Goodwill Industries Knoxville

Female Shopper In Thrift Store Looking At Handbags

Nonprofit trains workers for jobs while encouraging recycling

Everyone has had an experience with Goodwill Industries. Whether you have donated items after spring cleaning or searched for secondhand treasures at one of their many retail locations, it’s safe to say it’s a well-known organization. However, Goodwill Industries’ mission goes far beyond being a popular thrift shop or a convenient place to donate gently used items. Goodwill Industries is a force of positive change for our community.

Its History

Goodwill Industries was founded by Methodist minister Edgar Helms in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1902. Helms’s congregation was made up of diverse members of the community, including immigrants and individuals with disabilities who had difficulty finding work. Helms went to his church’s wealthier members and requested donations of used items. He then trained his congregants in need of jobs how to mend the used items, which were then sold, and the proceeds were given back to the individuals who repaired them. Out of this small initiative, the international organization we now recognize as Goodwill Industries was born, and they serve a similar mission and vision today.

Goodwill Industries Knoxville was founded in 1971 to continue the organization’s efforts to train and equip disadvantaged members of the community with the skills to thrive. Since then Goodwill Industries Knoxville has grown its reach and impact through 29 different retail locations and five employment training centers and rehabilitation centers in the 15 counties that they serve in East Tennessee.

Impact on the Community

While they may not hire people to repair used items like Rev. Helms did, Goodwill Industries Knoxville still creates an impact through their training and certification programs. The beneficiaries of these programs live with disabilities or other barriers that make it difficult to get a job or to advance a career.

These programs often provide practical skills based on what the individual wants to do, helping them move up in their chosen career paths. Sometimes these lessons focus on how to be a responsible employee, and other times they can be more specific training programs, such as its six-and-a-half week Certified Nurses Assistant (CNA) Training, Participants can come into the program with a high school diploma and finish by taking their state exam to become a CNA. If they pass the exam, participants could make $13-14 an hour.

Liz Nother, president & CEO of Goodwill Industries Knoxville, says the CNA program is “a pretty life-changing jump for someone. And also it’s really a spring forward to further your education. Some people choose to go on and advance their career at that point.” She says that Goodwill Industries Knoxville’s programs are always changing to fit the world’s needs. “We need to make sure that the services we’re providing are actually going to help people gain the employment that they’re looking for,” Nother said.

Some of the other programs Goodwill Industries Knoxville offers are: Google IT Support Professional Certificate; GoodTech Customer Service Core & Technical Training; and Good Jobs. Great Careers.

Of course, most of these programs prepare participants for job placement with outside employers, but Goodwill Industries Knoxville also provides jobs within their own organization through their Commercial Services Division. These opportunities can include janitorial positions, light assembly, packing and shipping, and other opportunities. The skills that employees learn in these positions help them move on to advanced opportunities for further training and to further their careers.

Poppin’ Tags & Sustainability

As millennials and Gen-Zers have become regular consumers in society, the world has seen a terrific increase in interest in a sustainable lifestyle. Thrift shopping rose as a trend when Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ bop “Thrift Shop” soared to the top of the charts in 2012, but it’s an activity that’s proven to hang around for the long haul. Thrifting goes beyond the desire to wear your granddad’s clothes or furnish your home with inexpensive furniture. For many it’s an active choice to create less waste by purchasing second-hand clothing and household goods rather than buying new items.

Thrifting as a fun form of sustainability makes sense. It’s a way of putting items that are no longer wanted back in circulation so someone who could use them can buy them. Fewer items are left in landfills and instead are purchased and used. Sustainability is one of the core values of Goodwill Industries. Nother says the staff jokes that “we’re really the original recycler. We’ve been reusing gently used items for over 100 years.” While they haven’t always measured the direct impact of sustainability in Goodwill Industries’ history, they have in more recent years.

In 2019, Goodwill Industries International diverted over 4 billion pounds of unwanted items from landfills. Goodwill Industries Knoxville alone diverted over 18 million pounds of items from landfills. Even when the nonprofit can’t use particular items, they try everything within their ability to recycle the goods. “We want to divert as much as we can from the landfill,” says Nother.

Getting Involved

Goodwill Industries Knoxville is always looking for people who want to help further their mission and vision in our community. Nother says that the biggest ways people can contribute is by donating used items and shopping in their stores. There are other options as well. If you work for a business that needs to be professionally cleaned, Goodwill Industries Knoxville offers a commercial cleaning service with competitive quotes. They also offer light assembly and packing and shipping services. All of these services provide jobs to members of their basic job skills trainings, giving them the experience they need to move on in their career with more advanced training.

Usually Goodwill Industries Knoxville hosts multiple events throughout the year, including an annual fashion show, golf tournaments and an awards breakfast. Due to COVID-19, all of them have been cancelled for this year. Nother hopes they will be back on track in 2021 with their fundraisers and events. Interested volunteers can contact the organization through their website to sign up.

One of the easiest and most impactful ways someone can contribute to Goodwill Industries Knoxville is by becoming an advocate. This means simply spreading the news about what Goodwill Industries does for those in need, and correcting any misconceptions about Goodwill and why they exist. It’s important for the community to know the organization’s goal is create responsible employees in the community, to create jobs, and to train up contributing members of the community.

For information about Goodwill Industries Knoxville, their retail locations, and their training programs, visit their website at   

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