Spreading Goodwill for Youth

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Building youth work: The Goodwill agency in Tacoma, Wash., started a YouthBuild program, showing how Goodwill can partner with other groups.

In metropolitan Denver, case mangers for the local Goodwill oversee a career development program for about 5,000 youths – yet “people here have no idea we’re involved” in youth work, said Kevin Jones, vice president of fund development for Goodwill Denver.

The same phenomenon holds true in much of the country, even though Goodwill Industries International (GII) reports that in 2007 its affiliates served 203,264 people between ages 0 and 24. While the economic crisis has many youth-serving programs struggling to stay even, Goodwill is doing well and expects to expand its youth services.

Last fall, for instance, GII issued a memorandum urging local sites to develop programs to help adjudicated adults and juveniles who are re-entering their communities connect with jobs and educational opportunities.

That might make this a good time for youth-serving agencies to approach their local Goodwills about forming partnerships.

Evolving Toward Youth Work

The 107-year-old nonprofit, with 167 sites in the United States, is known far better for selling donated clothes and helping connect the disabled and disadvantaged to work than it is for its ventures in youth development. But examples of Goodwill-led youth programs date back to the organization’s flagship site in Boston: Goodwill founder Edgar Helms set up the Fresh-Air Camp for immigrant children in the city’s south end.

The organization’s focus shifted toward services and jobs for the disabled after World War I, when scores of disabled soldiers returned to the workforce, said former Goodwill CEO George Kessinger. In the 1950s the scope widened, mostly to include adults with mental disabilities, Kessinger said.

The pendulum swung back in 2002, when the organization celebrated its 100th anniversary by committing itself to serve 20 million people by 2020 – an ambitious goal, considering that it had served a total about 5 million in its first century of operation.

“We’re aiming to reach that goal through five strategies, and one is to serve the whole family,” Kessinger said. “Just serving individuals with work-related services isn’t all we could do or should do.”

In some regions, that has meant a significant, if not highly visible, foray into youth programs. Some 53 Goodwill locations report serving a relatively high number of youth, according to GII’s 2007 Annual Statistics Report. Thirty-nine reported serving more than 1,000 youth, and 14 small sites reported that youth and young adults made up more than 25 percent of their clientele.

Local Examples

Many of the Goodwills provide youth services in partnership with existing youth-serving groups.

• Goodwill Denver started offering youth programs in 1994 and is one of the city’s major providers of mentoring services, through partnerships with 26 schools, Jones said. High school seniors who participated in Goodwill Denver’s career development program, which combines in-school activity and mentoring, posted a 98 percent graduation rate last year, said spokeswoman Meghan Carabello. The city’s graduation rate is around 47 percent, one of the worst in the country.

In addition, each year about 20,000 youth receive point-of-contact services through Goodwill Denver, such as career fairs or skill-building workshops.

• In Omaha, Goodwill of Eastern Nebraska and Southwest Iowa operates a program to bring youth at risk of dropping out back into school, and pays for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands to provide case managers as part of that program.

“Our experience with Goodwill has been nothing but positive,” said Tom Kunkel, chief professional officer for the clubs.

• Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana first worked with youths about 10 years ago at its one-stop employment training centers, which served all ages. Five years later, the agency decided to develop separate programs for younger populations, according to Juli Woodrum, director of youth services.

“A great majority of the adults we served didn’t have high school diplomas,” Woodrum said. “We wanted to make a concentrated effort to prevent that.”

The first venture was a youth learning center, which helps participants find connections to jobs, GED training and postsecondary education. The center was initially funded by federal Workforce Investment Act money, but its $700,000 budget is now funded completely by the local Goodwill.

Goodwill has become one of the more prominent youth-serving agencies in the Indianapolis area. Many of the youths at the one-stop center are foster children who are about to age out of the system, Woodrum said. Goodwill also opened a charter school that targets school-age dropouts. In 2007, Marion County Juvenile Court Judge Marilyn Moores tapped Goodwill to operate a day reporting center – a key to the city’s efforts to reform its juvenile justice system around alternatives to incarceration.

Opportunities Now

What makes Goodwill particularly intriguing now is that it has coasted through the recession virtually unscathed, said Lauren Lawson, a spokeswoman for GII. Goodwill’s financial foundation is built on its thrift store sales, which brought in $1.9 billion last fiscal year. Goodwill does not anticipate any decline in revenue for 2009, Lawson said, and it expects a rise in donated goods.

If anything, she said, some sites might get an increase in funding through the federal economic stimulus spending plan. Goodwill of Eastern Nebraska and Southwest Iowa has tapped into the stimulus money to enhance its youth programs, garnering $1.6 million to help youth train for and get jobs.

Some Goodwill executives believe more sites will target younger populations in the near future. Former CEO Kessinger said youth work will “absolutely” be a bigger part of Goodwill. “If the goal is effectiveness in work, part of that is the opportunity for youth to have experiences that lead to a successful work career,” Kessinger said.

At Goodwill-Central Indiana, Woodrum said, “I think that other Goodwills are doing [fewer] youth services than we are, but most are looking at” expanding them.

Goodwill has a decentralized structure, so it can’t dictate what services an affiliate must operate. Plenty of Goodwill sites do not report serving many youth. But a recent policy statement from the national office in Washington might help nudge some toward doing more.

The GII memo last fall about helping ex-convicts re-enter their communities, titled Working beyond Conviction, included a section on juvenile offenders. Other sections discussed the family services needed when an inmate returns home.

“As the nation’s largest provider of job-training services, Goodwill Industries is uniquely positioned to be a leader in the successful reintegration of ex-offenders and former prisoners into mainstream society,” the position statement said.

A number of sites already focus on ex-offenders. Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota helped the youth organization 180 Degrees coordinate Second Chance Day, in February, which aimed to push the state to use seven specific principles to craft a better policy to help returning adults and juveniles.

The plan was to promote attention to ex-offender issues in Congress, but that effort was postponed out of concern that the campaign would be drowned out by the larger debates on the economy.