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Non-Profit US Group Goodwill to Expand Outreach Efforts - 2004-07-07

When is a used pair of shoes more than just a used pair of shoes? When Goodwill Industries gets hold of them. Goodwill sells used shoes, clothes, pots and pans and more, and uses the earnings to provide employment training to the disadvantaged and disabled. Over its 102-year history, this private, not-for-profit organization has helped hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and 21 other nations to find employment. Now, it's expanding its global reach.

Lorraine is a production manager for Goodwill in Arlington, Virginia. Her busy workdays are a far cry from the life she was living before she started this job.

"I had been a drug addict, heroin addict, for 30 years and didn't know which way to go. I had worked before, but it had been 20 years, so I was scared, didn't know what to do, how to go get a job," she says. "I was in a methadone program and one of my friends said, Lorraine, come on, you can get a job at Goodwill. So that's what I did."

At Goodwill, Lorraine received training and employment services and, eventually, a job. She started working as a sorter, picking through the thousands of pieces of donated clothes, appliances and household goods in Goodwill's inventory.

"A sorter is a person that separates the good from the bad, the dirty from the clean," she says.

Now, Lorraine is the boss.

"I've been with Goodwill for 15 years. I now own a four-unit apartment building ? I'm struggling with it, but it's mine. And if it weren't for Goodwill, I'm quite sure I would either be dead, in jail, I've seen a lot of my associates die from AIDS. I sure was in that vicinity," she explains.

Lorraine's story is not unusual among Goodwill's clients.

"Word-of-mouth travels fast," says Monica Simkins.

Monica Simkins is Vice President of Training and Employment Services for Goodwill of Greater Washington. She says whether they are former drug addicts, ex-criminals, or people who simply lack education and skills, Goodwill's clients can choose from employment services that range from teacher training to workshops in people skills.

"At the training centers, what we try to do is give them the real-life experience in a training atmosphere," she says. "Also, we do mock interviewing, we do role-plays, we give them what to expect in the workplace ? conflict resolution, we talk about dress for success, too ? what type of appearance you need."

"I took a class at Goodwill, training class."

That's Maurice, whose training led to a job at Goodwill.

"Customer service was one of the biggest things they wanted to train us on: how to speak to people, how to approach people and how to take their things from them, make sure they go in the proper place, make sure things don't get broken?," says Maurice.

Those "things" are donations: clothes, furniture, computers, home appliances, or jewelry items that people no longer want or need. Just about any time, day or night, you'll see people pulling up to Goodwill distribution centers to drop them off.

From used socks to mink coats to computers, the donated items are sorted, checked, cleaned up and put on sale in Goodwill's almost 2,000 stores in North America and on the Internet. And there are plenty of consumers looking for bargains.

"Usually I can find some pretty nice things for reasonable prices: china every once in a while, glassware," says one shopper. "The challenge is finding the one piece of clothing or house-ware and feeling like you found something that you can't find in a mall or in a regular store."

"I come all the time," says another shopper. "You can sometimes find brand new stuff at a reasonable price. You know what they say: someone's junk can be someone else's treasure."

They are certainly treasures for Goodwill Industries: proceeds from the sales fund its job programs across the United States and 21 other countries. Now the Vice President of Goodwill Industries International, Dave Beringer, says the organization wants to reach out even farther.

"We're trying to reach 20 million people by the year 2020. And a big part of that is reaching new populations in new parts of the world," he says.

Goodwill Industries has had its share of problems. It's made up of more than 200 independent community based groups, and there have been cases of corruption in some of the chapters. The American Institute of Philanthropy has called on Goodwill's national office to exercise more control over the local organizations.

And the Goodwill concept of buying and selling used products has not always won instant acceptance in countries, and cultures, where it is unfamiliar. But the organization is finding that cultural resistance falls away over time, as communities warm to Goodwill's basic mission: helping people to earn a living. Last year alone, Goodwill served 600,000 people worldwide. About a third of them are now working.