A Publication of WTVP

Turning donations into help for others

Meeting people ‘where they are,’ Goodwill puts folks to work

by Craig W. Armstrong |
Exterior of a Good Will location

The mission of Goodwill of Central Illinois is to “help communities prosper by transforming donations into life and job skills training and employment services.”

Goodwill achieves this by offering free services – more than 38,000 in 2021 – which is made possible through the sale of donated goods. Last year, Goodwill of Central Illinois placed 732 individuals in jobs.

Goodwill’s focus on putting people to work is manifested through a litany of classes and programs, from the basics of creating a cover letter and resume to more advanced digital skills such as Microsoft Word and Excel training. 

“We meet people where they are,” said Johanna Wagner, Goodwill’s assistant director of program services. “If someone needs to start with learning how to use a mouse and keyboard, then that’s where we start.” 

Classes are offered remotely – by way of Zoom, for example — and in-person. Some are self-study. 

Along with technical skills, classes in soft skills such as communication and conflict resolution also are available. In addition, participants can become OSHA Safety Certified — to operate a forklift, for example. 

“These free classes and all of Goodwill’s free services are possible because our community shops and donates,” said Goodwill President and CEO Don Johnson.

Veterans have access to Goodwill’s employment programs, but in addition they are supplied with referrals to many local assistance programs, from food and housing to medical and legal services. “If we don’t offer it, we’ll find our veterans someone who does,” said Wagner.

Meanwhile, the agency also operates a 15-bedroom veterans’ home. The General Wayne A. Downing Home for veterans was established in 2005 and is the only facility of its kind in the state.  

In the non-profit world, partnerships are everything, and Goodwill of Central Illinois currently works with nearly 500 local employers, agencies and organizations.  

“We focus on outreach,” said Wagner. “We want to identify people who are unemployed and underemployed.” This provides Goodwill with a client base that is credible, with a proven track record.

From there, Goodwill’s partners have options to find quality employees, which depends on how much involvement they want. Goodwill can simply provide them a list and contact information for candidates that fit their qualifications. Next, these partner agencies and employers can attend a Goodwill hiring event. These are held once a month at Goodwill Commons in Peoria and are attended by multiple employers. 

Another option is to hold a hiring event specifically for that company or organization, which can be particularly beneficial if there are a variety of positions available. Goodwill even offers to run the event for them. It is usually held at the employer’s location but manned by Goodwill employment specialists.

Another choice for employers is to “upskill” their current employees through training on a wide range of topics. These are private classes for up to 10 employees. This, too, can be done virtually. There is a fee for this particular service.

Goodwill works with both sides of the coin. The agency finds those who need assistance and gives them training, education and support. Then it links the person seeking employment with local employers and agencies. 

“Central Illinois is filled with support agencies and Goodwill is proud to be a part of that,” said Johnson. “Our job is to keep the process going and turn your donations into hope for others.”

Craig Armstrong

is the senior communications manager at Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois