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Editorial | Name in the News

Goodwill Hawaii responds to COVID-19 challenge: helping people find jobs during a shutdown

  • COURTESY PHOTO
                                Goodwill Hawaii President Laura Smith, center, with board members Gwen Yamamoto Lau, left, and Amori Ogata.

    COURTESY PHOTO

    Goodwill Hawaii President Laura Smith, center, with board members Gwen Yamamoto Lau, left, and Amori Ogata.

How have you and Goodwill Hawaii responded to the coronavirus pandemic?

Although we have had to close our retail stores and our donation centers during the stay-at-home order, our job placement programs have seen a rapid increase in people needing our services to assist them with applying for various government benefits, or being sure they are able to retain the benefits they have.

We have converted much of our mission services to a virtual format reaching out to people by phone, and using online platforms like Google Classroom to host job clubs, resume writing and job searches. We also are looking to help people to upgrade their skills which will lead to additional job opportunities for them.

For example, in our Career Readiness & Education Development Program, we offer practical job preparation to help people succeed in today’s job market. This includes helping people to choose the right career for them, and develop a pathway to meet the employment requirements needed. We are working hard to help others to prepare themselves to get back to work as soon as possible when businesses reopen. For many people this will mean a return to their former jobs, but for others, they will need to find new jobs.

What should government be doing to help nonprofits like yours?

We are watching policymakers make fast decisions during this COVID-9 crisis that could have lasting impact on the nonprofit sector. Some of the federal programs that included nonprofits such as the Small Business Administration disaster loans and the Paycheck Protection Program have been a stabilizing force for our industry. Without collective nonprofit advocacy, nonprofits would have been left out of the major federal relief legislation.

While there has been much help that has been made available, many nonprofits are concerned that with the economic downturn, future federal, state and county funding may see budget restrictions and cuts in the months ahead, which might impact the safety net further at a time when it is most needed. Nonprofits need to have a seat at the table as local, state and federal governments set policies for relief and later turn to recovery.

Additionally, we hope all our funders, including the state and county, will continue our mission service programs to keep the safety net stable for our residents who need help at this time. This might mean modifying some of our deliverables such as allowing us to accept more clients than we projected, or serving people virtually rather than face-to-face during this time as we find so many more of our community needs real help right now.

Post-pandemic, what’s ahead for Goodwill Hawaii?

Since all of this has begun, every day we ask ourselves how we can create a new experience for our staff, our clients and our customers in light of the new reality of social distancing. For many staff and the people we serve, this meant a steep learning curve of how to connect over telephone and internet, and I think this time might impact how services are provided in the future.

In our retail stores, although we are not yet open, we are taking measures to enhance safety for our employees and our customers, preparing to use PPE such as masks and sanitizers, installing face guards at our registers, providing social distancing markings at checkout, and offering specials and promotions to customers to help them when they can donate and shop again.

We will need the public’s help more than ever when we reopen. We have a critical mission of getting people back to work, and our social enterprise model asks the public to donated gently used clothing and household items rather than providing financial support. We know our donors and shoppers will come back to us and help us to carry out our community response to help as many people as possible get back to work.

I think overall, we will become a stronger community and we will have learned together how to really dig in to solving some of our most critical issues.

What have you enjoyed most about working for Goodwill Hawaii?

Goodwill for me and for our team, is all about the people — we often see people at their most vulnerable, not knowing where to turn to find employment to support themselves and their families. Seeing them change the path of their lives for the better, and the hope and promise that brings to them, is remarkable. Personally, I always feel so proud for them and what they have accomplished, and humble that Goodwill had a part in partnering with them to meet their goals.

You’re supposed to retire soon. What are your future plans?

It’s exciting to be able to retire after 38 years of service to Goodwill, and I know that with my colleague, Katy Chen, as the new president and CEO, Goodwill Hawaii is in great hands. I plan to stay engaged with our charter school, Kapolei Charter School, as well as with the nonprofit community in various roles both locally in Hawaii and through some of the accreditation work I do on a national basis.

I’m also looking forward to a slower pace where I can spend more time with family, have some travel adventures and spend more time “playing.” I will always stay committed to helping our community.

THE BIO FILE

>> Title: President and CEO, Goodwill Hawaii

>> Years with Goodwill Hawaii: 38

>> Education: Master’s in Rehabilitation Administration, Bachelor’s in Social Work

>> Family: Husband, Alan Smith

>> Other community roles: Goodwill Industries International Board of Directors; Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations (HANO), board member.

>> Fun fact: I renewed my passion for growing vegetables during this pandemic. It’s something I can do at home and share with family and friends.

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