Goodwill Growing Job Training, Recycling Programs

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Maryam Kamangar shows off the purses the company makes out of blue jeans.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Goodwill is not just a store.

From its Suit Yourself program to certifying forklift operators and drivers to running the Berkshire Bank popcorn wagon, Goodwill Industries does a lot more than operate stores from Great Barrington to as far north as Rutland, Vt.

In recent years, it has honed its attention on increasing goals of job training, employment and recycling.

"We are hoping to have a touch in every single town," said Maryam Kamangar, the community development manager. "It is all about job training, employment and recycling."
 
Perhaps the best known program is Suit Yourself, through which the organization provides an individual with resume building workshops, mock interviews, and then dresses him or her for success with donated items. Meelan Dale runs the program in Pittsfield and has built a showroom area in the Tyler Street "Makers Space" with models and racks of clothing to help those who need it.
 
"People are really surprised when them come to the store," she said on Thursday. 
 
Some 25 companies are partnered with the organization and will refer people to them as needed. But it is only one of several job preparedness programs Goodwill offers. Its "Business 101" program helps people get certified for custodial or maintenance work or as truck drivers. And by employing some 70 people throughout the county — about 30 of those managing the warehouse — it provides firsthand experience.
 
"They can learn in reality what is involved in every business," Kamangar said. 
 
Goodwill partners with an array of organizations throughout the county — such as a recent partnership with the Family Place in North Adams — to expand skills training. It is also looking to reach out to hotels to see what types of training they can offer to help train future employees for housekeeping positions.
 
"It really gives people the skills to handle real world situations," said Kathy Anker, workforce development manager, adding that the local territory of the national company is tasked with creating the programs for the area which it serves. "We have the latitude to customize our programming to meet the needs of the community."
 
In a partnership with Berkshire Bank, Goodwill finds people to run the popcorn wagon that sits on North Street during the summer for hands-on training. They learn how to manage a business and at the end of the year make a report to Berkshire Bank officials.
 
The Goodwill also helps jobseekers get comfortable in group settings and then moves them into the Suit Yourself Program to get them ready for the real world. The only thing it doesn't do is job placement. But Anker says it has a good relationship with organizations that do, like BerkshireWorks.
 
The nonprofit has scholarships available for job training programs. In its early years, Goodwill had operated on mostly referrals but with growth in mind, no longer require those.
 
Meelan Dale turned a room in the warehouse into a store filled with displays and racks of dress clothing for people to wear to job interviews.
"You don't need to have a formal referral," Anker said.
 
Besides job training, the organization is also focusing on recycling, which helps fund its programs. 
 
Through a partnership with Dell, residents can get rid of their computers at no charge and the Goodwill gives them back to Dell to be recycled. Last year, some 370,288 pounds of computer parts were sent to recycling. All of that sorting and packaging is done on Tyler Street.
 
Meanwhile, workers cut old donated towels into rags and sell those to companies. They package up unsold books and sell those to be made into pulp. They sort metal and resell that for scrap. They have a partnership with Crane & Co. to sell unsold blue jeans, which the Goodwill cuts into small squares to be made into cotton postcards. And the Goodwill takes the pockets from those jeans and turns them into purses.
 
"We want everybody to bring everything to the Goodwill," said Kamangar. "Nothing goes to our landfill."
 
The company will even send goods overseas.
 
Running that operation puts a lot of people to work. Some 40 people are employed to run the company's four retail stores and another 30 or so run the warehouse.
 
At the warehouse, donations are sorted by type of item, and metals are separated. The items are packaged up and stored per season. Trucks are loaded up at the warehouse to bring new products to the stores and then bring unsold items that need to be recycled back. Those employees often receive their certificate through the company. Cardboard boxes are also recycled and sold.
 
The sale of the items for recycling helps fund a lot of the organization's activities. Other donations are used through a partnership with the American Red Cross to replace the belongings of fire victims. A source of pride for the organization is that all of the money raised here stays here, and not shipped off to the national headquarters.
 
"We have to make sure all of the donations that come in from the community stays in the community," Kamangar said.

Tags: donations,   Goodwill,   job training,   nonprofits,   recycling,   thrift store,   

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