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Goodwill and Digital Equity make a connection in Seattle

By Elke Hautala

Whether you’re a regular Goodwill shopper or your experience with secondhand stores starts and ends with Macklemore – prepare to be impressed with the depth of their contribution to the Seattle community.

I’ve visited the Goodwill on 8th, in between Ballard and Greenwood, for more than ten years now and even the Outlet store in SODO nicknamed “the bins” and immortalized in Macklemore’s video.  

Bargain hunting, thrift shopping, consignment—whatever you call it, it’s been a part of my DNA since Kurt exploded onto the scene and we all started rocking flannel.

Over time, I began to recognize some of the employees, there was an Ethiopian woman who always cheerfully greeted me and we talked briefly about her two boys approaching college age. I became curious about the stories of those who had joined the Goodwill family.

Advances in the digital age may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the Goodwill but people like Brandon Lindsey, the Program Development Manager with their Seattle office, are looking to change that perception.

Because we believe that Digital Literacy is the new basic skill, we have worked to incorporate (it) into all of our classes and programs,” Brandon explains to me.

In fact, they utilize iPads and Internet resources even in their ESOL or GED/High School completion classes to begin the training process and create familiarity with the necessary tools.

You may have heard that Goodwill provides job assistance but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They have been pioneering a Digital Equity program with generous support from Comcast.

Digital Equity seeks to ensure all residents and neighborhoods have the information technology capacity needed for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.”

This is how the Seattle government initiative defines it. We can think of it in even simpler terms. You need tools, education and access to stay connected in the Digital Age.

This point was illustrated very clearly for me when I had a recent Internet connection mishap at home. Our Internet service was down for a couple of hours and we of course didn’t have cable or access to websites. I also realized just how many things I use it for in the span of a few hours from ordering food, looking up information to editing with my creative Cloud service.

This was just a short span of time until I realized that we had accidentally unplugged a connection but there are many, even in Seattle, who are dealing with this daily reality. This is why the second part of the Digital Equity Initiative stresses the importance of “intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical barriers to access…”

Goodwill has made it their mission to do just that.

As Brandon put it, “…our goal is to help people get the skills they need to get a job and keep it.”

He shared with me the story of Mitzi as a perfect example.

A devoted mother of seven, she found herself in the difficult position of dealing with a divorce and a new place to live while trying to find a job; all of this after being out of the workforce for decades.

You could call it fate or a sign that brought her to Goodwill but actually it was a puzzle. She was purchasing the only gift she could afford, a child’s puzzle, for her adult son for Christmas when she noticed the store’s “Job Training” sign.

She dedicated herself to their Retail and Customer Service Program for her on-the-Job training and she could hardly believe her ears when the store manager offered her a position on her last day.

It completely changed her life.

I had a job, and then I could take care of my kids,” Mitzi said. “It was huge for me to take that step because I didn’t know how to do that. I went from living with my mom to being married, and I never knew how to stand on my own.”

Her six-year work anniversary is approaching and she exemplifies the success of Goodwill’s job training approach.

I remember not only not having a job, but not knowing how to go about getting a job.” Mitzi shared. “That’s a pretty hopeless feeling. They’ll sit down with you elbow-to-elbow and will show you how to make your resume and how to apply for jobs. That gives you hope.”

Their specific combination for success is facilitating hands on technical experience while fostering hope and building confidence. You could say Goodwill creates connections both digitally and socially.

Maybe we should all think more about this the next time we visit a Goodwill store. Take a moment to thank someone working there for all their hard work, ask how their day has been instead of brushing past to the latest pair of discounted jeans or sit down to hear a brief part of what their journey has been like. Their answers could surprise you. You just might find your own new social connection.

Find out more about Goodwill’s Digital Equity training program with Comcast’s support here.

Look up your local Goodwill location here.

Read more about how Seattle defines Digital Equity here.