(left), the executive director of the Seattle Goodwill, with former
Gov. Gary Locke, the keynote speaker at Goodwill’s
85th anniversary celebration held at Benaroya Hall June 24.
After 85 years, Seattle Goodwill continues to improve lives
By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Angelina Schunneman is happy with her new professional skills — cashiering and merchandising. A 1982 immigrant from the Philippines, she is one of 55 graduates in Seattle Goodwill’s new retail and customer service training program.
She is especially proud of her new entry-level job because it proves to her and her son that she is fulfilling Seattle Goodwill’s mission: “Jobs change lives.”
“We have to thank you for everything you gave us, the opportunity to learn and succeed,” she said to Goodwill case managers during its most recent graduation ceremony.
Goodwill is one of Seattle’s most well-known nonprofit organizations. It collects donated reusable items and turns job seekers into job holders. Last month, Seattle Goodwill hosted an anniversary breakfast at Benaroya Hall. It turned 85 years old.
Goodwill faces continued demand from Asian American immigrants and refugees as well as an ongoing controversy over the construction of its new four-story building as part of the Dearborn Street Project.
A group of local business people started Seattle Goodwill Industries in 1923 to provide job skills training to the poor. They modeled it after a system developed in 1902 by Boston’s Rev. Edgar J. Helms. He collected used items from the wealthy and repaired them for resale. In 1905, he created Morgan Memorial Co-operative Industries and Stores, Inc., which later became known as Goodwill.
Seattle Goodwill’s original store was first located at the intersection of Boren Avenue and Virginia Street. It has been at its present site, 1400 S. Lane St., since the 1930s.
At Seattle Goodwill’s inception, its instructors taught sewing. From the 1950s to 1975, they taught furniture making.
In the 1970s, it changed its focus and began helping those without basic education skills and English language skills.
Last year, 1,774 individuals — 40 percent were immigrants or refugees — sought help from Seattle Goodwill and its six job training centers throughout western Washington. On average, many individuals “don’t test out any higher than a fourth-grade English level or math level,” said Ken Colling, Seattle Goodwill’s president and CEO. “We work on getting them up to at least a sixth-grade level so that they can even qualify for entry-level jobs.”
It has now grown to accept between 200 to 280 new students at each registration period. Barbara Nabors-Glass, Seattle Goodwill’s vice president of job training and education, said, “That’s divided between our adult basic education program, which is computers, reading and writing, math, ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and high school completion, or they’re in one of our sector programs, which is either bank and financial skills training or retail and customer service training.”
The demographics of those being helped have also changed. Since March, it has offered workshops for offenders still incarcerated but who are close to being released. “They’re typically good people who happened to have made a mistake. It was serious enough that they had to be incarcerated so we’re (also) working with ex-offenders,” Colling said. At-risk teens and older workers are the groups the organization hopes to assist next.
Seattle Goodwill also provides help with basic needs such as housing, dental care, job placement assistance and job retention support for at least one year.
Besides five eight-week sessions of job training each year, Seattle Goodwill runs several local Goodwill stores — six have opened in the last four years. Its Seattle store is the largest among Goodwill Industries International’s 200 plus affiliates, raising a net $7 million last year.
Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development issued a master use permit for the Dearborn Project retail center and apartment complex, stated Colling. “I don’t think that the project has impacted the growth (of Seattle Goodwill),” he added. “We have more and more people to serve, and we continue to keep our programs and services updated so there hasn’t been any adverse impact in terms of our growth.”
Seattle Goodwill’s future success hinges on continued collaboration with other organizations, such as Asian Counseling and Referral Service, to prevent a duplication of services offered. Nabors-Glass said, “We make sure that what we do fits with the work that they’re trying to do.”
“We attribute our longevity to qualities such as staying relevant and being flexible,” said Colling. “We’re still learning. I think the whole world has more to learn in terms of how to work together, how to respect each individual and their backgrounds.”
For more information about Seattle Goodwill, go to www.seattlegoodwill.org. For more information about Dearborn Street, go to www.godearbornstreet.com.
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.