Sunday, May 4, 2003

A source of help: Goodwill

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

My company is preparing to release a new product, a book that will be published in a three-ring binder, with tabs, extra worksheets and software on a CD-ROM, all shrink-wrapped. That's a lot of assembly work. We couldn't afford to produce it ourselves. Instead, we investigated outsourcing the job and discovered that one organization that could do the work was Goodwill Industries.

Yes, Goodwill, the used-clothing store where you donate your stuff when you clean out your closet or where you go to buy used furniture. Behind all those stores, Goodwill's actual mission is enabling people with workplace disadvantages and disabilities to become qualified employees.

"We are the largest organization in service to people with disabilities," said Russ Levin, development director of Southern Oregon Goodwill. Levin recently gave me a tour of Goodwill's facility in Medford, Ore. Each of the 207 Goodwill organizations is an independent organization, with its own regional territory, collectively operating under the "Goodwill" name and mission.

The Southern Oregon facility provides substantial workspace for assembling, packaging and other small manufacturing projects that Goodwill offers local businesses.

"We can provide services requiring low to medium skills," said Levin.

One of the larger local businesses that uses Goodwill is Harry & David, maker of fresh fruit gift packs.

Goodwill was founded in Boston in 1902 by a Methodist minister who wanted to help the poor and immigrants find a way out of the slums. From the beginning, Goodwill's aim was to enable people to become employable.

Over the decades, Goodwill increased its services to the disabled. At a time when many mentally and physically disabled people were routinely institutionalized, Goodwill offered a much better alternative - employment. And with a job came greater independence and self-esteem.

"In 1995, the overhaul of the welfare system meant a big influx of new clients to prepare to get ready to work," Levin told me.

Today, more than 80 percent of Goodwill's "clients" across the nation are low-income or welfare-dependent people with limited education or employment skills. Many need training in "soft skills," such as how to dress for work, talk to a boss, show up for work every day. Others need vocational training. Another 19 percent have disabilities or medical conditions limiting their employability.

Goodwill's programs have broadened to suit the times. Goodwill Technology Services helps companies use technology to make their workplace accessible to a broader range of employees. Goodwill provides on-site adaptive technology consulting and training, as well as workshops in some locations.

Some of the services Goodwill can offer a small business include:

• Short-term, contract work for low-skill tasks such as packaging or assembly.

• Outsource contracting for on-site work.

• Training and information on adaptive technologies to make your workplace more accessible.

Rhonda Abrams is the author of "The Successful Business Organizer," "Wear Clean Underwear" and "The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies." Register for her free business tips newsletter at

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