Goodwill job placement for disadvantaged, disabled more than doubles

In this 2011 file photo, Kathleen Gorz shopped for blouses at a Goodwill store in Paris last month.
In this 2011 file photo, Kathleen Gorz shopped for blouses at a Goodwill store in Paris last month.

Many Kentuckians might think of Goodwill as bargain shopping or a way to reduce their taxes. For the thrifty in the state, the land of leftovers is a treasure chest. But for the organization, those simple donations are a means to an end — employing more Kentuckians.

And those job opportunities have more than doubled so far in this fiscal year.

Since 1988, Goodwill's donated-goods program has helped provide employment for people with disabilities and disadvantages, said Roland Blahnik, president and CEO of the Kentucky affiliate since 1984. Since that time, Goodwill has seen its stores leap from just two statewide to 59 today.

"Every time you bring something in, it helps to create another job," he said.

And business is picking up. Goodwill Industries of Kentucky has used its job-placement programs to help 1,851 people obtain jobs between October, when the organization's fiscal year began, and May. That's more than twice the 924 people who had been helped through the same period of the prior fiscal year, said Heather Hise, spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries of Kentucky.

In addition, Goodwill has paid more than $9 million in wages to disabled or disadvantaged employees since January, up $392,564 from the same period last year, Hise said.

Blahnik said individual donations by Kentuckians account for about 75 percent of Goodwill's revenue, with the remainder coming from such organizations as Greater Louisville's Workforce Investment Board.

"We are genuinely a community-based institution," he said. "We cannot exist unless the community decides we exist because without the support of the community, we cannot function."

Goodwill's stores serve as job-training centers themselves, Hise said.

Hise said that in Kentucky, Goodwill employs 1,100 people, of which 83 percent have a disability, disadvantage or some type of barrier to employment.

"There are many different types of people who come to us for job assistance — people with disabilities that range from physical, developmental, learning and emotional, as well as disadvantages such as single parents or people who have limited education," Hise said.

She also noted that the organization assists people who have been in prison and those who lack transportation.

"One thing we feel is really important is, our administrative costs are only about 10 percent of our total revenue," she said. "About 90 cents on the dollar goes back to our employee training program."

Recently, the Kentucky organization has begun upgrading the appearance of its retail centers. Since 2008, the organization has opened nine new facilities and renovated seven inside and out.

"We're trying to align the look of our facilities with our neighbors' expectations," Hise said. "We feel like it's important to be a nice, integrated part of those communities."

Blahnik said Goodwill should be a positive image in the community so that residents will accept the stores as parts of their neighborhoods.

"We want to be in nice places in the community," said Blahnik. "The second key part is for our employees ... more than 85 or 90 percent have disabilities, and we want our employees to feel good about where they're going to work."

Blahnik, who was recently recognized by Goodwill nationwide with its J.D. Robins Jr. Distinguished Career Award, said the organization helps people have a better quality of life through work.

"In our case, we need a culture that believes in the power of work ... not charity, but a chance," he said, reciting one of Goodwill's slogans. "We want to give people a chance, but we do a good job of providing low-cost merchandise to people, too."