Safety. Learning. Belonging.
We create second chances through training and the dignity of work.
From the Top
Looking back on an extraordinary year as we turn the corner to new opportunities.
President & CEO
The power of Goodwill comes from its resilience. We see it in the people we serve, who adapt to changes and are open to possibilities no matter how the world challenges them. We’ve seen it in our 104 year history, as we’ve evolved to address poverty and inequality in the Bay Area by creating new programs, partnerships, and social enterprise businesses to meet the current need. In 2020, we drew inspiration from those sources not only to endure a global pandemic, but to use it as an opportunity to streamline our operations:
- We shifted our job training and placement services to online to keep our clients connected to the resources they need to succeed
- We forged a new partnership with the City of San Francisco and hired 500 people from the hardest hit communities to staff up needed services during the pandemic
- We invested in our e-Commerce social enterprise business and launched a new e-Commerce Academy to prepare people for jobs in technology
- We renegotiated leases for our most critical locations and reinvested the savings into our mission
- We made the difficult decision to close underperforming Goodwill retail stores and donation sites.
These decisions, along with continuing to invest in the transformation of our core operations, will enable us to take on new challenges in 2021 and beyond. As we grieve for those lives lost and disrupted due to COVID, we also foresee a brighter future as the pandemic eases and the Bay Area regains its footing. New efficiencies will allow us to grow our social enterprise, enabling us to improve the quality and reach of our job training and placement services. We are determined to address the startling inequality in the Bay Area, made worse by the pandemic, by helping those emerging from incarceration, homelessness, addiction, military service, limited education or skill levels, and more, rebuild their lives.
The core values of SF Goodwill — Safety, Belonging, and Learning — help guide us when times are easy and are put to the test during difficult days. We tested and stuck by our values during the pandemic, knowing that 515 of our 600 hourly employees have significant barriers to employment, are housing and food insecure, and have few resources. When we had to close locations we paid employees for a month to allow them time to apply for unemployment insurance because we knew that they had no bridge to carry them from losing a job to getting an unemployment check. We helped every employee to apply for unemployment. We chose to furlough affected workers rather than layoffs so we could cover their health insurance while we were shut down. To help defray their health insurance costs, our board chair, Eric Sippel, provided the seed money for an Employee Relief Fund to which every board member and senior team member contributed. This is part of the Goodwill Way.
I am proud to lead an organization that creates opportunities in a crisis. I am grateful to all of our supporters who walk beside us on this journey — whether by donating their belongings, contributing financially, shopping in our stores and online, or inviting their friends to join the mission of Goodwill — and I’m thrilled by the possibilities in the future we’ll create together.
President & CEO
In the face of an incredibly difficult year, trust in our Goodwill mission and in one another kept us resilient. The pandemic laid bare deep inequities in our society, but also revealed our common bonds and how much we can achieve when we stand and work together. Anchored by our collaborative culture and strong leadership, Goodwill stands united.
My career has taught me that the first response to any crisis is to stay calm and recognize that, working together, we will get to the other side. With this confidence, we can simplify, tune out noise, and respond proactively. Achieving this focus helps us make clear-headed choices and lean into doing the right thing.
When shelter-in-place began, it might have been simpler to begin layoffs, as many organizations did in similar positions. Instead we made the unprecedented decision to keep everyone on payroll, despite losing nearly all revenue when our operations had to shut down. Recognizing the vulnerability of those served by our employment social enterprises, we wanted to ensure that they had a bridge to unemployment benefits. We then chose furloughs instead of layoffs so people could keep their healthcare — a crucial benefit in the middle of a pandemic.
Goodwill's values of safety, belonging, and learning would mean little if we lived by them only in good times. This, in part, is why I am so proud to work alongside William Rogers and all of San Francisco Goodwill’s stalwart leaders: When tested by this difficult time, we stood by our mission and values, demonstrating extraordinary capability and resolve to serve our internal and external communities.
I see the Goodwill spirit shining brighter than ever as we practice turning our challenges into opportunities. Throughout our organization, I’ve witnessed us building new institutional muscle to sustain us through this crisis and into our future. To name just one example, our creative and nimble team deftly moved our career services programs online and pivoted to our e-commerce efforts. Seeing us exercise this new muscle memory, I’m even more confident that we will not just survive, but build, thrive, and expand the reach of our mission, with new approaches and trainings geared toward the future of work and commerce.
I came into my role as board chair for this incredible organization believing strongly in the power of education and the dignity of work to foster second chances for those who must work the hardest just to get by. As we emerge from the pandemic, I believe SF Goodwill’s inclusivity, workforce training, and resources are even more critical for our community. And our next phase, as always, begins with your extraordinary, ongoing support for our mission and programs.
With great admiration and appreciation,
Striving and Thriving
Spotlighting three people who are rebuilding their lives with the help of Goodwill.
