Goodwill Hawaii: Still relevant after 60 years of growth

Posted on Aug 29, 2019 in Capitol Connection, Featured

“Donate stuff. Create local jobs.” That simple yet powerful message on Goodwill’s website is at the heart of its mission: to help people with employment challenges become self-sufficient through the dignity of work. We all know Goodwill Hawaii through its stores statewide. And yes, Goodwill has become cool again, thanks to environmentally conscious recyclers, creative fashionistas and hard-core bargain hunters.

But wait, there’s more — much more, says Goodwill’s CEO Laura Smith, who has led the local nonprofit for the past 25 years. “We serve more than 12,000 people each year through 26 different job training and placement programs,” she says proudly. “We’ll open our new Beretania store and training center next year, and we’ve started the Kapolei Charter School to help more students connect to jobs.”

Helping customers at the Goodwill Kapolei store.

Helping customers at the Goodwill Kapolei store.

Goodwill’s clientele ranges from youth at risk and people with disabilities to those transitioning from the criminal justice system and others who have been out of the job market for a while. Smith says if anyone needs help finding a job, just call 836-WORK and a staff member will connect them with the right program. Goodwill also helps businesses looking for competent employees, especially in the current tight job market. “We’re very successful in getting people placed into jobs,” said Smith. “We not only find the best employee match, but we also provide ongoing support and job coaching so the new employee will be successful.”

It’s all part of what Smith — part social worker, part business entrepreneur —calls “the best job in the world”: helping those in the community find a pathway to careers and a living wage. That last part is especially important to Smith, who has helped Goodwill Hawaii stay relevant amid changing community and employer needs. Last year the nonprofit made employment placements at over 500 different companies through 900 jobs, and it works closely with the state Department of Health and the Department of Human Services to connect people to programs.

This year, the local Goodwill became part of a national grant for 20 Google scholarships so trainees can earn digital skills certification. “That means they’re proficient in Google technology as valuable IT specialists,” Smith explained. Goodwill also offers training in basic keyboarding and other computer skills. The Kapolei Charter School’s goal is also to help students prepare earlier for living wage careers. “We want them to commit to getting at least one industry certification or Early College credits before they graduate from high school,” Smith said. “We also have life coaches who work with whole families to ensure a path to success.” She noted that 80 percent of the school’s student population is Native Hawaiian.

Mrs. Ige and Goodwill CEO Laura Smith.

Mrs. Ige and Goodwill CEO Laura Smith.

Goodwill’s success in workforce training, education and community service is what convinced First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige to be one of its most visible and avid supporters. She’s in her fifth year as honorary chair of “Goodwill Goes Glam” to support the organization’s programs and services. “The first lady’s support and commitment has really helped us amplify our message,” said Smith. “With her own background in education and community service, our missions truly align.” For her part, Mrs. Ige has nothing but praise for the organization as it enters its 60th year of serving Hawai‘i. “Goodwill has so many outstanding programs. The governor and I appreciate everything they do to connect people to jobs and help them lead more fulfilling, productive lives for our community.”

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