Second Chances

It’s not unusual to hear someone speak of America as a land of second chances. In this country, most people tend to be reasonably forgiving and willing to give a person another chance – most of the time and within limits, at least.

Neither is it unusual for me to hear people at Goodwill talk about how we or someone in our organization gave them a second chance. I frequently hear this from students in our Excel Centers. Our students are older youth and adults who, for any of a variety of reasons, had dropped out of school. While many of them later wanted to complete the work required for a diploma, the options available to them just didn’t fit their life circumstances.

Since we opened the first Excel Center, the demand for space in these unique high schools has been phenomenal. From 300 students in one location just three years ago, we now have nearly 3,000 students in nine central Indiana locations. All of our students have enrolled voluntarily, and most are grateful to have another chance to complete what they didn’t finish the first time around. Better yet, their opportunities don’t end when they receive their diploma. If they have the desire and are willing to put forth the necessary effort, Goodwill will continue to work with them until they attain a post-secondary credential, become employed, and remain in the workforce for at least a year.

There’s another group at Goodwill that is benefiting from a second chance. Over 300 of our employees have criminal records, and many of them have had a very hard time finding an employer who would give them an opportunity to start life anew. Does it always work out? Of course not. But most of the time, it does. The benefits – to the individuals who have been given a second chance and to our society at large – are huge.

Throughout its history, Goodwill has employed a lot of people few others seemed willing to hire – whether because of a disability, a criminal history, a low education level, or some other barrier. In many cases, rather than a second chance, Goodwill has given them a first chance to become productive, contributing citizens.

There are limits, of course. While we are happy to work with those who put forth their best effort and try to do a good job, those who make it difficult or impossible for us to trust them will seldom find another opportunity in our organization. Neither will those who demonstrate a pattern of treating others poorly.

On the other hand, employees who demonstrate good work habits and a good attitude, consistently treat others with respect, have a genuine desire to improve their education and skill levels, and are willing to put forth the necessary effort to do so may qualify for assistance from Goodwill that can lead to better career opportunities with us or with another employer. The options available through Goodwill or other entities with which we have strong relationships are greater than ever.

One of Goodwill’s historic values is that we provide opportunities, not charity, and foster development, not dependency. That value is just as strong today as it was when Goodwill was founded in the early years of the 20th century – whether it’s a first, second, or maybe even a third chance.

Keys to our recent growth and development

During the last five years Goodwill in central Indiana has experienced growth that has been far greater than I would have believed possible.  From 2005 – 2010, a period that included the most severe recession since the 1930s, we added 1,000 employees and now employ nearly 2,400 people.  I would not have imagined such growth.

Neither did I imagine in 2005 that within five years we would have opened a high school that generated so much interest there would be 1,300 prospective students on the waiting list.  And I did not imagine that the fastest growing part of our organization in 2010 would be our ecommerce operations.

While my failure to imagine these developments is certainly profound evidence of how lousy I am at predicting the future, all of these examples have been a result of four factors:

  • A significant increase in our pool of highly talented staff who not only have tremendous skills, but also a deep commitment to Goodwill’s mission and values.  I believe that at some point in the last five years we achieved a critical mass of talent in depth as well as breadth, and those talented people are widely dispersed throughout our organization.  We also had some capital to work with.  When you have good human capital, add financial capital, and align those resources toward a worthwhile goal, good things can happen.  (For those who are directly involved, this can also be a lot of fun.)
  • The development and strengthening of relationships with many who, as individuals or through their organizations, have similar interests and complementary resources.  By working together to leverage those resources in well-defined ways toward a common goal, we can sometimes create new or better approaches to solving social problems.
  • Continuous learning – from others as well as from our own experiences.
  • A strong financial position, without which we would most likely be more risk averse and without which we would not be able to invest in new opportunities that have potential to further enhance the accomplishment of our mission.

Summarized, we have experiences, learn, and make connections.  Those experiences and connections often lead to new ideas and ways of combining strengths or using them in different ways.  And as this process continues to repeat itself, the organization continues to evolve to higher levels with greater impact in the lives of people and in the larger community.