Goodwill of the Valleys helps find jobs but faces crisis with stores closed

As unemployment increases rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic, Goodwill Industries of the Valleys, which serves the New River, Shenandoah, and Roanoke valleys, is still helping get people back to work. Goodwill currently has an online job board for individuals seeking employment as well as businesses who are looking for new employees.

“Many companies are still hiring during the crisis, and we are connecting people to those businesses,” said Mary Ann Gilmer, Vice President of Mission Services for Goodwill of the Valleys. “We know these businesses, and we have a history with them. We want to connect them with people who are in need of work so our community can better weather this crisis.”

But the pandemic has hit Goodwill especially hard by forcing the closing of its stores. The sale of donated goods in Goodwill stores provides more than 70% of revenues for the organization. Goodwill retail stores are the economic engine allowing Goodwill to provide Mission Services and help people with training and employment assistance. Goodwill Mission Services are needed now more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic and the high rate of unemployment.

“The closure of Goodwill stores means the primary source of funding for our organization has all but vanished,” said Kelly Sandridge, Goodwill’s Vice President of Brand Strategy and External Affairs.

According to the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC), claims for unemployment in Virginia reached nearly 500,000 in April. Goodwill partners with the VEC to help people navigate filing for unemployment insurance. The missions services team of 24 Goodwill career coaches are working remotely to help local people receive assistance with unemployment and get back to work.

“The VEC is so overwhelmed by people accessing their unemployment portal and phone system. Our Goodwill coaches can step in and help people navigate the process. We’ve helped quite a few people who don’t have the technical skills or ability to access the online claim portal,” said Gilmer.

Since the beginning of the year, Goodwill has served 16,830 people in our service area seeking job training and employment services. Numbers served by Goodwill are up 20 percent from the year before, and Goodwill anticipates a greater increase in the volume of people filing for unemployment in the weeks and months ahead.

“There will be many people that are going to stay unemployed,” said Bruce Phipps, Goodwill President and CEO. “Even when the community reopens, it does not mean everyone will have a job. Our goal is to support as many people as possible with their training and employment needs.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Goodwill operated job campuses and satellite offices throughout its 35-county, 14-city service area. The COVID-19 crisis resulted in all facilities temporarily closing with Goodwill’s employment and training services moving online to virtual services.

Goodwill Virtual Services currently includes an offering of more than 20 free, live online classes, ranging from work readiness to professional development, personal improvement, soft skills, safety and health, and technology. Each class lasts approximately 40 minutes and includes a certification quiz, completion certificate and an accompanying continuing education unit (CEU). Live classes meet multiple times a day, Monday through Friday with additional class topics being added on a regular basis. In addition to the live classes, more than 40 on-demand classes are available for individuals to complete at their own pace. Digital skills are becoming a requirement in almost every job, and Goodwill’s Virtual Services can help people use these tools to benefit themselves and their employers in the future.

More than 2,100 people have accessed Goodwill Virtual Services since the launch in mid-March. This includes 1,392 online classes completed of which 562 were live classes, and nearly 500 people have received Goodwill career coaching services.

Goodwill Career Coaching offers the ability for individuals to connect one-on- one with a career coach.  Career coaches connect with those needing assistance either online or by telephone to help them develop an employment plan based on their individual skills and specific needs. Any barriers standing in the way of employment are also identified.

“Most people seeking employment services through Goodwill have personal obstacles including no high school diploma, below-average literacy levels, periods of incarceration, developmental disabilities, or homelessness. Others have transportation or childcare issues,” said Gilmer.

Goodwill career coaches assist with résumé development, digital and soft skills through online virtual services classes, and job searches from available positions based on their skills, work history and other needs.

“We create a personalized plan with job seekers who have significant obstacles to employment,” said Gilmer. “Some individuals need to have specific issues addressed before becoming successful employees. We want to help people get the training and assistance they need to obtain a job and gain greater independence.”

Goodwill is accepting donations during the crisis at limited store donation centers and attended donation centers that are currently open with reduced hours.

“We know many people have taken this time to clear their homes of clutter,” said Mindy Boyd, Vice President of Donated Goods for Goodwill Industries of the Valleys. “For the protection of those items you are generously donating to Goodwill, we are asking people to only donate when centers are open or in a secure donation bin. If this is not possible, we hope you can please hold onto those items until we can reopen. Goodwill needs your donations, and we appreciate your understanding of the challenges this crisis has also placed on our collection teams.”

Donating to Goodwill not only helps provide critical funding for training and employment programs for individuals who face obstacles to employment, such as a disability or disadvantage. Donating to Goodwill also helps protect the environment.  Last year, Goodwill Industries of the Valleys kept nearly 13.6 million pounds of materials out of landfills. Goodwill practices the three R’s — reduce, reuse, recycle — by diverting millions of pounds from local landfills, selling reusable items in retail stores, and generating critical revenue to support the mission through sales and salvage and recycling efforts.

“We look forward to reopening when it is safe to do so, and your donations today ensure we are able to continue to provide the training and employment programs at the heart of our mission, which are going to be even more critical to our community as we come through this crisis,” said Sandridge.

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