Turning Points

Meet Brandon Ruth—a 28-year-old Roanoke native. He walks into in the Goodwill Headquarters with anxious anticipation as he sits down to complete paperwork to begin his internship. “I want nothing more than to start working, learn everything I possibly can, and do great things.” This deep desire could not be taken lightly. These words were from the heart. Reflecting on everything he has overcome, I could not help but ponder what does it take to change a life and what turning points led Brandon to the doors of Goodwill?

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Brandon sits down with me to tell me about his past and why he needed Goodwill.

Brandon had a very stable childhood with a loving mother and one younger brother. Although he has never met his biological father, he has received tremendous love and support from his stepfather who welcomed him with open arms. In his earlier years, Brandon did well in school and put a lot of energy in to his first love: baseball.

Like many teens he was subjected to peer pressure. He was introduced to alcohol and narcotics. He became rebellious, and the mystery of the unknown excited him. In reflection Brandon, says with subtle regret, “I could have been a great baseball player, but instead, I chose skateboarding.” With this newfound passion for skateboarding, he also ran into the wrong influencers. He encountered a string of legal trouble that carried on until his senior year in high school.

Knowing the challenges this caused he sought to change his life and distance himself from the environment and the friends who were holding him back. To change his life, he knew that he needed more discipline. He wanted be on the right path. He wanted to prove himself to everyone who believed in him.

Brandon decided to join the U.S. Military Reserve. His time in the reserves was not in vain. He tapped into and cultivated two of his major traits: persistence and attention to detail. He hoped that his time in service would be his major turning point, but he still felt a void. It seemed to be a temporary bandage to the deep wounds and scars of the past.

When he returned home from the Reserves, he reconnected with old friends and the partying began. A vicious cycle of substance abuse ensued. During this time, he began to see former classmates progressing. They were graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and he wished that he had listened to the positive role models who foresaw his current state. He eventually started trying to make himself a better person and pursuing goals slowly by surrounding himself with positive and successful people.

It was during this time, he met the love of his life who was always there to encourage and support him.

They say that miracles do happen and Brandon had found his miracle and his final turning point. Brandon was going to be a father. Becoming a father completely changed him and turned his life around. Brandon was able to transition from a self-centered mindset to a higher set of ideals—family. He desired to do better and be better. He wanted to build a solid future. He wanted to undo the damage of years past. He wanted to be a positive influence on his daughter’s life. He wanted to provide her with a great childhood. Now, he was ready to make the commitment, and with great pride, he has not gone back to that lifestyle in years. His daughter Layla, now two years old, was a major influence on Brandon’s life, motivating him every day to do better.

Determined to feed his hunger for personal and professional growth, Brandon found Goodwill’s Technology Training program which trains people to begin their career as a Technical Support Specialist. Despite any setbacks he might have experienced, he set them aside and he showed up to training every day. His attention to detail and persistence helped Brandon successfully pass the nationally recognized CompTIA A+ certification—a credential that even seasoned professionals meet with difficulty.

This brings us back to where we started…Brandon sitting with me and filling out his paperwork for his IT Internship. He was able to secure an entry-level Technical Support internship with Goodwill and soon he will begin the three months internship where he will learn the functions of technical support: troubleshooting computers systems and understanding and how they fall within larger networks. This internship will provide exposure and experiences that so many IT departments are seeking. Along with ongoing mentoring and professional development, this will catapult Brandon’s career on a positive trajectory.

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Brandon with Matthew Thompson, Goodwill’s IT Manager, reviewing some of the systems used by Goodwill that Brandon will work with during his internship.

When I think of Brandon, I see an overcomer. From him, we can learn how to change a life. There are multiple turning points that one will meet along the journey. Some turning points we actively create and others pursue us. However, nothing is possible without 360-degrees of support, ongoing mentorship, and most importantly staying true to oneself. Goodwill’s Information Technology Training Program staff has never seen anyone so committed. Any company will benefit from the tremendous value he can add to any team. Brandon brings a strong degree of professionalism to his environment and a thirst for knowledge.

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Brandon and I pictured in front of the banner announcing that Goodwill is an academic partner with ComTIA and is recognized as an official CompTIA Academy.

Substance abuse destroys lives, but overcomers rebuild them. Brandon has been able to overcome this challenge. He has forgiven himself and is committed to helping others. For those of you who are struggling in your own circumstances, it is easy to look back with regret and be crippled by it. However, now that you acknowledge where you are currently, ask yourself what your strategy is to overcome and forge a path forward.

