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President & CEO Jen Lake in the Rochester Business Journal

Dec 2, 2022

So much more than a store: Growth of the organization & employees at heart of it all

This year has been exciting for us at Goodwill of the Finger Lakes. We’ve seen a significant trajectory of growth in our social enterprises and community impact programs all year long.

Most importantly, we launched the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in our region in July, helping us be there for people in need 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Calls to 988 are up 86% since its launch, and we’re here to respond to every call, chat or text after hiring over 20 new employees to handle the increase. This way, we get to provide flexible jobs while also supporting those in need.

Our growth in 2022 has been leveraged off our strategic plan, which rolled out the work we’ve done since receiving a $10 million gift from MacKenzie Scott. To best contribute to our communities, we surveyed our stakeholders to understand how they feel about Goodwill and the role they want us to play. From there, we updated our mission statement: “Elevating people, community, and planet for a good today and better tomorrow.” It reminds us of how our own people are connected not just within our communities, but in the work we do and the impact we’re able to make across the region.

"We know our team members are the lifeblood of everything Goodwill does, and to best give back to our community, we need to take care of our employees."

We know our team members are the lifeblood of everything Goodwill does, and to best give back to our community, we need to take care of our employees. After raising wages, we absorbed health care costs to the point that anyone making less than $30,000 per year can get health insurance for only a penny each pay period with our Good Health program. In our stores, we implemented a production incentive along with paying at least $16/hour, with several employees able to quit second jobs while others have saved tens of thousands of dollars on cars, homes or their own retirement in the last year.

We’ve also embraced collaboration with our neighbors — nonprofits and corporations alike — to ensure community stays at the heart of everything we do. That means working together to increase resources for 211/LIFE LINE and 988, embedding Good Neighbor Centers in several stores so people in those communities have direct access to resources, investing in our team and elevating our sustainability efforts formally to ensure communities thrive. We’ve also given away hundreds of thousands of donations through our 40+ Good Neighbor Partners to support their case managers, directly helping neighbors get back on their feet and move forward. YES, Goodwill does give donations away!

Our stores also play a role in sustaining our planet. Goodwill is an original recycler and repurposer, keeping over 25 millions of pounds of useful goods out of landfills. Your stuff gets a second life, many items that can’t be sold are sorted and supplied as raw materials for other uses.

And while we’re known for our retail stores, Goodwill’s Vision Services (previously known as ABVI) is focused on transformational vision wellness in our community, leveraging our position as an agency for the blind for more than 100 years. Over the next 30 years, blindness is expected to skyrocket, but largely preventable through routine eyecare for people with diabetes, which disproportionately impacts people of color. To combat this and enable faster access to care, we’re expanding our services and collaborating with new partners, who we’ll announce soon, allowing us to serve people who lack access to basic vision care.

Growing up, I personally felt the need for more learning opportunities, good mentors and people who believe in you. Today, it’s fulfilling to be part of providing those things throughout our organization and community. Our people are growing, understanding and learning every day, which is having a positive impact on them, their families and their communities.

"Goodwill is an incredibly complex organization. We offer services and resources that many in our community have yet to discover, and we’re on a mission to continue sharing our work through collaboration — with community at that center of all we do."

Goodwill is an incredibly complex organization. We offer services and resources that many in our community have yet to discover, and we’re on a mission to continue sharing our work through collaboration — with community at that center of all we do. This year, we asked ourselves: How can we use our resources? How can we lean in and support issues in the Finger Lakes and Central New York? We’re answering those questions by growing, creating more jobs across the region, leaning into green manufacturing, launching a commercial cutting and sewing manufacturing operation, and planning exciting initiatives that will create even more living-wage jobs in our area.

As I reflect on 2022, I’ve never been prouder to lead this organization, and that’s because of the incredible impact our team has been able to make. Above all, I’m proud of our response to our community’s challenges — from 211/LIFE LINE and 988 to our stores and fleet, our team said yes to doing what’s right during a time when our own resources were often challenged and after our stores were shuttered because of the pandemic.

We said yes because our community needed us, and we will continue to say yes.

I’m excited for the initiatives we’re already part of. I’m energized by the spirit to continue to elevate our neighbors. Goodwill is here and growing because of them. And our local Goodwill team is the heart of what we do every day.

Written by Jen Lake and published in the Rochester Business Journal on December 2nd, 2022