friendly to all customers. You will be the face of the store.
- Sales Associate – Production – This position requires some training. You will be sorting donated items, assigning prices to the usable ones. Your job will be to recognize the quality of the item and place appropriate values.
- Donation Attendant – You will be stationed at the point where donations are received. Your job will be to greet the donors, help them bring the items in, and give them a receipt for their tax records. Your manner must be pleasant and polite.
- Baler – In this job, you will package up low-quality clothing and help to dispose of unsold or unwanted items in accordance with government regulations.
- Utility Worker – This is custodial care of the donation center. You will be responsible for cleaning the store.
The donation center is the source of funding for the jobs, training, education, counseling, and the myriad of services that Goodwill Industries provides.
Goodwill depends on the contributions of millions of people. The items that they leave at the donation center fund programs that help millions of other people get a start in life or help to get back on their feet. There are so many other services available: help for veterans, military families, and troubled youth.
The Goodwill organizations are especially interested in finding work for the disabled population. Their mission is to help the physically and mentally disabled become self-sufficient and realize their potential by assisting them to find and keep jobs.
This multi-billion dollar industry can be broken down into thousands and thousands of people helping millions of other people climb out of poverty. Edgar J. Helms believed that independence and self-sufficiency would lead people to happy, productive lives, no matter what backgrounds they came from. For 117 years, Goodwill has been following his philosophy. Rev. Helms would never have imagined what his work would lead to when he started giving people “a chance, not a charity.”