In closing, Brandon reminds us, “Never give up. You can do anything in this world. Even if people think you can’t do it, show them that you are that person that can do it.”

Blog-contributor-LaTron

 

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Goodwill on the Hill

On April 19th, Goodwills from across the country met in Washington DC to advocate on behalf of Goodwill and the individuals we serve. This is something that we do once a year to ensure that our elected officials know the impact that Goodwills are having throughout our communities, but also to ensure they understand how they can support our mission through their work in Congress.

Our team from Goodwill Industries of the Valleys included staff as well as Christy and Bryan Morris. Christy is an individual who came through our GoodStart Prisoner Re-Entry program and is now working for Goodwill at the Workforce Center in Charlottesville. During visits to the offices of our Congressman and Senators, Christy shared her personal story of how Goodwill services helped her to find work after incarceration and to change her life. You can watch Christy tell her story, in her own words, by clicking here.

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Goodwill Industries of the Valleys on the Hill L-R: Jackson Green, Goodwill Industries of the Valleys COO; Kelly Sandridge, Vice President Marketing & PR; Bryan Morris; Christy Morris, Resource Room Specialist; and Bruce Phipps, President & CEO.

In addition to Christy’s personal story, we also talked with our elected officials about other issues that are at the heart of our Goodwill Mission:

  • Charitable Giving Incentives: With the new tax law most Americans will take the standard deduction. This means that fewer people will itemize their taxes, and therefore will no longer benefit from incentives for donating to non-profit organizations such as Goodwill. We are requesting that lawmakers support the Universal Charitable Giving Act. This legislation would allow everyone to take a deduction for charitable giving before the standard deduction or itemized deductions. This will help to ensure that nonprofits like Goodwill can continue to provide needed programming in our communities.
  • Reauthorize SNAP E&T Program in the Farm Bill: We believe that Congress should reauthorize the Farm Bill, including SNAP, maintaining funding for SNAP E&T that focuses on real workforce development, not just work requirements. This is a great opportunity for Congress to ensure that the program is as effective as possible to assist those Americans who rely on these supports.
  • Invest in Federal Workforce Programs: Programs that help people get back to work is what Goodwill is all about. Congress and the Administration need to fund workforce and other programs that prepare people to be the qualified workers that U.S. businesses need. We were seeking support for the funding of programs including:
    • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs
    • Senior Community Service Employment Program
    • Career & Technical Education state grants
    • Expansion of access to high-quality apprenticeship and work-based learning programs
    • Youth programs to equip the next generation of workers to become productive citizens, achieve their career goals, and contribute to their local economies
    • Programs authorized under the Second Chance Act

Just as it is important for Goodwill to let our elected officials know what is important to our mission, we encourage you to have a voice as well. Goodwill Industries International provides an advocacy portal where you can follow initiatives important to Goodwill and have the opportunity to take action.

Together we can all be a part of the solution that makes our local communities, our state, and our nation stronger.

If you would like to see more photos from our time in D.C. click here.

The Perfect Gift

I love the holidays!  I love the warmth and the peaceful feeling that holiday decorations and the spirit of giving bring.  There are feelings of contentment, love, and community like at no other time of the year.

To me, the perfect gift evokes all of these same feelings.  I don’t want to just go to the store and buy something.  I want to give something that is memorable and that people will enjoy.  Something they just can’t go buy for themselves.

I’ve been thinking about gifts that I’ve received in the past that meant a lot to me; they weren’t the ones that were expensive.  Sarah, who is our Volunteer Manager at Goodwill made this amazing cranberry, dark chocolate granola a couple of years ago.  It was not only delicious but I knew Sarah had put her love and time into making it.  Last year, Michele who is our Marketing and Social Media Manager made homemade, stove top potpourri in a cute little mason jar.  Every time I used it I thought of Michele.  It filled my home with such wonderful scents and gave me a sense of peace.

That’s what I want to give.

It is my mission this year to give gifts that make others feel as special as the gifts I received made me feel.  So, this leads me to my dilemma and my quest for the perfect gift.

The gifts that Sarah and Michele gave to me had several things in common:

  1. They were homemade
  2. They appealed to multiple senses
  3.  I could not go and simply purchase them in a store

So, I’ve turned to Goodwill’s Pinterest page for inspiration. . .

Idea #1 . . .  Everyone loves candles! It’s easy and affordable to find unique containers at Goodwill. These can be repurposed into candles for my friends a family.  One-of-a-kind gifts they can use for months to come!

