SFC could be home to new Goodwill store

St. Francis County could be home to a new Goodwill store. Brian Itzkowitz, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries, told Rotarians on Tuesday that the company has recently acquired the region and would consider having a presence in Forrest City.

According to Itzkowitz, the company's mission is to change lives through education, training and employment. Goodwill stores, he said, are independent and autonomous, meaning Goodwill of Arkansas is different than Goodwill of Memphis.

Until October, Goodwill of Arkansas had operated in 70 of the state's 75 counties. Those five counties, he said, were considered Goodwill of Memphis's territory. According to Itzkowitz, the five counties where they did not have stores were St. Francis, Crittenden, Cross, Lee and Phillips counties.

In October, Goodwill of Arkansas was able to obtain authority over the five counties. And according to Itzkowitz, the Arkansas branch of the company planned to have a larger presence in the region.

"Last year, our board of directors authorized us to acquire these counties," said Itzkowitz. "It's just like a business would acquire assets. So, we picked up these five counties and I'm back to look at opportunities here in Forrest City."

Itzkowitz explained to Rotarians that the goal of Goodwill is to enhance the dignity and quality of life for individuals and families in the regions they oversee. The company takes donations of clothing and other products, sells them to generate funds and uses those funds to help at-risk job seekers. The company also uses their stores and warehouses to train job seekers with criminal backgrounds and disabilities to build work experience.

"One of the things we preach is that this is a hand up, not a handout," said Itzkowitz. "What we try to do is give people an opportunity and a second chance. When you look at our entire business model – taking things and repurposing them – it's all about second chances. It's a second chance for the things you donate and it's a second chance for the people that come to us for help."

In addition to operating stores, Itzkowitz told Rotarians that the company also operates career centers, oftentimes at the same location. There, he said anyone can seek assistance in finding jobs and job training.

"The career center is where anyone can come in and find services," he said. "You can get trained up. Work on a resume. We host hiring events. It's putting that entire thing together, shoppers, donors and the people we serve."

In Arkansas, Itzkowitz said Goodwill put 4,547 people to work in 2016. He expects the company to put more than 5,000 to work in 2017.  According to Itzkowitz, many of those are people have recently been released from prison, and have very limited work opportunities. Of the inmates who participated in the company's transitional employment opportunity, less than 10 percent went back to prison.

According to Itzkowitz, the company also operates a program to employ adults on the autism spectrum and a program to give books to children in poverty. Goodwill of Arkansas also operates a charter school program to help adults earn their high school diploma.

"In Arkansas, by the time you hit 21, you're aged out of the system," said Itzkowitz. "Your only opportunity after that is to get your GED. But, the data shows us that there's hardly any difference in income between having a GED and not having one… We've seen through examples that when someone completes this program, there's an $8,000 to $9,000 difference in income. If you want to talk about changing someone's life, that's a big deal."

Itzkowitz said that the impact the company can have on an individual is multi-generational. When an individual earns his or her high school diploma and finds quality employment, he said, their children are more likely to follow in those foot steps.

"By helping the parent, you're helping the child," he said. "You're changing the trajectory of that kid's life by helping their parents."

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who was in attendance for Tuesday's Rotary Club of Forrest City meeting, told Rotarians that Goodwill of Arkansas has been doing great things for the state.