Goodwill celebrates 90 years in Western Massachusetts

Date: 10/8/2015

SPRINGFIELD – In 1902, Rev. Edgar Helms, a Methodist minister, had an idea to assist disadvantaged people. He collected used household items and clothing, trained people to repair them and then sold the refurbished goods.

Helms started the idea in Boston where it proved to be a success. The operation employed people who sought jobs and provided a way for items to be recycled to others before the concept of recycling was developed.

His idea came to West Springfield in December 1925 and then moved to Springfield. It was the third location for Goodwill Industries established in the nation, Steven Mundahl, president and CEO of the Goodwill of the Pioneer Valley explained.

The nonprofit organization will be noting its 90th anniversary on Oct. 21, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Tickets for the gala are $90 and can be purchased through the organizations website, www.ourgoodwill.org.

Mundahl said the first Goodwill rehabilitation center was established in Lyman Street in Springfield. He called Helms’ idea to put people back to work “a real novel idea.” It has grown to 175 Goodwill organizations in this country, 11 in Canada and has also spread to 35 other nations.

“It became a global affair,” he said.

What began as putting the unemployed to work has grown, Mundahl explained. Goodwill still offers the sheltered workshops for people who are intellectually disabled, but the organization has a GED program and the Goodwill MassMutual Learning Academy to add to a person’s job skills.

Mundahl said the Commonwealth has sought Goodwill to trim back the sheltered workshops and seek mainstreaming opportunities, but Mundahl said the organization remains committed to supplying employment to the intellectually disabled through partnerships with local industries.

He explained the organization maintains three locations for the workshops – Springfield, Chicopee and Palmer – and have 60 to 70 participants, who to come daily, do their job and get paid.

“We’ll keep these services as long as there’s a need,” he said. “We’re dedicated to that process.”

Goodwill has an adult foster care program that allows people to stay in their own homes as an alternative to nursing home care. Caregivers share their home with a person 16 years old or older who is a Mass Health member and requires individual supervision for daily living. They receive a stipend and room and board payments for their services.

“We’ve seen it grow exponentially,” he said of the program.

The majority of the funding for the many programs of Goodwill locally is through sales of donated and refurbished items in its retail stores in the region, Mundahl said.

“The generosity of the community runs the whole thing,” he said.

In 21st century America, the Goodwill message of fixing and finding a new home for items now can be framed within a message of recycling.

“Recycling is the core business model here,” Mundahl said.

Mundahl, who has been the president and CEO for for 10 years, said that when he arrived at the agency its landfill costs were $150,000 annual. Now it is $20,000 a year. The reduction has been greater recycling efforts within the organization.

“We are dedicated to cutting that back to zero if we can,” Mundahl said.

He recently announced a program with Dell Computers address the recycling of older computers.

“The thing we’re learning is there is a home for everything,” Mundahl said.