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Idea #2 . . . So a few friends and I always do a wine exchange. I thought I could make it little more special this year with homemade gift wrapping.  I plan to use thrifted sweaters to make the wine bags and add extra wine glasses courtesy of Goodwill!  Best of all they can re-use the bag later to make a gift of wine to someone else more special.

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Idea #3 . . . Create a one-of-a-kind vase for each of my friends.  I can find vases for less than a dollar at Goodwill and then personalize each one for friends.

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And with each gift this year, I will be sure to explain how it provides hope to people right here in our community who need the help of Goodwill to become more independent.

I wish each of you a very happy holiday season full of moments that turned into cherished memories.

Contributor---Kelly

Devils & Vampires & Witches . . . Oh My!  

It’s FALL Y’ALL!  I love this time of year.  Watching the leaves start to fall, pumpkin spice EVERYTHING (yes, I’m on that band wagon too!), football . . .Go HOKIES!, and of course Halloween.

So with my love of everything fall, I could not have a better job. In the world of Goodwill, Halloween is a very special time.  In fact, October is usually the busiest month of the year for our stores, which translates into critical dollars to support our job training and employment programs.  But it does take a lot of work to get ready to be the Halloween Headquarters for our customers.  So, we thought we would give you a behind the scenes peek at how “Halloween Comes Alive at Goodwill”!

Let the Planning Begin . . .

We had our first meeting to start planning for Halloween in November of 2016.  Yes, you read that correctly.  At this meeting our Marketing team (Chelsea, Michele, and myself) met with our retail leadership and we discussed all that would make up Halloween 2017. We also found out that for the first time our Goodwill stores would have accessories to complement Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Costumes.  We brainstormed and left the meeting with a clear vision of what we needed to do.

We were excited and started formulating the plan.  However, Halloween remained on the back burner for much of the year until the accessories started showing up in early August. Wigs, makeup kits, and a variety of other accessories started our imaginations running wild. We needed models. . .and several brave employees from our stores stepped forward to help us out.  We literally had devils, angels, vampires, cowboys, cowgirls, witches, and pirates roaming the hallways of Goodwill!  Once the photos were taken the real work began.

I’m so lucky to work alongside such amazingly talented people.  Michele is one of those people.  She is not only one of the nicest, most level headed people I know, but she is also behind the Halloween promotional materials that you will see for Goodwill.

The Journey of the Cowgirl Photo at the Masterful Hand of Michele. . .

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photo shoots . . . photo editing . . . graphic design

As a graphic designer things like photo editing and graphic design are second nature to Michele.  But last year I walked into Michele’s office and said “I have an idea.”  This is a phrase that, if truth be told, probably makes her cringe.  Why?  Because typically it means she has to figure out how to do what I have come up with!  So, my idea was that we could create our own Halloween commercial, in-house.  Translation . . . “Michele I think you can create our Halloween commercial that will run on TV!”  And she did.  She learned a new software program and made it happen.  This year she once again created the commercial using the photography we had done of our employees dressed for Halloween.

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Michele working on this year’s Halloween commercial . . . See our Cowgirl again!

I asked Michele about all the work that has gone into Halloween . . .

Halloween is such a busy time for Goodwill. I love all the creative opportunities involved with the Halloween campaign, such as video, photography, and graphic design. It’s definitely a team effort for our Marketing department to make everything happen in time for the Halloween season and it’s really satisfying to work hard and see it all come together. It’s also a lot of fun to see the retail employees having such a great time with Halloween, dressing up and decorating the stores. They really love this time of year and look forward to helping shoppers create one-of-a-kind costumes.

Halloween is also a time when we get many customers who may not be regular Goodwill shoppers. It’s a wonderful opportunity to let them know how shopping and donating to Goodwill helps thousands of people in their local communities. The chance to use our marketing efforts to convert those once-a-year shoppers into regular Goodwill supporters makes me feel like I’m serving our mission in an important way. I’m really proud of the work Goodwill does and to be able to contribute to the mission of helping others achieve their greatest potential is humbling and deeply meaningful.  ~ Michele Crim, Marketing & Social Media Manager


This Year’s Halloween Commercials

Why Do Goodwills Love Halloween So Much?

This may sound like a lot of effort being put into Halloween, but in fact, a recent survey by Goodwill Industries International found that fifty percent of households will have at least one person wearing a Halloween costume this year, and 16 percent will have at least one pet in costume!  For those of you who have read my blog posts before you have met Bentley . . . well you know we couldn’t let Halloween slip by without dressing him up.  Especially knowing how many people plan to dress their pets this year!

