Reverend Edgar James Helms, a Methodist minister, started Goodwill Industries International in 1902.
From his church in Boston’s South End, he saw a need to help people who lived in this forsaken part of town. Receiving donations of clothing from wealthier residents of Beacon Hill, he began employing disadvantaged folks to repair and refurbish the used items to sell. Initially he wanted to give them clothing for free in return for their labor. However, workers asked not to receive a “hand out” but would rather receive wages for their work. So, from then on, he sold the clothing at a modest price and used that income to pay wages to the workers.
Goodwill’s emphasis from the beginning was on creating opportunity not charity. The system worked, and the Goodwill philosophy of “a chance, not a charity” was born.
For 115 years, Goodwill has witnessed the Power of Work in peoples’ lives.
Dr. Helms’ vision set an early course for what today has become a $6.94 billion nonprofit organization where 82% goes to Mission advancement. Helms described Goodwill Industries as an “industrial program as well as a social service enterprise… a provider of employment, training and rehabilitation for people of limited employability, and a source of temporary assistance for individuals whose resources were depleted.”
In 2016, 2 million people worked directly with Goodwill staff nationwide for employment and training programs with an additional 34 million using mobile and online training services. Goodwill organizations collectively placed 313,000 people in jobs in their communities across the U.S. and Canada. Every 23 seconds of every business day, a person served by Goodwill earns a good job. Through their engagement in Goodwill programs and services in 2015, more than 42,000 people gained credentials which collectively increased their lifetime earning potential by $14.2 billion. And yet, there is work to be done to reach more people.
Today, Goodwill continues the legacy begun by Rev. Helms – offering employment services in communities across the United States through a network of more than 3,200 retail stores and donation centers covering North America and worldwide.
Did you know?
Southern Oregon has another connection to Goodwill founder Edgar J. Helms. In the 1890s, around the time he started his studies at Boston University Theological School, his parents and siblings headed west to the Grants Pass area to escape Iowa’s harsh winters.
Edgar’s parents, William and Lerona Helms, had a home in Grants Pass and a small summer cabin in the woods above Grants Pass, seen in the above photo. The family would get together there for reunions and to celebrate special occasions, said Edgar’s grandson Charles Helms, a physician who compiled a family history. This photo is from a family gathering, probably in 1902. Edgar J. Helms is at the far right.