Where there’s a Goodwill, there’s a way

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Image First plant manager Tim Skeens stands with employee Christopher Beach at Image First. Beach, who obtained the job through Goodwill, has been an asset to Image First. | Mary Compton ~ For Sun-Times Media

BY THE NUMBERS

1999

The year Shopgoodwill.com opened for business. It was the first Internet auction site created and operated by a nonprofit organization.

7.9 million

The number of items that have been sold on Shopgoodwill.com as of December 2012.

$1.79 million

The revenue generated by the auction site since 1999.

$165,002

The cost of the highest-priced item — a Frank Weston Benson oil panting — sold so far on the site.

Goodwill Industries

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Christopher Beach wrapped scrubs into clear packages one recent morning, sealing each tightly and placing them on a rack, ready to be shipped to a medical facility.

The stacks of scrubs kept coming, but the 29-year-old resident worked calmly and steadily, keeping up with others at a non-stressful pace.

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For Beach, a person with disabilities who gets frustrated easily, this job at Image First, a healthcare laundry specialist in Indiana, is a perfect fit.

“I like my job. I picked up on it pretty fast,” said Beach as he continued working.

Beach obtained his job through Goodwill, which unknown to many people, does a lot more than sell used clothing at discount prices. The sales of donated items at Goodwill help fund job training programs. The agency also provides employment placement and other services to people who have disabilities, lack education or job experience, or face employment challenges — all at no cost to the client.

Logistics, warehousing, packaging, facility and ground maintenance, food service and retail are among the areas in which clients receive training.

While all Goodwill divisions provide workforce development, they vary in whom they serve.

Goodwill Industries of Northern Illinois helps people with disabilities, as well as those with a criminal background, who don’t have a high school diploma or G.E.D. or have other barriers, said Courtney Geiger, its director of mission services. Goodwill Industries of Michiana, which includes Northwest Indiana, currently only helps find jobs for people with disabilities, according to Debie Coble, the office’s vice president of workforce development.

Geiger said the Northern Illinois office, one of four Goodwill offices in Illinois, offers several programs.

Let’s Go to Work is the only program just for people with disabilities.

“It teaches them work skills while on the job and we try to move them to the next level,” Geiger said.

A financial program teaches clients how to set goals and offers free income tax filing.

Through its employment program, Goodwill works with clients to find out where they are now and where they want to be, Geiger said.

“We get them ready to get a job, connect them with a job and help them maintain it,” Geiger said.

Geiger said the office served more than 5,000 people in 2011, including tax returns.

Coble said the Michiana office works with people with physical, intellectual or emotional disabilities who are referred by the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

She said each client is assigned a case manager who makes sure they have proper clothing for interviews, transportation and every T is crossed and I dotted. An employment specialist teaches job readiness skills, stresses the importance of going to work and keeping the job. And, as a bonus to employers, a job coach works side- by-side with the client when first starting a job at no cost to the employer so the workplace doesn’t experience any downtime.

“As the employee learns the job, the job coach fades out,” Coble said.

Beach’s job coach, Laura Brunello, who only checks in on Beach periodically now, says the job at Image First in Merrillville, Ind., has been good for Beach.

“What’s rewarding to me is to see how much he’s opened up. He was in a shell. Now he’s more talkative and his social skills are great,” she said.

Image First vice president Brian K. McNary said Goodwill approached him about giving Beach a job in 2011, and the result has been positive all around.

“It’s done amazing things socially for Chris. He’s part of the team and is never late,” McNary said.