GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s not charity; it’s a chance. That’s what Goodwill Industries of South Mississippi is founded on - the belief that by empowering people, we can help build stronger communities.
Think of it as a cycle. You make a donation; it then gets new life, as merchandise at one of 15 Goodwill stores across south Mississippi. Someone buys it, and then that purchase helps people in your community earn jobs with local employers.
Your shopping and your donations help fund the nonprofit's job programs.
"Our vision at Goodwill is to end poverty in Mississippi," explains Mitch Bauman, program manager for education at Goodwill Industries of South Mississippi. "We can't do that without work. We need to get everybody who can work, working."
Bauman teaches a four week retail certification class at the Goodwill Training Center in Gulfport.
As he puts it, “Our goal is to get everybody hired - not always in the retail industry, but the retail industry provides a great basis for any industry. Customer service is going to be needed in whatever you do.”
Mia Smith is just finishing up the class, and looking forward to putting her new skills to work.
“I hope I find a job that can make me feel, along with the training I’m taking, feel very at home. (One) that I would love to be there, instead of have to be there,” says Smith.
Skyler Howell is another success story. Four years ago, he went through Goodwill’s Vocational Rehab program and got on the job training at the Pascagoula retail store. This spring he was recognized as Goodwill’s “Achiever of the Year.”
He says, “What I appreciate most is all the support from the people in the office and all the managers and all the customers. It has been nothing short of amazing.”
Skyler is one of roughly 325 employees that work for Goodwill Industries across the six lower counties it serves. But its reach doesn’t stop there.
“Goodwill has a sister company called Mississippi Goodworks,” explains DeLinda Hanson, who is the Vice President of Workforce Development. "We have six federal contracts and they serve, the majority of them, are people with significant disabilities. Our goal is to really try to help everyone that desires to either obtain training, employment, or go further with their education.
Delinda goes on to say Goodwill Industries touched the lives of more than 15,000 people last year, thanks in part to new programs like the SNAP employment and training, which is geared toward individuals receiving benefits.
Goodwill is also in the process of opening its largest retail and training center ever. It will be on Highway 90 in Ocean Springs, set to open late this summer.
And there’s one more component worth mentioning - recycling. Anything that can’t be re-purposed in Goodwill Stores is compacted and recycled, so nothing goes to waste.