With Goodwill Toward All

Everybody knows about the stores, but there’s much more to Goodwill than that, including job training and placement, while keeping 12.5 million pounds of recyclables out of our landfills. Every item you donate to Goodwill, says president/CEO Laura Smith, ‘is a job’

When a Forbes article referred to Goodwill Industries as “the most important social enterprise of 2013,” we were intrigued. We’ve always looked at the old clothing and household items in storage as just discards to the Goodwill store. We hardly thought of them as commodities that spur social enterprise on the highest level.


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Front row: Gwendolyn Kenwright, Miss Hawaii U.S. International; Laura Smith, Goodwill Industries of Hawaii President/CEO; Brianna Acosta, Miss Hawaii USA, and Franciana Adam-Rano. Second row: Team Clean members Sheldon Kaeo, Keala Patterson, Duane Jorde and Jerome Nahaku. The pageant queens are helping promote the Goodwill Goes GLAM! event

To carry the analogy further, those designer skinny jeans that will never fit again and that collectible vintage aloha shirt are really “jobs” hanging in the closet.

It might seem implausible, but that’s exactly how Goodwill wants donors to view the stuff it recycles as careers for special-needs individuals.

How does that work?

One donates goods that Goodwill resells in its stores to generate revenue for programs to help employ disabled or disadvantaged persons in our community.

Social enterprise, you see, is a business whose primary purpose is the common good. It uses the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance social, environmental and human justice agendas.

But we must go beyond a mere definition of social enterprise. (Otherwise, this would be a very short article.)

Let’s get insight into how the concept operates in Hawaii, what place it has in our economy and how it affects the quality of life for all islanders.

These are topics that light up the eyes of Laura D. Smith, president and chief executive officer of Goodwill Industries of Hawaii. She is eager to share her knowledge and provide answers for which she can be regarded “Madame Social Enterprise.”

We meet her at the headquarters of Goodwill Hawaii, 2610 Kilihau St. in Mapunapuna.

How did the career tracks of a social entrepreneur lead her here?

Smith was born in Las Vegas and moved to Hawaii when her dad was assigned a government contract project. She was raised in Kailua and educated at Kailua High School and the University of Hawaii, where she received a bachelor’s degree in social work. She earned a master’s in rehabilitation administration from the University of San Francisco.

“The UH social work program helped me to define a career goal,” Smith says. “I knew from age 15 that my calling was to help people. I was given opportunities as a college student to become involved with Child Protective Services, YWCA and Goodwill. I loved helping people discover what they do best … to find their passion.”

That passion led to the fateful match of crusader and cause in 1982 when she became director of rehabilitation for Goodwill Hawaii, followed in 1991 by a three-year term as executive vice president.

Smith, a certified rehabilitation counselor, also served for 17 years as a surveyor for the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). Goodwill was the first agency in Hawaii to be accredited by CARF, an independent, nonprofit certifier of health and human services.

Goodwill’s social enterprise model is a time-honored tradition.

In 1902, Goodwill Industries was founded in Boston by Rev. Edgar J. Helms, a Methodist minister and early social innovator. Helms collected used household goods and clothing from wealthier areas of the city, then trained and hired the poor to mend and repair the used goods. Those items were resold or given to the people who repaired them. This system of goodwill prospered and became the foundation of Goodwill Industries.

Half a century later, June 4, 1959, Goodwill was incorporated in the Territory of Hawaii and led by Dr. Euchio Chung, the first executive director. Milestones during the next several decades have helped the agency serve tens of thousands of people.

The humble start of 28 employees and three job placements has grown to serving 15,000 people statewide each year, creating 1,500 jobs annually and employing four people a day.

Operating with a $29.8 million annual budget and 500 employees statewide, Goodwill exists largely on self-generated revenue from retail sales, donations and commercial services.

“We serve people (free of charge) who have employment challenges,” Smith explains. “The barriers might be past work history, need for new skills or lack of a defined career path.

“People are identified by what they do (work),” the chief executive states. “Clients come to us nervous about how they can contribute to the community due to hesitancy about their qualifications or skills. We get them to believe in themselves.”

Goodwill clients can be transitioning from welfare and need help in re-entering the work force. Youths at risk or school dropouts might need help in finishing schooling to become employable.

Job training and placement also are provided to adults with disabilities, previously incarcerated individuals and immigrants adjusting to a new life.

Thus, the common good is instilled in the organization’s DNA.

As such, Goodwill is a model social enterprise that is the “missing middle sector” among traditional government, nonprofits and business.

It addresses social concerns more efficiently than government, which no longer has the mandate or resources to solve every problem.

Thanks to its self-funding mechanism through the selling of donated goods, 90 percent of every dollar goes to Goodwill programs to help job preparedness, according to Smith.

“Items that cannot be sold are processed through our recycling and salvage system,” she says. “Last year, Goodwill helped to keep 12.5 million pounds of items out of Hawaii’s landfills.”

Never thought about that, did you?

Goodwill is the original recycler. Through an innovative partnership with Dell computers, it also helps to eliminate thousands of pounds of e-waste in our state.

Here’s something else you might not know about this enterprise: It provides free preparation tax services to eligible participants and has a Contract Services division that provides secure document shredding, vehicle repairs and maintenance, as well as janitorial services.

Ever notice the personnel doing corrosion repair on vehicles at Kaneohe Marine Corps Base? Or the yellow-vested streetscape crew in Waikiki? How about the cleaning crew at the federal building?

Smile at them. They are AbilityOne contractors from Goodwill.

Last year, Goodwill Hawaii stores served more than 600,000 customers who generated $7.5 million in revenue to support employment and training programs. Yes, the stuff you left at donation boxes changed someone’s life down the line who wants a chance to redeem himself or herself through employment.

This is social capital at its best. Or social enterprise at the top of its game.

As someone wisely put it: “Work is love made visible.”


Bank of Hawaii presents Goodwill Goes GLAM!, a public awareness event, Sept. 19-22 at Blaisdell Exhibition Hall. Invitational Gala and VIP presale is Thursday, Sept. 19, followed by public GLAM! sale days Friday-Sunday, Sept. 20-22, from 10 a.m.

This one-stop shopping showcase is a treasure and bargain hunter’s delight. Within the more than 20,000 square feet in the exhibition hall will be more than 50,000 unique high-fashion and vintage items. Designer label clothing, shoes, handbags and accessories will dazzle fashionistas at every turn: Manolo Blahnik stilettos at $25 a pair, Coach leather bags at a steal, Aloha shirts of every color including collectible prints, wardrobe worn by Hawaii Five-0 stars Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan – and more.

In addition, there are 12 interactive booths featuring Goodwill Hawaii’s programs, so you learn more about the agency’s mission and services.

The GLAM! event is Goodwill’s major fundraiser and happens only once a year. Its inaugural event last year raised more than $200,000. Its goal this year is to meet or beat that mark.

Peter Ho, Bank of Hawaii chairman, president and CEO, observes, “Last year, we were delighted to be part of the inaugural Goodwill Goes GLAM! event. It certainly lived up to its promise of being the ultimate shopping event for bargain hunters in Hawaii. More importantly, the event benefitted Goodwill Industries’ vital programs that empower thousands of people throughout Hawaii to prepare for employment each year.”

Admission to the sale is $4 at door. For more information on Goodwill’s GLAM! event, go to or call 375-2196.