Originally created 05/04/02

A century of service

As facilities manager for Goodwill in Middle Georgia, Gary Horton comes to the Augusta area twice a month to oversee the nonprofit agency's outlets here.

The job was an answer to a prayer after a Georgia state government downsizing in the late 1980s sent the bi-vocational Baptist minister "bouncing around for four or five years," he said in a phone interview from Macon. "I was a person who had fallen on hard luck."

He and other employees of Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the Central Savannah River Area will celebrate the international agency's centennial with a company picnic Sunday at Lake Oconee. The event kicks off Goodwill Week, which ends Saturday, May 11, when outlets, such as Goodwill's thrift stores in the Augusta and Aiken area, will hold sales and serve customers birthday cake.

Through the power of work, Goodwill has changed the lives of about 6 million people - some mentally or physically disabled, illiterate or moving out of welfare - by providing job training and job placement. In Georgia and South Carolina, Goodwill operates 13 thrift stores and 29 collection centers in 14 cities.

Mr. Horton sees his job as a ministry, he said. "I am feeding people when I am helping them overcome barriers to employment."

That employees see their jobs as ministry is in keeping with Goodwill's history - "Goodwill came out of the side of the Methodist church," said Jim Stiff in a telephone interview from Macon.

He is president and CEO for Goodwill for Middle Georgia, including the Augusta area. It's Goodwill's fastest-growing district overall, in terms of revenue growth and up-ticks in job placements, among about 225 Goodwill organizations in 35 countries.

The Goodwill model was started by a Boston Methodist minister, the Rev. Edgar Helms. Inspired by John Wesley's 1740 journal, he took donated burlap sacks door-to-door collecting castoffs from the city's wealthiest families.

He employed immigrant poor to repair, then sell the items, giving workers independence through their own labor. His idea spread to other cities. After World War I, the Methodist Centenary Campaign gave more than $1 million to open Goodwills in 35 new cities.

For about 50 years, Goodwills were begun in most districts as a social service ministry by Methodist churches in the area, said Mr. Stiff.

Methodist ties gradually became less formal over the years though the denomination's ministers commonly served as outlet directors or board members, such as the Rev. Billy Oliver, senior pastor of Vineville Methodist Church of Macon, who is past board chair for Middle Georgia's Goodwill and still serves on its executive committee.

The current president and CEO of Goodwill International of Bethesda, Md., George Kessinger, is a retired Methodist minister. Methodist Bishop Peter Weaver of Valley Forge, Pa., serves on its board of directors.

Helping others develop their God-given talents is more a ministry than a job, said Mr. Stiff, who holds a master's in religious studies from Notre Dame Institute of Virgina and worked for the Catholic Archdiocese in Washington, D.C., before joining Goodwill.

Mr. Horton couldn't find the "right" place despite a 10-year career with the state until Mr. Stiff interviewed him, Mr. Horton said. He saw "I had 'the 'Goodwill burn."'

The "burn" happens when a person gets "a passion for our mission (because) you see it work so well to change people's lives," Mr. Stiff said.

For more information, visit Middle Georgia Goodwill's Web site, www.goodwillworks.org.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.


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