A century of Goodwill

Photo by Karen Zautyk

Photo by Karen Zautyk

HARRISON – 

When we received an invitation to a special event last Wednesday at Goodwill Industries’ Harrison headquarters, we were delighted — because whenever we visit there, we leave uplifted, and impressed, by the work being done and by the people we meet.

This time, though, we were also thoroughly surprised: The event was an open house celebrating the organization’s 100th anniversary. One hundred years?

Who knew? Who guessed? Not us. Pondering this, we were struck by how revolutionary Goodwill must have seemed a century ago, when “empowering” people with disabilities or disadvantages was not exactly standard procedure. Or even part of the collective consciousness.

But empower, Goodwill did, and has continued to do over the generations. As it has continued to inspire both its clients and the communities it serves.

In 1915, the Rev. Dr. Henry Park Schauffler and the Rev. Edward F. Sanderson, founded an organization in Brooklyn “to help persons with disabilities and disadvantages achieve self-sufficiency.” Later that year, they traveled to Massachusetts to study something called Morgan Memorial Cooperative Industries and Stores, launched by another clergyman, the Rev. Edgar J. Helms, in 1902 on Boston’s South Side (a/k/a “Southie”).

Photo courtesy Goodwill NY/NJ This was Goodwill Industries’ building on State St. in Brooklyn, the borough where the organization was born. The photo is undated, but from the length of the line and the style of the clothing, we are guessing it was taken sometime during the Great Depression.

Photo courtesy Goodwill NY/NJ
This was Goodwill Industries’ building on State St. in Brooklyn, the borough where the organization was born. The photo is undated, but from the length of the line and the style of the clothing, we are guessing it was taken sometime during the Great Depression.

As described on the history page of the Goodwill website, “Helms’ innovative new program collected donations of gently used goods and hired people in need to repair, clean and sell the items. This allowed his clients to earn needed income while acquiring valuable skills.”

Schauffler and Sanderson adopted Helms’ methods in Brooklyn, and Helms adopted the Brooklyn program’s name: Goodwill Industries.

Lori Friedman, senior vice president of the Northern N.J. division, explained that the concept was “a hand up, not a hand-out.” In Brooklyn, Friedman said, the Goodwill workers mended clothing and repaired furniture and then sold the items. “It helped their self-esteem,” she noted.

Linda Turner, executive VP of services and workforce development in Harrison, told us how the customers benefitted, too: The workers were repairing goods so that people who otherwise “didn’t have the means, could afford to buy them.”

Added Turner, “Goodwill was one of the original recyclers.” So true.

Goodwill’s growth was rapid. By 1919, it had established its first New Jersey center, at St. Paul’s Community House in Jersey City. A center was opened in Manhattan in 1922. Local chapters spread and in 1962, the Brooklyn and Manhattan operations merged. In 2000, Northern New Jersey Goodwill joined in to form Goodwill Industries of Greater N.Y. and Northern N.J. (Goodwill NYNJ, for short.)

The thrift shops, the cornerstone of 1915 Goodwill, continue to be popular, and are probably the closest most people get to the organization. Including Harrison’s store, at 400 Supor Blvd., there are nine Goodwill shops across northern Jersey. Sales proceeds support Goodwill programs, and the stores themselves provide training and work, “empowering individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment to gain independence,” the organization notes.

But Goodwill is so much more than its stores. Goodwill NYNJ serves 11 counties in North Jersey. A press release issued for the 100th anniversary explained:

“The nonprofit organization partners with the N.J. Vocational Rehabilitation agency, other nonprofit agencies, corporations and foundations.

In New Jersey, Goodwill offers rehabilitation, vocational, and employment services to individuals with all types of disabilities, career services for mid-level retail workers, and employment services for unemployed or underemployed New Jersey residents.

Last year, the Harrison headquarters became home to the Career Counseling & Learning Center, offering free programs to those aforementioned unemployed and underemployed: help with resumes, job interview preparation, computer training, job search skills, networking, etc.

There’s even more in Harrison, including:

• A special program, with  staff fluent in American Sign Language, is available to the deaf and hard-of-hearing in cooperation with Jewish Vocational Services.

• High school students are  offered instruction to prepare them for their transition to work or college.

• This month, Hudson  County Community College is set to start offering computer classes at the Supor Blvd. building.

And there’s still more. For information about all of Goodwill’s services, thrift shops and programs, visit www.goodwillnynj.org. You may be surprised.

We wonder if Goodwill’s founders had any idea of how their organization would grow, or of the multitudes it would help, over the decades. (The current estimate is 94,000 people annually across N.Y. and N.J.)

However, we do believe that the Revs. Schauffler, Sanderson and Helms were gazing down at the crowd who gathered at 400 Supor Blvd. last week for the anniversary celebration — games, prizes, crafts, entertainment, refreshments — and wishing they could join the party. We’re sure they were there in spirit, so to speak.

Karen Zautyk | Observer Correspondent