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Goodwill grows through collaboration

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Art Gibel

Art Gibel

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In the gloomy economy, Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina has been booming.

The agency in 2009 placed 4,100 people in jobs, up from 1,240 four years earlier, and added 100 to 150 jobs to its own workforce, which now totals over 1,000 employees.

It has opened a new retail operation center in Winston-Salem and new retail stores in Elkin in Surry County and Mocksville in Davie County, all built to LEEDS green-building certification standards.

It is focusing its facilities in Statesville in Iredell County, and in Conover in Catawba County, on becoming significant employers for people with disabilities.

And it plans to begin expanding the services it provides to the public at its 13 career-connections offices throughout the 31 counties it serves to include financial-literacy training.

Formed in 1926, Goodwill operates with a $50 million annual budget and last year served over 40,000 people.

Historically, Goodwill focused on people with physical disabilities, a constituency that in the past 15 to 20 years has been expanded to include people who are unemployed or underemployed and typically have multiple barriers to employment.

“We’re very much focused on job-development activities to get people back into the workforce,” says CEO Art Gibel, former president of Hanes Printables.

That includes providing people with “soft” skills such as how to prepare resumes, and also with training in the tasks they actually will need for jobs.

To help do that, Goodwill has formed partnerships with other organizations.

A key group of partners are the seven community colleges throughout the region it serves, particularly a 20-year partnership with Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston Salem.

“It’s very much a resource-sharing partnership,” Gibel says. “We build the buildings, outfit the classrooms and provide the clients, the customers. And Forsyth Tech provides the instructors and curriculum.”

Working with Forsyth Tech, for example, Goodwill offers 130 classes a year, nearly all of them free, including classes for a certified nursing assistant certificate, computer training, and a trade-skills curriculum that includes welding, plumbing, electrical, masonry and HVAC, or heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.

And it has just introduced a program in electronic medical records.

In addition to giving its clients the opportunity to earn a certificate in one of those subject areas, Goodwill also provides “wraparound” services such as resume-building, interview skills and job-placement.

So the partnership better serves Goodwill’s clients while helping Forsyth Tech reach a broader segment of the population, Gibel says.

Goodwill generates nearly all its revenue from its 37 retail stores that employ about 600 people and sell donated clothing and household goods.

While the recession initially dampened the donation of items to the retail operations, Gibel says, donations have rebounded in the past nine months, and retail  sales never slipped.

“Sales in thrift stores have been robust,” Gibel says.

And unlike many nonprofits, Goodwill has not had to lay off staff or freeze or reduce salaries or benefits, he says.

Goodwill generates fees through contracts with county departments of social services, vocational rehabilitation, and mental health, which send clients to the agency and reimburse it for providing job training.

It also refurbishes and recycles donated computers through a “Reconnect” program launched in the state in partnership with Dell that recently added Lexington Memorial Hospital as a donor to the program.

The program accepts the donation of used computers, which Goodwill tests, refurbishing those that are salvageable, and selling those that are not to a recycler certified by Dell.

While Goodwill traditionally has employed some people with disabilities, their employment typically has been for short periods of time before Goodwill can place them in permanent jobs elsewhere.

Now, at its workforce-development sites in Statesville and Conover, Goodwill is working to secure government contracts that would call for the agency to place people with disabilities in at least 70 percent of its jobs, such as running sewing machines or cleaning federal buildings.

“This is about employing, on a sustainable basis, the disabled in those two counties,” Gibel says.

And at its 11 career-connections offices, which mainly have focused on providing the general public with job-development skills such as resume-writing and interviewing, as well as providing them with phones, copiers, fax machines, free email addresses and connection to the internet, Goodwill has teamed up with Consumer Credit Counseling to provide financial-literacy training.

The agency’s basic mission, Gibel says, is to “help people overcome barriers to employment.”

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