Goodwill Industries is full of goodwill and has been for 85 years in Arkansas.
While this iconic non-profit’s mission to recycle clothing and household items is well-known, some of its newer outreach efforts and its employment growth have gone unnoticed by many.
“We’re an interesting social enterprise,” says Goodwill Industries of Arkansas President and CEO Brian Itzkowitz. “With the economy still struggling along, we’ve had more people coming to our doors looking for not only services, but bargains.”
Started in the Great Depression to make a difference when job opportunities were scarce and people lived in rising poverty, Goodwill’s core mission hasn’t changed all that much since it was founded in Arkansas in 1927.
Today — in the aftermath of the Great Recession — Goodwill Industries of Arkansas is finding new ways to serve those in need.
“Back 85 years ago, someone would donate a table and we’d employ someone to refinish that table,” Itzkowitz said. He noted that table construction has changed with cheaper materials, so Goodwill’s assistance with job creation had to change as well.
“What we’ve done is gone with the skills that people need today to get jobs, hence computer training, literacy and working with people on getting their GEDs,” he said.
Retail centers and collection depositories are the bread-and-butter of Goodwill’s revenue and cash flow for programs and overhead. Ninety-six percent of its revenue comes from donated goods.
Itzkowitz says that about 90% of every dollar earned goes back into programs and services, such as career education centers, computer recycling stations and working with prisoners transitioning out of incarceration.
“It’s all self-funded. Folks that have backgrounds come to us for a 12 to 16 week program where they learn work skills but also life skills,” Itkowitz said.
The Transitional Employment Opportunity program has been highly successful in curtailing recidivism. Goodwill’s rate is just 10% far below the state rate of 40% who re-enter prison after release.
Currently, Goodwill has 400 employees statewide at 25 locations. In the last year, the nonprofit created 115 new jobs and opened 5 new storefronts without any fanfare. If another business added 5 locations and more than 100 jobs, it’s a good bet that there would have been a press conference to sing the company’s praises.
Itzkowitz says there are plans to further expand thanks to its solid steering in the tough economy. He also explains why he thinks Goodwill has so much “goodwill.”
“I think Goodwill is just a great brand name,” Itkowitz said. “People just feel good about it. They might not necessarily know at the end of the day what we do, but they know when they donate to us, shop from us, we’re doing something good to impact the community.”
You can see more of Itkowitz’s interview and learn more about Goodwill’s impact on the Arkansas economy in this video below.