Helping Women Work, One Skirt At A Time
By Sandie Rhodes
There it is. Staring at me from the corner of my bedroom. That huge black trash bag. Just waiting. Waiting for me to fill it up. Fill it up with my “haven’t worn it in a year” clothing and shoes. Fill it up with my “those will fit me again once I lose this water weight” slacks. I feel like that bag is almost mocking me, “Come on, you’ll never wear those shoes again. You know you can’t wear heels anymore.”
Okay, I will do it. I will face all of my personal demons, hanger-by-hanger, shelf-by-shelf, and fill that big bag until it stops taunting me. Fill that bag with all of my past treasured shoes and clothing, and my size 8s, 10s and yes, even most of my size 12s, until it’s bursting full. I’ll fill that bag and get it out of sight and into my car and drop it off somewhere where it can do some good. I’ll drop it at Goodwill. And I did … albeit with just a little giver’s remorse.
Little did I know then just how much good that bag, and others like it, could actually do. I had always known that Goodwill creates jobs and helps put people to work, having seen the clever TV ads about the “little black dress” in the Goodwill truck. I “understood” that people worked in the Goodwill stores and drove the trucks and staffed the donation locations. What I didn’t know was the bigger story behind the donations.
I got curious and did some digging (this time outside of my closet). Goodwill actually offers job training to women and men and even teens across many industries. They offer very specific classes, training, and on-the-job work experience. But the effort doesn’t stop there. Locally, Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina works in conjunction with AB Tech to provide skills training targeted at the specific needs of the large employers in our area. This targeted approach resulted in 5,120 people being placed in jobs in 2013 … 1,110 in the Asheville area alone. That means that, across northwest North Carolina last year, every 23 minutes of every business day, Goodwill helped someone find a job. Wow! And 593 of those placed in the Asheville area were women, many of whom are now working in living wage jobs, no longer needing to rely on public assistance programs. Double wow!
One woman who was given an opportunity as well as meaningful assistance to get back into the workforce was Kim Steppe. After years of working in the office of a manufacturing plant, Kim was laid off. It had been a good job in administration and human resources, and she felt fairly confident that with her experience she would find a comparable job in the Asheville area. Not so. There were some jobs but none for which she was specifically qualified. None that matched what she had been so capably doing for 23 years.
While we don’t all know Kim personally, we do all have women friends who have been in the same boat … bright, capable working women who had been downsized or outsourced or found themselves in one of life’s tumultuous times and forced to take part-time or unskilled jobs just to make ends meet.
After six months of trying to find a comparable job, Kim learned of Goodwill’s skills training classes. Since they develop classes to meet current job needs, the class offerings included such diverse themes as Computer Basics, Introduction to Wine & Spirits in the Sphere of Hospitality, Hospitality Skills Certification, and Computer Empowerment. Can I take that one please? After some research, Kim joined the 775 other women in the Asheville, Hendersonville and Waynesville areas who took advantage of Goodwill’s skills training last year, signing up for Electronic Medical Records, Medical Office Pathways, and Medical Terminology and setting her sights on a new industry — healthcare. Soon after training, she took a position at Mission Hospital and is now a Health Information Specialist generating medical records for attorneys, doctors, and disability claimants. She’s enjoying her new position and feels a tremendous sense of achievement to have been able to start over in a new field at this stage of her life.
So back to my big, bursting full of my “stuff” bag… all I can say is — who knew? If I had any idea about how much “good” power my closet held, I would have ventured there sooner. While I always liked the cute TV ads, I really had no clue as to how much Goodwill contributes to reaching, educating, training, and placing women, men, and teens into jobs. And the best part is I know my donations will help place women in jobs right here in my community. Whether they are working for Goodwill or being trained by Goodwill or even being dressed by Goodwill, my reclaimed clothing and shoes, as well as other items, would be doing a great deal of, well, good will.
And besides, Goodwill in our region is responsible for diverting more than 40 million pounds of “stuff” from going to landfills, so I guess I’m doing my part to help the environment, as well.
Lots of snow, the Polar Vortex, or maybe the full moon on Valentine’s Day have all contributed to an extreme shortage of Goodwill donations. Fewer donations mean lower sales. Lower sales mean reduced funding for training and other Goodwill services. That all translates to fewer people helped. You get the picture. So, if you needed a little more incentive to dig around in your closet and dresser drawers for your gently used “stuff” to fill your own big black bag, there you have it. Who knows, your Donna Karan mock wrap dress that doesn’t quite wrap around you the way it used to just might end up in the Goodwill “Success Outfitters” room and launch another woman into the job she wants.
There are more than 100 Goodwill donation centers or drop off locations in northwest North Carolina, and 27 in Buncombe County alone; most are open 7 days a week. To locate a drop-off site or retail store near you, visit goodwillnwnc.org.