Goodwill Director of Retail Operations
When Sara gained release from the justice system at the age of 33, she found barriers everywhere she turned, blocking her path to earn income. “I had to figure out a way to lay that whole old life down,” she recalls, “but I couldn’t qualify even for simple retail jobs because of my background.” There was only one place that was willing to give Sara a chance.
When Rachid emigrated to the U.S. from Morocco two years ago, he was eager to put down roots and contribute to his new country, but a lack of fluency in English severely limited his job prospects. Then Rachid found that Goodwill offered paid employment AND the opportunity to learn at work through vocational classes — including English as a Second Language...
Goodwill Job Services Client
When Heather was finally ready to rebuild her life, Goodwill was there to help her craft a new resume, bring her computer skills up to date, and open a checking account. Then the pandemic hit — and Heather wondered how she was going to make the transition back to work without their support.
The Year in Numbers
Chief Financial Officer
In recent years, our investments in business process improvements and new technologies, and the diversification of revenue streams had resulted in increased business growth and an expansion of our mission impact. The pandemic’s shelter-in-place orders and the resulting shutdown of our operations dramatically reduced our revenue and net assets. Even with the difficult decision to furlough staff, other monthly costs including rent, unemployment, workers compensation, salaries and benefits for working staff, and equipment leasing continued unabated.
This crisis required us to adjust how we served the needs of our employees, our clients, and the wider community in a time of direct need. As we reopened our warehouse, logistics, distribution, transportation, retail operations, and mission services we scaled our staffing to adjust for the downturn in occupant capacity, and we established safe distancing practices to protect our employees and customers. Meanwhile, we reallocated resources to support the growth of our online business with strong success. We’ve emerged from this period with stronger fundamentals in place that should allow for expansion in the years ahead.
At SF Goodwill, we believe that nothing should go to waste. In 2020 we made great strides:
Tonnage of the carbon emissions reduced by our fleet of zero-emission vehicles
Percentage of textiles we receive that find a second use through Goodwill
Pounds diverted from local landfills, including more than 3M pounds of toxic electronics
Around the world, people flee their home countries to escape war, famine, and oppression, while others emigrate in hopes of finding economic opportunity for themselves and their families. Regardless of what brings them to the Bay Area, and despite the welcome that our community offers to outsiders, immigrants face a host of new challenges here — from securing food and shelter to finding a way to earn a living. Many come through the doors of Goodwill to seek their first connection to the U.S. workforce. Our Earn While You Learn program in our warehouses and stores becomes their first secure job in this country.
That was the case for Rachid Laraj, who emigrated with his family two years ago from Morocco, where he had struggled with under employment and poverty. Rachid arrived speaking only Arabic, and quickly found that the job prospects for non-English speakers were severely limited. Then he heard about Goodwill, and within a year of arriving he was working in our South San Francisco warehouse, sorting donations for transport out to our stores using pictograms, sign language, and pantomiming as his guide.
When Goodwill’s Mission Services team assesses individuals who come to us looking for help, they consider the whole person. What barriers does this individual have to getting and keeping a job? While it might be some combination of lack of housing, food insecurity, substance abuse, or a lack of education — for which we make a warm referral to organizations with deep expertise in those areas — sometimes the barriers are less severe but equally daunting. A lack of language proficiency falls into that category, and for those who are hired by Goodwill, there’s a solution.
Goodwill offers vocational training classes in English as a Second Language (ESL) right at the workplace during paid, on-the-clock time. Made possible through a grant from the California Workforce Development Board, the program offers the more than 30% of our non-native speakers a sustained and convenient way to improve their English skills. Our team identified Rachid as someone who would benefit from Goodwill's ESL At Work classes. He enrolled within months of starting work, and is now in his second semester of the four-part ESL series.
ESL At Work instructor Robin Garnham described how many newly arrived workers in the U.S. often have families and other obligations that make it difficult to attend English classes after work hours, and many others simply lack the confidence to get started. “At Goodwill, there’s a direct link between what’s happening in the classroom and what’s happening on the job. Because they’re in the same location, instead of just having a picture or an image on a television screen, we can go and look and touch the real object. That’s the gold standard of learning methodology.”
RuiLing Zhang, an ESL at Work student, said, “Learning English is helping me build my courage and gain skills for doing my job. Any time I don’t get something, now I just say, ‘Can you repeat?’ RuiLing found that greater English proficiency gave her courage to ask questions. “One example is that there was a time I needed a store address; I went to [the manager] and asked about it on my own, and I got the address as a result. Learning English helps me build my confidence.”
Managers at Goodwill encourage their team members to take the classes so that they can take on new responsibilities in the organization. A sales associate with little English can, with ESL At Work training, rise to become a cashier who feels confident conversing with customers.
For Martha Estrada, who fled the civil war in Nicaragua when she was in her early twenties, the ESL classes at Goodwill have also enriched her life outside of work. “Everyone speaks Spanish in my family,” she said, “but the good thing is that we are watching TV in English now. Now when I am texting with my sister, she says it’s so funny that I start out with a little Spanish, then you finish with all of your English. I like that I can prove that I’m learning my English. I love the ESL classes. Now I know all the words!”
