Goodwill-Easter Seals celebrates 20 years as part of the Willmar community

Since coming to Willmar in 1996 about 1,500 people in the area have found help from Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota’s programs.

20 years of working to support the community

Over the last 20 years the city of Willmar has gone through more change than most cities in the state. One constant, however, has been the presence of Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota. For 20 years the organization has been assisting area job seekers, connecting with businesses, schools and city leaders to create partnerships that have benefited the entire community – all while providing a place to shop for great deals.

To celebrate their 20th anniversary in Willmar, an Open House is being held at the Goodwill store on Saturday, April 9.

Building productive members of society every single day

Goodwill-Easter Seals’ mission is to eliminate barriers to work and independence. Often, the people they work with have one or more barriers to employment they are facing – barriers like disabilities, mental health, language skills or simply a lack of work experience.

Willmar Chamber of Commerce President Ken Warner is very aware of the work being done by Goodwill-Easter Seals in the community. “Goodwill has done training programs for people with disabilities and many different groups with different backgrounds and ethnicities,” he remarks.

Willmar Chamber of Commerce President Ken Warner

For Goodwill-Easter Seals the value of work goes beyond individuals. “When people have jobs it affects the whole community – and those positive things multiply,” explains Shelly Huseby, who is Goodwill-Easter Seals’ Services and Programs Manager in Willmar. “We are building productive members of society every single day. We’re teaching people to help themselves.”

Shelly Huseby

Adapting to the needs of a changing city

Since 2008 Goodwill-Easter Seals has more than doubled the number of people that have been served by their programs in Willmar – the result of tailoring their approach to create the biggest possible impact. “We’ve adapted how we work to fit the needs of the population,” Huseby remarks.

Part of that effort has been finding ways to support the large population of immigrants in the area, including providing the language skills they need to find – and succeed at – jobs in their new country.

That meant establishing relationships with people who could offer help – people like Abdirzak “Zack” Mahboub. When Zack was starting West Central Interpretation in Willmar in 2012, he not only had Goodwill-Easter Seals’ support, he also earned their business. “Goodwill-Easter Seals helped us,” Zack explains. “They gave us a lifeline.” The program Zack developed teaches language skills to immigrants who are young adults. He partnered with Goodwill-Easter Seals to provide language training to participants in their job training programs, which directly helped 25-30 young adults get the skills they needed to find jobs.

Zack Mahboub

Building effective community partnerships

Twenty years has given Goodwill-Easter Seals plenty of time to get to know everyone in the Willmar area – they’ve taken advantage of it to build relationships with big businesses, small businesses, schools and other nonprofits.

Shelly Huseby sees the benefits of the partnerships that have been created. “As we’ve built relationships, now we have employers coming to us to see if we have people who can help,” she explains.

The list of business relationships that have developed is lengthy. Companies like Walmart, Cashwise, Menards, HomeDepot, NovaTech Engineers, Hardee’s and Best Buy have all provided jobs and training to Goodwill-Easter Seals’ participants.

It’s understandable that a relationship developed with the largest employer in the area, Jenni-O. They’ve served as a frequent landing place for Goodwill-Easter Seals’ participants looking for work. However, the two organizations have gradually built a partnership that goes far beyond being a great place to connect people with work – including creating an internship program at Jenni-O for disadvantaged youth through a collaboration with another important partner – Willmar High School.

The relationship that has developed between Goodwill-Easter Seals and Willmar High School is remarkable – and unlike any other Goodwill-Easter Seals has in Minnesota. Besides developing the internship program with Jenni-O, Goodwill-Easter Seals helps the school with their Special Education program, created “World of Work” training for 30-40 8th and 9th graders each spring to get them started thinking about careers, and provides employment readiness training for about 45-50 juniors and seniors each fall.

The retail store as the hub of activity

One of the focal points for Goodwill-Easter Seals in Willmar is, of course, the Goodwill store on 19th Avenue SW. Last year about 150,000 shoppers came through its doors. Those shoppers not only find great prices on thrift goods, they are also exposed to the services and programs that are available while they’re shopping.

”Goodwill has done a nice job of first getting people to come to their store and then showing them the bigger picture of what Goodwill does,” Ken Warner says. “They’ve done a great job of taking advantage of their store presence to talk about the services and programs they have to help.”

For Goodwill-Easter Seals’ next 20 years in Willmar? “We’ll keep adapting,” says Huseby. “We’re driven by what the community needs. We’ll keep doing what the community needs us to do.”