Originally created 10/14/00

Charity employs job plan

To most, Goodwill Industries is a place to buy cheap clothes.

But to about 70 former welfare recipients, the nonprofit charity is a way to get on the road to gainful employment.

In April, the national organization's Augusta operations launched Job Connection with help from a $5.3 million welfare-to-work grant from the federal government.

At the company's Wylds Road warehouse, a donated T-shirt must be inspected, sorted and displayed before being sold to a customer. Each step acts as on-the-job training.

Program participants start in the warehouse for about $6 an hour, and those who demonstrate a good work ethic can end up learning Microsoft Excel and other computer skills required by many employers.

Recent graduates have been hired by area employers such as Tosco Corp., Carole Fabrics and the Beverly Manor Nursing Home.

The rules of the program are simple.

"Be here, be on time, and have a good attitude," said Minh Hua, Goodwill's program coordinator.

The job-training program caters to individuals who have "barriers to work" - such as a lack of education or an inability to pay for child care - by making arrangements with government agencies such as the Department of Family and Children Services. Goodwill, through its fleet of vans, offers rides to program participants who are without a vehicle.

With the exception of the $5.3 million U.S. Labor Department grant, which served as start-up money, Goodwill operates without subsidy.

"Our services were in high demand, and we asked (the Labor Department) to increase our capacity," said James K. Stiff, president and chief executive officer of Goodwill's middle Georgia region, which includes Augusta. "Now we are self-sufficient through the business that we create."

Program participant Chris Johnson, who works as a customer service technician with Goodwill, started working in the organization's Peach Orchard Road retail store.

He said the work allowed the program coordinators to evaluate his abilities and attitude.

"They determine your strengths and ask you about your goals and vision," Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Johnson is responsible for the assembly, distribution and maintenance of postage meters for a German-based postal technologies company. Goodwill has had a contract with the company, Francotyp-Postalia AG & Co., since this summer.

Goodwill employees act as the Francotyp-Postalia's sales representatives for Copies Etc. on Tobacco Road and Talk Time USA in the Southgate shopping center.

"It gives them something to put on a resume," Mr. Hua said.

Jeff Blake, Goodwill's community relations director, said the goal of the organization is to offer participants long-term help.

"We're teaching people how to fish," Mr. Blake said, in reference to the old adage on self-sufficiency.

Reach Jennifer Bishop at (706) 823-3217.


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