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Story Time - In the News
At Goodwill, Shopping is Form of Volunteering
Posted on 12/29/2011
Originally published: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 2009
Brian Itzkowitz depends on countless volunteers—just about everybody in Arkansas.
Itzkowitz, 42, is president and chief executive officer of Goodwill industries of Arkansas. Goodwill runs on its sales of used goods in 16 stores throughout the state, including two Goodwill shops in Little Rock.
People volunteer by donating clothes and furniture, appliances, toys and house wares to Goodwill. The gesture might not feel like volunteering—it feels like getting rid of clutter—but who hasn’t donated something?
They volunteer as well, in a way, by shopping at Goodwill, knowing the money they spend at bargain prices goes to help the disabled.
The stores are the visible part of Goodwill, but “we’re so much more,” Itzkowitz says, seeking volunteers to help in other ways with the nonprofit’s latest activities.
Goodwill’s new Career Services Center in Little Rock is one example. The improvement converts 1,300 SF of former warehouse space to computer-training classroom, a bank of six more computers for job hunting, and four offices for employment counseling.
“We are geared to grow,” Itzkowitz says, having more than doubled the number of people Goodwill serves since he came on the job a year ago—to 2,251 at last count in July.
The agency needs volunteers to teach about computers and finances, serve as mentors, lead workshops, and in general office work capacities. Its mission is to help “people with disabilities and other special needs.”
Goodwill defines a special need as “anything that would prevent someone from getting and keeping a job”—disadvantages that vary from mental and physical impairments to a lack of education and language barriers.
Goodwill trains workers in jobs such as bulk mailing, and through the agency’s manufacture of Good Eats Dog Treats. Dogs love ‘me, Itzkowitz says, and the process teaches how to read recipes, follow instructions, stir, bake, and finish with a product ready for sale.
Most employers would say that money spent on training is wasted if the worker leaves for another job, but not Itzkowitz.
“We consider it a success when someone leaves for job benefits,” he says.
As head of Arkansas’ Goodwill operations, Itzkowitz carries on a 107 year old tradition.
A young Methodist minister, the Rev. Edgar J. Helms, founded Goodwill in Boston in 1902. Helms’ idea put simplicity to work at helping the needy.
Solicit donations of used clothing and furniture, he instructed. Put people to work—the unemployed—the supposedly unemployable, never given a chance—at cleaning and repairing goods for sale. Low prices make possible for people to have good things they couldn’t afford to buy new. And the money from sales pays the workers.
Goodwill spread nationally, reaching Little Rock in 1927. Helms’ personal inspection of Little Rock operation made it officially part of the nationally network.
The mission is the same today, Itzkowitz says, although Goodwill has changed with the times, Goodwill workers don’t fix furniture anymore, for one thing.
“The way furniture is made now,” he says, “so much of it is particle board. You can’t fix that.”
Job training focuses more on computers to meet the market. And Goodwill sways with the economy at least as much as an upscale department store.
In a hard economy, like now, more people shop at Goodwill. The stores need more to sell.
“We depend on donations,” Itzkowitz says. But when money is tight, “people hold onto stuff longer.”
Goodwill receives fewer of those like-new luxury and boutique-trendy clothing items that make shopping at Goodwill a passion for bargain-shoppers of all income levels.
More of today’s donations appear to have come from low to moderately prices outlets, and not Dillard’s, Itzkowitz says.
But still, there’s no telling what great finds might be on the rack right now, or who might be bargain-hunting, he adds, never surprised to see fancy cars in the Goodwill parking lot.
“You have people who do this as a social activity,” Itzkowitz says, “going to Goodwill stores.
”He relates his own turnaround moment—the insight that made him stop and think twice about Goodwill.
He was retail-for-profit management in Florida, and noticed that one of his assistants invariably turned out in natty suits he knew the man couldn’t afford. He asked, and the spiffy dresser revealed his secret: Goodwill.
When the chance came to work for Goodwill, Itzkowitz says, the prospect fit him like a glove—a leather glove, say, picked up at Goodwill’s ridiculously low price.
“Retail is in my blood,” he says. A sign on his office wall reminds him that selling a good used coat takes no less drive than purveying the same thing new. “Mission,” the sign reads “More, better, faster.”
But this way, at Goodwill, “I’m able to make a difference in someone’s life,” Itzkowitz says. “I feel really good about what I do. I love this place.”
He invites prospective volunteers to call Goodwill Industries of Arkansas at (501) 372-5100, or find more information about volunteering at the web site GoodwillAR.org.