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Overcoming barriers – Revenue growth expected

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont wants to put more low-income job-seekers in the driver’s seat – literally and figuratively.

The 35-year-old group works to help people overcome barriers to getting and keeping jobs. And those barriers are becoming tougher for low-income and disabled people who lack basic job skills and access to technology and transportation.

To meet rising demand for its services, Goodwill aims to increase its revenue from nearly $14 million last year to more than $16 million this year and more than $18 million next year.

Those increases are expected to result from the opening of new stores that sell donated goods, and from contracts Goodwill hopes to negotiate with area employers to train their employees in the same “soft” job skills – such as how to dress and act at work – that Goodwill already provides to job-seekers.

And the organization, which this year raised the annual goal of its two-year-old “Cars for Work” partnership that matches cars with needy families, could expand that program to serve Mecklenburg and all its surrounding counties in two years.

The program, a collaborative effort with Crisis Assistance Ministry, generated donations of 35 cars in 1998 and 101 cars last year. This year, the program aims to deliver cars to 150 families in Mecklenburg County.

That number could total 500 to 600 throughout the region over the next two years.

“Giving everybody a car is not the solution,” says Michael Elder, Goodwill’s president and chief executive officer. “But certainly it is part of the solution for folks who are not economically self-sufficient.”

Transportation is just one focus of Goodwill, one of more than 230 independent Goodwill organizations throughout the United States and abroad.

The organization may be best known for operating retail stores that sell donated items such as clothing, household goods and furniture.

Goodwill operates 12 retail stores and 14 donation centers in Charlotte, Gastonia, Lincolnton, Monroe and Rock Hill.

It will open a new store in Shelby this month and in Lancaster, S.C., in December – part of a 15-month expansion during which store space is growing by 40 percent. In 1999, the group received more than 425,000 donations.

Despite the growth, however, Goodwill has spent this year running a public awareness campaign to help people better understand that delivering its services depends on generating revenue from its stores.

Charlotte ad firm Wray Ward Laseter developed the campaign, which has the theme, “You donate stuff. We put people to work.” The campaign has placed ads on billboards, buses and radio stations.

“We were concerned that individuals didn’t realize the tie-in between our using people’s donated goods, and being able to generate revenue and put people to work,” says Dionne R. Greenlee, Goodwill’s director of marketing services.

Goodwill employs 450 people, many of them individuals who have been consumers of Goodwill’s training services. In 1999, the organization provided services to 2,630 individuals and helped 629 get jobs.

Services range from job-placement and soft-skills training such as resume-writing and interview techniques to hard-skills training for the banking and computer-programming industries.

Goodwill also runs its own packaging and mail centers that contract with more than 200 businesses, and it operates four job centers in Charlotte, Lincolnton and Gastonia.

Elder, the CEO, says a growing challenge for Goodwill is not so much helping people find jobs as helping people keep jobs by overcoming barriers such as lack of access to technology and transportation.

Helping people find productive, long-term employment will depend on teaming up with other organizations, says Elder, who currently is talking to area employers about providing soft-skills training for a fee.

Partnerships also are critical to getting donated cars into the hands of job prospects. The cars initiative, which has 83 families on its waiting list for cars, hopes to solicit donations from companies with aging fleets of vehicles.

The initiative already has commitments for 56 donors, including the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and Piedmont Natural Gas and Crescent Resources. AutoPact and Advance Auto Parts have contributed parts and repair services.

The initiative also has received financial support from a handful of organizations, including United Way of Central Carolinas, Foundation for the Carolinas, Bank of America, Community Foundation of Gaston County, Glenn Foundation and First Gaston Foundation.

“Increasingly,” says Elder, “we’re looking to how we can partner.”

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