Goodwill’s business is all about changing lives

Matthew Lane • Aug 18, 2019 at 12:00 PM

KINGSPORT — In the upstairs conference room at the Food City on Eastman Road, several dozen Goodwill employees recently attended a special breakfast. It was the second of its type held this year and was meant to celebrate various milestones in the lives of the nonprofit’s workers.

Some folks were recognized for recent promotions. A member of the leadership team had received his doctorate. One store employee had earned his GED. Every one of these employees got a round of applause and a photo with Goodwill’s president and the breakfast’s guest speaker: former Major League Baseball coach Rich Donnelly.

It was 60 minutes of good food and good fellowship. And it’s the type of thing Goodwill wants to do more of in the future.


Our local Goodwill stores are owned and operated by Goodwill Industries of Tenneva, which was established in 1972 in Scott County, Va., by Anita Steiner. Today, Goodwill operates 14 stores, one distribution center and four attended donation centers in a service area of 17 counties in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

In a typical year, Goodwill will accept more than 110,000 donations with at least 60 percent of the items that come through the doors being clothes and other textiles. These donations are the lifeblood of the organization, and it’s through them that folks are helping Goodwill accomplish its mission of providing employment services to those in need.

“If you believe work is important, we’ll take your donation and turn it into a job for somebody,” said Morris Baker, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Tenneva.

Our local Goodwill employs roughly 260 people, many of whom have life challenges that could limit their employment opportunities in other businesses and industries. Challenges like not having a high school diploma, being a single parent, just getting out of jail or dealing with a recent drug charge.

Everyone has issues going on in their lives, but for some working at Goodwill, the issues are above and beyond normal life challenges. And it’s these types of challenges that Baker and his team are working to overcome.


“We have employees with life challenges and we want to help them reach their full potential through the power of work,” Baker explained. “The bottom line is everyone is just getting through the week. We all have issues, so we want to be flexible with employees, put an arm around them, and tell them if they’re willing to work and have the right attitude, you’re going to succeed at Goodwill. Everybody has setbacks and we’ll work through that.”

One example is Donna, a 27-year employee with Goodwill and the director of First Impressions at the company’s corporate office. Her mother passed away six months ago, and Donna now has a caregiver. If Donna works more than a certain number of hours, she stands to lose her 24-hour care.

Baker said Goodwill worked with her to make sure that didn’t happen, by essentially over-hiring to fill the remaining hours of her position.

Sometimes employee success is about simply putting the person in the right position to succeed. In fact, that’s one of the stated values of Goodwill — alignment among team members is critical for excellence.

Emma, who is autistic, came to work at Goodwill and was placed in the Production Center, where all of the clothes are sorted, priced and sent back out to Goodwill stores. She was hired on a Monday and since she couldn’t stay at her work station, she was fired on a Friday.

“Whoa, we can’t do that,” Baker remembered saying when he found out about Emma’s firing. Since Goodwill was ramping up its data department and knew Emma was good with Excel, Baker called her back in and placed her in the new position. Today, Emma inputs Goodwill’s data to 100 percent accuracy.

Another example of putting the right person in the right position can be found in the Production Center. Matthew, who has been with Goodwill for eight years, is completely in tune with his work. When a normal employee tags 850 to 1,000 pieces a day, Matthew easily does 2,000.

“It’s great working here,” Matthew said. “I just don’t talk much and stick with the job.”

Right now, one of the major challenges is the number of people coming out of jail and prison, Baker said. Since unemployment is so low, these folks already have a strike against them. Goodwill hires them and gives them the work experience they need so they can go somewhere else later on.

However, Goodwill will not hire people with a record of being a sexual predator or having done violence against another person. Those are two things Baker will not entertain.

“We helped one employee secure their first month’s rent. And there was a kid who worked on the balers and got hired by Eastman from Goodwill. I wanted to keep him, but I encouraged him to go to Eastman. That’s a career,” Baker said.


The recent breakfast for employees at Food City has been dubbed a “milestone celebration.” It was the second of its kind, and Goodwill plans to hold them quarterly to recognize the accomplishments of its employees.

But it’s not the only thing Goodwill is doing for its employees. A quick rundown of other initiatives either in the works or recently implemented includes a program for job coaching, monthly birthday celebrations, social services support and education incentives.

Forty-six employees were recognized for having perfect attendance, and Goodwill plans to start a role model employee program, where members of the leadership team will share a meal with these workers, thanking them for the accomplishment.

Coming to work every day is a big part of success and Goodwill wants to recognize that, Baker said.

“I tell our leadership team, stop and talk to employees and see how things are going,” Baker said. “Everything from a son making the D-B football team to another employee getting their license back. All of these are accomplishments that need to be celebrated. We want to celebrate any success that helps somebody stay employed.”

Goodwill has a hardship loan program that could help employees with everything from paying the first month’s rent of a new apartment to paying a portion of a new heat pump — two actual examples the program has helped with. Goodwill partnered with Friends in Need back in 2017 to bring in the nonprofit’s mobile dental unit for employees needing dental work.

During Fun Fest, Goodwill was one of the sponsors of the Thursday night concert and currently the organization is helping sponsor the Kingsport Mets, both resulting in free tickets for Goodwill employees.

Diana Meredith, director of corporate communications at Goodwill, points to the importance of employees feeling they are valued.

“Our commitment here is for every single employee to feel valuable, and I don’t think we see that generally in other companies,” Meredith said. “I just love this place. It’s the culture; it’s the compassion. And when employees feel valued, it makes all the difference in the world.”

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