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Goodwill Campus Brings New Approach To Job Services

Goodwill offers the free training at its "Opportunity Campus" on Wilkinson Boulevard.
Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont
The Goodwill Opportunity Campus sits on 18.5 acres in West Charlotte, near the airport.

Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont opened a new headquarters this summer. The $22 million campus is in west Charlotte. It’s the site of not just a Goodwill store, but a career development center, a health clinic, and even a branch of the Charlotte Metro Credit Union. The idea is to have a one-stop shop with the many services people need to fight their way out of poverty.

Goodwill stores are known for their bargains, but in fact the resale stores are just a small means to Goodwill’s larger mission, which has always been helping people find stable work.

24-year-old Taisa Johnson is one of those people.

“I’ve been in and out of work,” said Johnson. “I just need something more permanent. I’ve been doing a lot of temp service jobs.”

Johnson’s situation is common here. Eighty percent of the people that come into Goodwill’s career center have been unemployed for a year or longer. Ninety percent of them have household incomes below $20,000. That means when they come to Goodwill for job placement or training services, there’s a host of things holding them back. Those could be a lack of education, a lack of transportation, a need for childcare, or a criminal history.

Johnson says, “I’m here because I’m trying to figure how to get a new job, with having a background.”

Twenty-five percent of people who go to Goodwill’s Career Center have a criminal record. That’s where the Center for Community Transitions comes in. They help people who have been incarcerated reintegrate into the job force. They have a location on the campus, and Johnson is taking a 2-week course there.

Johnson lists the things on her record as financial card theft, obstruction of law enforcement, and larceny. And she’s learning how to deal with what that means for her job search.

Johnson says, “They’re telling us how to interview, and how to answer the conviction question in the interview… be honest with what we’ve done, tell them our accomplishments now, and let people know that we’re not the same person that we used to be.”

The campus has four Goodwill services – two stores, a café, a career center – and four other organizations – a health clinic, a credit union, a lending institution, and a job program for people with criminal backgrounds.

The idea is to bring all these groups together to address barriers associated with poverty, says Michael Elder. He’s president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont.

“You can help someone get a job but if you’re not helping them address those other barriers, the chance for them to be successful long term is not as great,” says Elder.

One-stop facilities like this one have become more common across the country, says Jocelyn Fontaine of the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. According to her, that makes sense.

“People need a lot of stuff,” Fontaine says. “They need a lot of stuff to get back on their feet. Any effort to try and co-locate those things makes it easier for people to get the stuff that they need.”

But she says it’s a challenge to pull off.

“Traditionally social service organization are used to doing one thing really well. So then when you’re faced with folks who have these barriers that cross systems it requires organizations to do something differently. There’s really no guidebooks.”

The old Goodwill headquarters on Freedom Drive only had a career center. The new campus, with all the different services offered, is attracting more people.

Goodwill reports that in the first month of the new campus being open, services and traffic are up 27 percent.