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Bentley and Bella were not nearly as excited about dressing up as we were!

But, back to the survey.  It also found that when asked what type of costume worn by someone else would make the best impression, the most popular answer was a one-of-a-kind costume. And for years the public has turned to Goodwill as the place to find those one-of-a-kind costumes.  So each year we strive to make it easier and easier for our customers to impress on Halloween.  Each of our stores have an Idea Book that is filled with countless ideas for Halloween costumes.  We’ve also have Pinterest Boards featuring Unique DIY Costume ideas for families, couples, groups, and kids of all ages and DIY decorations & entertaining tips.

This blog could go on and on.  But I encourage you to visit the Halloween page of our website to discover even more! Hint. . . DIY Videos!

So from everyone at Goodwill . . . Happy Fall & Happy Halloween!

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From our appearance last year on WFXR for Halloween.  Mary Poppins (that’s me), Alice in Wonderland (Chelsea), the Mad Hatter (Michele – she made the hat out of cardboard and items found at Goodwill!), and a Go-Go Girl (Charlie Cooper – reporter)

Contributor---Kelly

The Times They Are A-Changin’

A teenager in the ‘60s, I remember the popular Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” as the rallying cry for a generation. At times, it seemed impossible that our country would ever come together. But we did and today we continue to see our times changing . . . just in different ways.

Some of the most stressful times of our lives steam from change. Getting married, buying a home, and changing jobs are just a few of the life changes that can cause angst and uneasiness in our everyday lives. But typically, you end up happier once you have navigated the waters of change.

At Goodwill we are not immune to the changes going on in the world around us. As I think about the key areas that will impact Goodwill, I know we must navigate through changes in program funding sources, the ideological shift in the way that individuals, particularly with disabilities, wish to receive services, and the demand for different shopping experiences and what that means for Goodwill.

We were recently notified by the United Way Roanoke Valley that funding for Goodwill programs and services were being eliminated. The notification read, “Our community experienced substantial volatility and dynamic change in the business landscape this year. When such shifts take place in the corporate area, the ripple effect is often significant within the nonprofit sector. United Way felt the impact of these changes in the form of a very challenging 2016 fundraising campaign.” For Goodwill, this means funding budgeted to help support three programs disappeared and we must subsidize with revenues we are able to generate through internal operations, such as Donated Goods and the efforts of our Development team. The Times They Are A-Changin’  

Our communities are in a transition from a period where work centers, such as the ones that Goodwill operates in Roanoke and Radford, were the norm and what were preferred by families of individuals with disabilities. But today, views have changed and society and families prefer for their loved ones with a disability to work in a community setting instead of work center environments. This ideological shift and changes to laws means that Goodwill has to change, too. We have been working with individuals that we serve over the past several years to help transition individuals to community employment or day support services. The Times They Are A-Changin’  

Brick and mortar retail stores nationwide are seeing fewer and fewer people walk through the doors as customers are choosing to shop online. At Goodwill this reduced foot traffic means fewer sales and therefore fewer dollars to support job training and employment programs. In order to be able to continue to provide the job training and employment programs at the heart of our mission we are meeting customers where they choose to shop; either in-store or on-line. Some customers love the opportunity for the expanded selection of items that they find in our online Goodwill store. Others are concerned that the change means their local Goodwill will be void of treasures. I can assure you that your local Goodwill stores, although they may look a little different in their physical appearance these days, remain a treasure trove, and all stores, whether online or around the corner, still provide critical revenues to support job training and employment programs right here in your community. The Times They Are A-Changin’  

Goodwill is strong and I am excited to see what the future holds for not only our organization, but the individuals we serve and for those that we have yet to meet. At Goodwill, when we successfully navigate change the end result is all about the happiness of the people that we serve, their ability to contribute to their communities, and watching them achieve greater independence.

If nothing ever changed there’d be no butterflies. ~Source Unknown

Opportunity

The world’s favorite season is the spring.  All things seem possible in May.
—Edwin Way Teale

Spring is my favorite time of year. I love that day when you walk outside and you realize just how green and fresh everything looks. It feels like a fresh start, and as the quote says, that “all things seem possible.”

