Goodwill Industries takes used goods and turns them into jobs

Ken Weber has a simple wish as to what he would like people to know about Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland and East Central Ohio Inc.

“I wish more people knew that shopping Goodwill is for everyone; and I wish more people knew what an impact they were making by shopping and donating to Goodwill,” says Weber, president and CEO.

One of Goodwill’s efforts is to call upon employers to recruit and hire workers who have disabilities. Weber stresses that it is critical for businesses to separate the facts from the myths regarding workers with disabilities, and support programs that provide job services to workers with disabilities.

Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland began in the Cleveland community in 1918. In 1972, Goodwill moved to its current facility on East 55th Street. It 2005, it merged with Goodwill Industries of East Central Ohio Inc.

The new Goodwill serves the 10-county territory of Cuyahoga, Geauga, a portion of Lake, Stark, Tuscarawas, Carroll, Harrison and Jefferson counties in Ohio and Brooke and Hancock counties in West Virginia.

In 2013, Goodwill served 28,118 individuals through its programs and services.

Smart Business spoke with Weber about some of the concerns the organization faces today.

SB: How would you describe Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland and East Central Ohio to someone who knows nothing of the organization?

KW: I would describe our organization as the ultimate recycler. We take the used goods donated by the community and turn them into jobs. How? When you donate your items to Goodwill, we sell them to generate revenue to support our programs and services, which help people in our community overcome barriers to competitive employment and independent living.

SB: How does Goodwill build partnerships with the business community to help build a stronger community overall?

KW: We have many partnerships through our Job Developers working with businesses to place our program consumers at work sites. Additionally, through corporate donation drives to gather material donations and computer/electronic drives to support our Computers Again program. When you donate a Pentium 4 or better, we refurbish it and sell it for $85 to low-income families, schools and nonprofits. Getting technology into homes is key to helping our children learn and grow within the community. Additionally, through material donations and financial contributions the community supports our mission that supports our community.

SB: What is the most prevalent misconception about Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland and East Central Ohio that you know of? Why is it wrong?

KW: The most prevalent misconception that I know of is that shopping Goodwill is only for the low income, disadvantaged in our community. It is wrong because we want everyone to shop in our stores, because the revenue generated helps support the programs and services we offer to the community.

SB: What is it that worries you most as president and CEO?

KW: Our lifeline is our material donations. It worries me that so many for-profit entities are getting into the donated goods business. We are able to put the donations to work for our mission and sell the vast majority of items in our stores. We rely on these donations to keep our mission working in the community, and it is becoming a very competitive landscape today.

SB: Money aside, what is the obstacle that, if cleared, would allow Goodwill to be even more effective at accomplishing its mission? How does your agency cover such a large geographical area?

KW: I always say, no margin, no mission; and our margin comes from the generosity of our material and financial donors. If we had an unlimited supply of donations, we could serve more people with more services. Our large geographic territory of 10 counties can be a challenge; however, we have Mission Services Offices and staff throughout our large territory who are on the ground in the various communities delivering our programs and services.

SB: How has Goodwill dealt with the rise in unemployment in the area during the past seven years?

KW: In addition to our normal employment skills offerings, one of the main programs we have instituted to help the public with unemployment is our Job Fairs. We host and/or partner on two job fairs per year, per geographic area. These are held in the fall and in the spring in Cleveland, Stark County, Tuscarawas County and Steubenville. We only have employers come who have positions available, and we offer computer labs and training on-site for resume writing and application completion. They have been a huge success.

SB: How would you characterize Goodwill’s success with hiring and retention in recent years? What does the organization do well in this area? What are the central challenges?

KW: Our retention rates have improved as we have embraced what we call a ‘beyond great’ culture. We have truly invested in our people with a Wellness Program, Dream Manager program, customer service training and through wages and benefits. We believe our people are our most valuable asset, and we want to make sure they are happy, healthy and fulfilled at Goodwill.

How to reach: Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland & East Central Ohio Inc., (800) 942-3577 or