The founder of Goodwill Industries International, Edgar James Helms, was born on Jan. 19, 1863, to William and Lerona Helms in a lumber camp near Malone, New York. The family headed west to farm in Iowa in 1865.
As a teenager, Edgar apprenticed at a newspaper, then founded his own newspaper in 1882 in Peterson, Iowa, where he worked to earn money for college. Having earned degrees from Cornell College in Iowa and Boston University School of Theology, he was called to mission work and assigned in 1902 to the Morgan Mission in Boston’s South End, where he created the model Goodwill still uses today: collecting unwanted clothing and household items and reselling them to raise money and provide jobs.
This short video showcases Helms’ work to help every person find dignity and independence through meaningful jobs, and the continuing efforts of 182 Goodwill organizations dedicated to his principle of providing “a hand up, not a handout.”
The legacy of this man of uncommon character and entrepreneurial vision lives on today in the work Southern Oregon Goodwill does to enable employment by providing opportunities for personal and professional growth.
In an interesting historical footnote, Edgar J. Helms’s parents and several of his siblings moved to Grants Pass, Oregon, in the 1890s. Both William Helms and Lerona Helms are buried in the IOOF Cemetery in Grants Pass.