Goodwill helps disabled people to use their strengths in the workplace

loberle@islandpacket.comSeptember 22, 2013 

Shonna Hunter of Bluffton stands for a portrait with her seeing eye dog, Hunter, in the warehouse at Goodwill in Bluffton on Monday morning. Shonna has worked for Goodwill for three years and is legally blind.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo


  • Businesses interested in working with Goodwill's employment program in the Lowcountry should contact Lorain Tascoe-Bey, director of workforce development, at ltascoe-bey@palmettogoodwill.org or 843-324-0537.

Goodwill employee Shonna Hunter picks up the phone in Goodwill's warehouse, announces that new items have been put out in the store, and thanks the customers for shopping at Goodwill and making a difference in their community.

She's also thanking them for the difference Goodwill has made in her life.

When you donate clothing and household items to Goodwill as well as shop there, you are also helping disabled people in the Lowcountry gain employment.

Hunter, 50, is legally blind, disabled like many of those who find jobs through Goodwill's services, which includes job placement, resume preparation, GED preparation and job training.

More than 90 percent of the revenue generated from donations go toward Goodwill's job training and employment services, according to a press release.

Lorain Tascoe-Bey, the director of workforce development for Goodwill in Bluffton, said the employment programs at Goodwill are focused on helping individuals who might not be ready for competitive employment because of a disability or some other type of barrier.

Hunter's biggest obstacle with employment was transportation. At one point she even listed an ad in the classified section asking for rides to work.

But Brad Dorshaw, Goodwill's district manager, helped her with getting rides on the Palmetto Breeze, and aligned her schedule with the bus services schedules.

Tascoe-Bey said a major component of the program is advocating for those with disabilities by helping employeers in the community understand how these people can contribute.

Before Goodwill, Hunter had worked various jobs -- in day cares, in the food and beverage industry, as a cashier. There, she worked to hide her disability, she didn't hold papers close to her face to be able to read them better, she didn't ask for help even when she needed it.

For Hunter, those jobs focused on how she was incapable, on what she couldn't do.

"It was an inconvenience to them, and people can be intolerant sometimes," she said. "There was often this preconceived idea that I was incapable to do what was expected of me."

Goodwill, instead, finds what each person can do, and places people in jobs accordingly.

"They try to see where your strengths are and place you where they can use your strengths," Hunter said. "If you give your best, they're willing to accept that."

Goodwill does have a relationships with several businesses in the area, such as Lowes, that call saying they have a certain position open that could be filled by someone in the program. But there is still a stigma, still a hesitation with many businesses to employee the disabled, according to Tascoe-Bey.

"Unfortunately, there's a perception about people with disabilities," she said. "A lot of employers don't have a lot of the time that we spend with individuals to get them prepared. And they need people that can come right in and get the job done. They might not think they'll be able to do a good job."

Tascoe-Bey hopes to change that.

"One of our goals and one of my jobs is to make the community more aware that people with disabilities are very good employees," she said. "They're dedicated, they're committed, they get to work on time. Because they want to work, and they've been turned down a lot for their disability, because of the way they look or walk."

Goodwill's Job Links Centers provides free computer usage and assistance job searching, filling out applications and creating a resumes.

"Some people come in and don't know how to use a mouse," Tascoe-Bey said. "We don't do intense computer training, but we do help them understand the basics that are required to apply for most jobs."

The clothing voucher program at Goodwill provides clothing for those who have been negatively impacted by a disaster, such as a house fire, and the homeless as well as those in needing appropriate attire for interviews. Vouchers are issued at the Job Link Centers.

In addition to helping people land a job, the employment specialists at Goodwill also help them keep and strive at their jobs.

The employment specialists work one-on-one with individuals, teaching them how to communicate with their bosses and co-workers. They provide support to both the employeer and the employee, communicating with the employee on behalf of their employer, and vice-versa, to help communicate and solve problems that arise.

Goodwill does have many opportunities for employment within their organization. In addition retail position at area Goodwill stores, Palmeto Goodwill of Lower South Carolina also runs the mess hall at the Marine Corp Air Station mess hall in Beaufort.

Since the beginning of the year, Goodwill has provided services to more than 7,000 Beaufort county residents, including direct assistance with job searching, resume preparation, job skills training and GED preparation, according to a press release. Through the three area Job Link Centers, 60 individuals were placed in local jobs, and about half of them have remained employeed for over a year.

For Hunter, Goodwill made her feel worthy and competent, like she belonged.

"At Goodwill, I'm a lot more relaxed," she said. "I don't have to hide (my disability). I don't have to pretend it doesn't exist."

Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.

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Palmetto Goodwill website

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