Last week was the Goodwill Annual Awards Ceremony. Another favorite of mine. At this event we have the opportunity to publicly recognize and thank those people who have supported Goodwill.  We also recognize individuals who have overcome so much, participated in Goodwill programs, and are now on paths to brighter futures. Some of the moments were captured in the photos from the event that you can find on Facebook.

In the weeks leading up to the event, our marketing team worked to prepare for the evening, including putting together the video that was shown:

While putting together the video there were quite a few tears. (Not a surprise for those who know me.  I’m often referred to as the “Goodwill Crier” because I am horrible at hiding my emotions!)  As we pieced together the different videos and paired them with the statements that are seen in the video, it was a powerful and moving experience for me.

“Goodwill helps people realize their dreams.” 

This particular statement is one that I wish everyone could hear and truly understand.

This week our marketing team has been working with quite a few of our program teams on different things.  When I think about the opportunities these programs provide for individuals to change the path they are on, to gain experience needed to have a career and not just a job, and to truly give the chance for a brighter future, I want everyone to know.

  • Careers in Technology – Did you know that Goodwill offers training to help individuals receive the credentials they need to embark on a career in the technology field?  This is such an incredible opportunity for young adults to receive free training that will set them on a path to a financially secure future for themselves and their family.  Right now we are recruiting in Lynchburg and Harrisonburg for new classes that will start soon.
  • GoodCare is healthcare training for individuals who are receiving TANF or have a low income.  Imagine having the opportunity to take classes and earn healthcare credentials that will move you from dependency to self-sufficiency.  With hard work and the help of the GoodCare program it is happening.
  • Summer Youth Work Program – Goodwill is going to work with 100 kids in Roanoke City this summer and help them to gain work experience and job readiness skills so they can gain a foundation and work ethic to be proud of. Local businesses will have summer employees that want to learn and earn. What a great opportunity for both youth and area businesses to work together to ensure a brighter future for our community through an investment in our young people.
  • Science Camp – I left this one for last because of the impact this camp had on me last year.  To watch the 5th through 7th graders have the experience they did with science was incredible.  I said several times to people that I wish I had been able to have an opportunity to attend something like that when I was younger.  It was fun, relevant, and inspired the kids to be involved, ask questions, and want to learn. How exciting is that?

I could go on and on. There are so many different programs that provide so much opportunity for those individuals who want to truly change their lives.

So as you go through your day to day routine, look around you and open your eyes to those who may be struggling. Give them the gift of hope; let them know how Goodwill may be able to help them realize their dreams.  Allow them to realize that all things are possible in May.

Contributor---Kelly

A Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

Living in southwest Virginia one of the traditions that many of us look forward to during the holiday season is visiting the Hotel Roanoke to look at the Christmas Trees.  The Fashions for Evergreens event benefits the United Way of Roanoke Valley when you vote for your favorite tree.

Last week, I went with my family.  Inside we saw the magical world of Nemo and Dori as well as a tree with a train made out of cases of Coke.  These were a couple of our favorites. But then we ventured into the Courtyard and I found my favorite tree.

The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree presented by MW Construction.
The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree presented by MW Construction.

I was reminded not only of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is my FAVORITE Christmas special each year, but also of a blog post that Goodwill did in December of 2011.  In the post, it likened Charlie Brown’s tree to the individuals served by Goodwill:


Everyone made fun of the tree that Charlie Brown chose.  Why?  It was different.  It didn’t fit the “mold” of the traditional tree.  But in the end, with a little love and care, the tree was as good or better than many of the others they could have chosen.  It always had the potential, it just needed a little help to become great.

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Charlie Brown’s tree is not so different from those that we serve at Goodwill.  They too have potential.  They may have barriers, including disabilities, disadvantages, or many have lost their job due to company closing or layoff, but they have the ability to work, earn a paycheck, and contribute to their community.  Goodwill simply provides the training and employment assistance they need to get back to work.  Just like the tree, it is simply a hand up, not a hand out that helps our participants live up to their true potential.

So this holiday season, and in the year to come, remember to look beyond the surface.  Look for the potential that is within each of us.  Help someone achieve their goals and live life to the fullest.  Goodwill looks forward to assisting more people in 2012 with employment barriers and we thank you for your support of our mission each and every day.


It’s hard to believe that we wrote that original post five years ago.  Goodwill has helped thousands of individuals since then who have needed the hand up, not a hand out to gain greater independence, advance their skills to find a better job, and to find employment.

So, I’ll end this post, as we did five years ago . . . Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and “On Earth, peace, Goodwill toward men.”

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!

Contributor---Kelly