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Spreading Goodwill: Program builds workplace skills with disabled

Published: Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Dec. 27, 2013 10:59 a.m. CDT
(Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM)
Haley Paone, 19, was recently offered a regular position as a cashier at Goodwill through its “Let’s Go to Work” program. Offered to those with disabilities, the program trains workers and gives them job skills that oftentimes help employ those deemed unemployable.
(Kimberly Watley/Special to SVM)
All donations are welcome and very few are thrown away. Clothing is one of the most popular items sold by Goodwill.

STERLING – Giving back to the communities it serves has been the secret for success for Goodwill since 1895, when the Rev. Edgar Helms founded Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries.

Much has changed over the years, though one thing remains the same: Changes always reflect the needs of local people, said Sterling store manager Jaclyn Wooden.

The store is packed with merchandise, from clothing to housewares, which are the top two sellers.

Donations are sold at affordable prices. The money received from purchases goes toward programs that assist people in need.

The only items not accepted are televisions and car seats. Wooden said nothing goes to waste. Though Goodwill prefers the “best of the best,” donations sometimes come with rips or stains. Even those items are put to use.

“We don’t throw away any clothes,” she said. “They go back to the warehouse, and sometimes different countries will purchase them, or people purchase them for rags and what have you.”

All stock is on a 5-week rotation. Things that don’t sell after they are marked as low as 50 percent off are sold to other Goodwill stores.

That way, Wooden said, they constantly have new things available for shoppers. Sterling has been fortunate to receive enough stock in community donations to keep the store full in recent years.

“We try to salvage everything, including broken electronics that come through,” she explained. “If they can’t be repaired, they are sent to a recycling center.”

Goodwill stores are “so much more” than a place to discard items no longer needed, or a place to pick up a good deal on something – new to you, she said.

The money earned through sales of donations goes toward various programs. Classes locally are based on need.

Its primary focus, “Let’s Go to Work,” is one of its fastest-growing programs. It offers job training to the disabled.

The Sterling store now has six employees. They are taught skills needed to find jobs and become more independent.

Some workers, like Haley Paone, 19, end up being hired on full-time by Goodwill.

Paone said the program means a lot to her. She said she had been diagnosed with a form of autism, known as pervasive developmental disorder, and bipolar disorder.

“They trained me how to cope in the workforce,” she said. “This is the first time I have been stable in a job.”

Aside from teaching her basic job skills, she said, the program showed her she can have a bright future and live out her dream to become an investigator for a social services agency.

Her rough past, losing her 3-year-old brother and fighting her disorders, caused her to think a future might not be possible. Her job coach at Goodwill helped her not to simply land a job, but to believe in herself.

“I love working here,” she said, “and I would like to thank them for giving me a second chance.”

Wooden said everyone benefits.

“Participants who may have a disability, do everything alongside of us, and are paid as much as us,” she said. “They really love it.”

“Attire for Hire” is another program offered locally.

“We help them with whatever the job would require,” Wooden said. “If someone needs clothes for an interview, or they needed two pairs of jeans and two shirts, coveralls, a business suit, whatever, we will get them.”

The program has no official qualifications.

“If there is a need, we are here to help them,” Wooden said. “Come in and talk to us.”

Other classes and programs offered include a GED course, résumé writing with access to computers, skills assessments, career counseling, help with interviewing skills, and placement services. During tax season, Goodwill also offers free tax preparation in the store.

Wooden said education and employment are the main focuses of Goodwill, because with one comes the other.

“Finding jobs right now, with the economy, it’s hard,” she said. “We want to help them get out and on their feet. Locally, that I think is the biggest need.”

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