Photo: Pictured above, Alabama Goodwill CEO David Wells (center, holding scissors) celebrates with newly elected Rainbow City Mayor Joe Taylor (right, red shirt), Goodwill board members and the Chamber of Gadsden and Etowah County ambassadors at the grand opening of Goodwill in Rainbow City on Oct. 15.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Gadsden’s Goodwill celebrated its move to Rainbow City on Thursday, October 15, inviting the public to experience its grand opening. With a presence in Gadsden for nearly 40 years, Goodwill leaves 151 Ewing Avenue for Rainbow Plaza Shopping Center, determined to serve Etowah County for several decades to come.
“We hope that we will be able to be successful in providing more jobs for the good people of Gadsden and Rainbow City, then create a way we can provide more mission services to help the community,” said Alabama Goodwill CEO David Wells. “We’ll have to be in the community a little bit to learn [its needs]. We’re going to learn and get a sense of needs overall, then we’ll create mission services and hopefully collaborate with some other nonprofits providing services to people in the community. [We really want] to be a part of raising the quality of life for people in the Gadsden and Rainbow City area.”
Goodwill’s lifeblood is donations, which serve as the method through which Goodwill helps its team members collaborate with others in the community to better themselves. As individuals grow, the community follows, creating a ripple effect of prosperity and success. The Rainbow City facility will differ from the Gadsden location in its efficiency and open-concept layout. Whereas at the Gadsden store the building was divided up into different rooms, the Rainbow City facility will be more conducive to a good shopping experience. The Rainbow City store will also feature a convenient donation drive-thru where donators can drop off their items rather than enter the store.
Goodwill grew out of Boston, Massachusetts in 1902 when Methodist Minister Reverend Edgar J. Helms recognized the struggles people were facing in the city’s South End. During this time, homelessness was frequent and jobs were sparse, with discrimination rampant in the workplace. Shop owners placed disparaging signs in storefront windows, discouraging minorities and immigrants from applying for jobs.
Determined to help, Helms petitioned the affluent in Boston for donations. He collected clothing and household goods and handed them out to parishioners at Morgan Memorial Chapel, which still stands today as the center of Goodwill. Helms soon discovered that although the response was positive from donation recipients, they were not much better off than before.
“You can give a man living in the street a coat to wear and he is warmer,” said Wells. “But unfortunately, he is still living in the street.”
Helms returned to the public, gathering more donations for a revitalized version of his mission. With these donations, Helms hired and trained the unemployed to clean and mend the donations, which were then resold or distributed back to the employees. Helms discovered that this system proved successful, because people were learning job skills that they could take with them into the community to acquire paying jobs. In addition, people experienced a much higher sense of self-worth and dignity because they were providing for themselves. They could physically witness their accomplishments and be proud of their efforts.
“You’ve heard these slogans that are still used today,” said Wells. “Goodwill is a hand-up, not a hand-out, not charity but a chance, not a coin in his hat, but a tool in his hand – all of these slogans came from the founding of Goodwill and Reverend Helms. It’s still all about Goodwill today.”
At its essence, Goodwill’s mission is to create jobs through various donations that the community provides. With those jobs, Goodwill assists people who experience barriers to employment such as disability, illiteracy or simply the difficulties of life that manifest in a number of any given circumstances. Goodwill employs individuals with a steady paycheck and introduces human service programs to help them overcome employment barriers. Through these programs, Goodwill helps its employees grow and flourish into productive members of their community, becoming self-sufficient citizens who strive towards accomplishing their life goals.
One of Goodwill’s main mission service programs is mission integration. While Goodwill offers programs for individuals outside its organization that need assistance in finding employment, the organization primarily works internally with its own team members. One important aspect of mission integration is good partner coaches, or life coaches who are connected to Goodwill employees to assess their barriers, needs and progress. Good partner coaches conduct assessments in order to develop personalized plans for employees to reach their personal goals, working with them to motivate them and connect them to beneficial resources throughout the community.
“Learning is life long and we at Goodwill are always working to create the best learning organization we can possibly create,” said Wells. “What that means to us is making learning accessible to our team members where they live and work and making learning available for them while having them engaged [in learning] on an ongoing basis. I would want them to know that it’s a great opportunity, and they should take advantage of that and learn as much as they can while they’re at Goodwill. Even if they decide they may want to go to another job after they work at Goodwill – that’s okay! We would help them get there.”