Where there’s a Will ….


With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, a lot of folks are thinking of ways to please that special someone with a unique gift.

Well, Goodwill NYNJ in Harrison may have the answer.

Last week, the organization expanded its mission to “empower individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment to gain independence through the power of work” by opening its “Maker Market at Goodwill Etsy Store.”

In a third-floor wing at its facility on Supor Boulevard, two women and five men, ranging in age from their 20s to 30s, spread among Essex, Bergen, Passaic and Union counties, are designing and creating a variety of merchandise, using 21st-century technology.

They’re turning out products such as signage, leather bookmarks, granite awards, metal dog tags, wood bottle openers, acrylic ornaments, wood picture frames, 3-D printed toys and crystal and acrylic key chains.

The participants have the use of 3-D printer and laser cutter and other equipment acquired through this program, to enhance their employment skills and their chances, either to find work or to set up their own businesses.

This is being made possible by Goodwill teaming with Kessler Foundation of East Hanover and Rutgers University’s Center for Innovation Education & Economic Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Development to advance job opportunities for the disabled in the great New York area and 10 northernmost counties in the Garden State.

Kessler is funding the initiative through a two-year, $100,000 “Make Your Job” community-employment grant that provides “entrepreneurship mentoring and workshops” to help impaired people start their own business, specifically via the use of state-of-the-art technology.

All services, a staffer who monitors the operation, equipment – including the $1,500 3-D printer and $5,000 laser cutter – and the cost of running the machinery are covered by the grant at no cost to the participant who is expected to “have a business idea” when they apply for admission to the program.

Once the participants fashions their products, the next step is for them to look to sell it through the Goodwill Etsy store, an online global platform targeted to consumers, retailers and manufacturers who, as the Etsy website explains, partner with the product makers “to help them grow their businesses …

Etsy charges a nominal fee for each item listed on its online inventory and a 3.5% fee “for sales completed on our website.” Etsy says it also collects revenues from “seller services, including our advertising platform, payment processing and discounted shipping labels.” The balance goes to the product maker.

A Goodwill e-commerce mentor will be working with the participants on the business side of their ventures: learning how to price their products in such a way as to realize a profit.

The Observer was invited to visit Goodwill’s Harrison-based “Makerspace” last week and found five of the seven participants busy with their creations. (The grant can accommodate up to 15.)

Pria (who requested that her last name not be used) displayed a plexiglass flower she created with the aid of a 3-D printer.

Having joined the program last summer, Pria said she was grateful for the opportunity she’s been afforded to develop her products, including acrylic Santa Claus, snowflake and snowman ornaments for this past winter holidays.

“I’ve always loved to draw,” she said.

John C., another participant, has been at work designing and creating personalized signs and a few for his church. He uses the laser cutter to produce his designs. His goal is to have his own sign-making business one day.

Daniel K. and Frantz J. joined the program last October. Daniel created 3-D acrylic snowman ornaments for the Hudson County Community College’s Holiday Marketplace and Frantz, a U.S. veteran who was referred to the program by the Veterans Administration, has, so far, sold nearly $100 worth of his products, including personalized acrylic key chains and necklaces.

Karen R. Means, chief development officer and executive vice president for Goodwill NYNJ, said that Makerspace “is one of the few such programs for people with disabilities.”

Its value, she said, is that, “it puts them on the ground floor” for enhancing their job skills “while having access to the cutting edge of state-of-the-art technology.”

John Fugazzie, executive director of Hudson County/Jersey City Workforce Development, called the program a “great initiative” to serve the area’s disabled population. “What we saw today was a pretty great start … it warms your heart.”

Down the road, Fugazzie said, he hopes that hospitals and other major companies, like Hudson Community Enterprises, will find in these program participants’ skills a match for the types of jobs they need to fill. “Hopefully, they can tap into the ecommerce market.”

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