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A Call to Action: The History and Future of Goodwill

Matthew Bourlakas, President and CEO

Matthew Bourlakas, President and CEO

In her book, “Edgar James Helms—The Goodwill Man,” Beatrice Plumb recounts Rev. Helms’ early efforts to help people in need without taking from them their self-respect. The year was 1902 and thousands of people were out of work and desperate. Initially, he opened a small office where he displayed and sold the collection of old clothes that he’d gathered from the good folks in Boston, Massachusetts and, for a small sum, those who were unemployed could buy things at prices within their means.

This gesture of goodwill left Rev. Helms dissatisfied and wanting to do more. His desire to find a way to provide jobs and wages for those who were unemployed was the catalyst for the business and mission we know today as Goodwill.

From the first day I walked through the doors as Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee’s new President and CEO, I could see, hear and feel the enduring spirit of Rev. Helms. I saw people with disabilities and others who had struggled to find a job beaming with pride as they worked together unloading donations from trailers. I heard the joy in the voices of retail associates that I met in the stores as they celebrated earning a paycheck. And I could feel the confidence and positive self-esteem of the employees who serve our clients through Career Solutions as I shook their hands and introduced myself.

Pride. Paycheck. Positive self-esteem. The essence of Goodwill’s mission is embodied in these three outcomes of paid, productive work. They produce the hope and inspiration that changes lives and provides for a brighter future.

As I step into the vacancy created by the retirement of a very talented and mission-driven leader, David Lifsey, I am profoundly aware of the success this organization has experienced over the years. One of the keys to Goodwill’s success has been the extraordinarily generous donations from our communities and the smart and savvy shoppers who frequent our stores to find quality merchandise at a great value.

Goodwill’s mission is to provide employment and training opportunities for people with disabilities and others who have trouble finding and keeping jobs. I am confident that—drawing upon my years of working in the nonprofit arena and aided by a gifted and dedicated staff and board of directors—we can together build upon our success and reach new heights.

Edgar J. Helms died in 1942 at the age of 79, and at the Golden Anniversary of Goodwill Industries in 1952 his letter to all “Goodwillers,” included the following words, “Friends of Goodwill, be dissatisfied with your work until every handicapped and unfortunate person in your community has an opportunity to develop to his fullest usefulness and enjoy a maximum of abundant living.”

These words grace the wall in the Elsine H. Katz boardroom here at our corporate headquarters in Nashville and serve as a reminder to us all that our call to action reaches back into the past for purpose and principle, but looks to the future for innovation and value creation.

Please join us in answering that call to action. Learn more about our organization and the many ways you can support our vital mission.

Together, we can change lives.

1 Comment
  • carly carter
    Posted at 07:23h, 20 August Reply

    Beautifully said. The work that you all do is so very important.

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