Your local Goodwill is just a place where you can donate clothes to those in need and pick up some crazy sweaters, right? Wrong! “Goodwill does a lot more than accept donations,” explains Sarah Mead, marketing coordinator of Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan. “A lot of people don’t know what we really do. Behind the scenes, we run programs that improve the quality of life of individuals and families by helping them overcome socioeconomic barriers.”
Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan takes this mission seriously and is pioneering a program that supports those escaping poverty from infancy all the way to adulthood. Named the Life Guides program, it’s a 20-year commitment that begins when a child is between zero and three years old.
To help families every step of the way, the Life Guides program partners a child’s parents with one-on-one support by way of a personal councilor. The councilor acts as the family’s advocate and tailors the organization’s services to meet their individual needs while making sure they have access to food, clothing, and other necessities. Mead notes that the program also addresses the biggest barriers people face when overcoming poverty: transportation and housing.
“One woman came to us recently,” recounts Mead. “She’s a single mother of two who was experiencing homelessness. She was working full-time at a fast food restaurant but didn’t have enough income for her family. And since she had a criminal record and no drivers license, her employment opportunities were very limited.”
Mead reports that the mother’s life began to change radically after she joined the Life Guides program and began working one-on-one with a personal councilor. “Since [the mother] joined Life Guides, she’s had permanent housing and was able to get her driver’s license—she bought a car, too! And her advisor helped her through the process of expunging her record. Now she’s a full-time customer service rep!”
Stories like this make it clear that Goodwill Industries of Southwestern Michigan is much more than just a storefront. In addition to the Life Guides program, the organization also offers GED classes, credit counseling, support groups, and career camps that teach everything from on-the-job skills to resume writing. The next time you visit Goodwill Industries, remember where your donations are going—approximately 92 cents of every dollar funds fantastic programs like these in your community!