Expansion space helps St. Cloud service site to help hundreds

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to visit our service site in St. Cloud, where I spent several hours speaking with Maureen Gaedy, the passionate leader of Goodwill-Easter Seals greater Minnesota Services & Programs. Maureen guided me through the offices and showed me how the expansion space, which was funded in part by St. Cloud area partners and donors, is being used by area residents.

Three years ago, seven full-time staff members provided employment services from three offices at the front of the Goodwill store. The expansion space, formerly the donation center for the Goodwill store in the same building, now serves hundreds of people every year. Its staff has nearly tripled; they now employ around 20 full-time Services & Program staff members and provide learning opportunities for several interns and an AmeriCorps volunteer. As we walked through the building, framed photos of area residents who have participated in their programs smiled at us. I realized that each photo represented countless others whose lives have been touched by Maureen’s vision over the past 17 years.

“It’s a busy time for Services & Programs and store staff here in St. Cloud,” Maureen told me as we wound our way deeper into the building. “We agreed to provide an 8- to 10-week work experience for an additional 40 people, half of whom are non-English speaking.” She explained that each week the St. Cloud site’s transitional employment programs serve about 30 people who have barriers to employment. “Many don’t know this,” she continued, “but every person who participates in any Goodwill-Easter Seals paid work experience program is paid minimum wage during on-the-job work experience.”

We then stopped in the Medical Equipment Loan area. The program allows people to borrow equipment free of charge, and is coordinated by two staff members, Mike Ruff and Bonnie Schmitz. They mentor participants assigned to this area and also refurbish walkers, wheelchairs and other equipment. The old space was tiny, cluttered and lacked running water to clean the equipment. The new space is much larger, well-organized and equipped with a sink and running water.

“We currently loan around $1 million worth of equipment every year at this location,” Mike told me. Three other locations loan medical equipment: Rochester, St. Paul and Willmar. Because budget limitations are preventing the program from expanding, Maureen stressed that an important goal for the program was to close the funding gap.

In another area of the building I saw young fathers in a support group sharing their experiences with each other and learning how to be better parents, a service of the St. Cloud area Goodwill-Easter Seals FATHER Project.

We finished in a small conference room where Maureen discussed a new program designed to reach out to youth with fetal alcohol syndrome and help them become successful in the workplace. According to the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, who are one of Goodwill-Easter Seals’ partners, people with the syndrome have difficulty making decisions, solving problems or controlling impulses when they become adults. Complicating the issue is that some of them have no idea why they are struggling.

“It’s very similar to working with people who have a traumatic brain injury,” adds Maureen, “A brain injury can impact executive functioning, which is why some may have difficulty maintaining employment.”

We concluded our time talking about a recent Open House for the new Community Resource Center for Service Members, Veterans and their Families – which is Maureen’s next Goodwill-Easter Seals collaborative project launch.