Instructor Robin Garnham pointed out that many of his immigrant students find themselves on the periphery of American society due to their lack of English. “They are outside of the mainstream and many of them would like to participate more professionally and better understand what’s going on around them. They want to understand when they receive a letter from the government. They want to have a better comprehension of what's happening to their kids when they go through the school system, but they don’t know how to achieve that. They know they could be more assimilated. Those at Goodwill find ESL at Work a step toward achieving that.”
The program has become so popular, higher-level classes have been added to cover even more sophisticated, industry-relevant vocabulary and interpersonal skills. In 2020, almost 90 percent of students completed the program successfully and signed up to take a higher level course.
“The instructor has a lot of patience in the lectures,” said Le(Ann) Chau. “The more that we learn in English, the more we will practice using it on the job. Learning English helps us become more courteous with one another.“
ESL at Work graduations, which take place every quarter, are joyous occasions where students completing their courses stand at the podium to address the gathering. The enthusiasm carries over to the workplace, where more and more Goodwill employees are now signing up for beginning level classes as they’ve seen their colleagues’ confidence grow.
For Rachid Laraj, learning English while working at Goodwill has enriched every day he spends in the warehouse. “Now I understand,” he said with a smile. ESL classes have also encouraged his family members to join the fold. “My wife now works in the Goodwill retail store in San Mateo, and my two brothers also work at Goodwill here in the warehouse now.” ESL At Work has become a bridge to a better future for all of them.
The morning of March 16, 2020 flowed like any other at the SF Goodwill Career Center. At the front desk, a receptionist was helping schedule individual intake appointments for people seeking jobs. Down the hall, Goodwill instructors led classes in digital literacy, resume writing skills, and English proficiency. A dozen job seekers used the Goodwill computer lab as a trainer roved among them, answering their questions. The Employer Engagement staff was setting up tables for a Job Fair for 20 local companies that afternoon, and out in the Bay Area Goodwill career advisors visited clients at county jails and supportive housing facilities.
By the next day, nothing was the same. Mayor London Breed’s shelter-in-place order led to the closure of Goodwill’s San Francisco stores, donation sites, and mission services, including a Career Center that would stay dark for nine months to come.
To the Goodwill mission services team, this was a crisis of many parts. Not only were the populations Goodwill serves particularly vulnerable to COVID due to their living conditions. Without Goodwill job training and placement services they might be unable to stay on their path toward a new livelihood. The supportive community they had found at Goodwill, where they were welcomed and understood, was an important part of their personal recovery.
Staff members, suddenly at home and burdened with caring for children out of school, many without laptops or software to connect them to their colleagues, jumped on conference calls. The questions came rapid fire: How would Goodwill stay in contact with a population that already had challenges making and keeping in-person appointments, some of whom did not have access to a mobile phone? Would the connections they’d made between employers and job seekers dry up?
Employer Engagement Manager Troy Henry thought of Heather, a client in county jail that he had been helping get ready for re-entry. With Troy’s help, Heather was rebuilding her resume after a five-year gap, while career advisor Steena Wright had been providing financial literacy training. Troy worried about what would become of Heather.
Megan Kenny, Senior Director of Mission Services, helped her team break down the tasks one at a time, from getting folks set up remotely through Goodwill’s IT department and trained to use new virtual tools, to reaching out to other support organizations to help track down mutual clients. The team decided that given the urgency of the situation, they’d prioritize getting communication and classroom prototypes out into the world quickly and improve them as they went along.
Within two weeks, the Learning and Development team had held its first virtual class over Microsoft Teams. Within four, the Employer Engagement team conducted their first virtual hiring event. Language specialist Robin Garlin released short YouTube videos to her ESL clients to keep them practicing on a daily basis. Phone trees and Zoom calls helped keep clients and their Goodwill service providers connected on an hourly basis.
Troy and Steena were relieved when they reconnected with Heather by phone after her release. Heather recalls, “When I got out, I knew that Goodwill would be essential to my continued recovery. I had gotten rid of all of my old contacts and started to build a positive network, with Goodwill at the top of my list. It was one of my first calls.” In the midst of the pandemic, Troy and Steena helped Heather get her first job as a custodian, then counseled her through landing a permanent position with benefits.
As the pandemic wore on, the entire mission services staff learned new ways of delivering services. Vincent Lopez, a Goodwill engagement specialist who helped train classes in workplace and retail fundamentals recalled, “It can be hard enough to keep a classroom focused in person, let alone virtual. So it was the little tweaks that created, unexpectedly, that community vibe. We eased into our day with conversations. Some of the conversations allowed me to hear their ‘self talk’ to see where their minds were at.”
“I’d say, ‘I’m going to throw a quote out there and you tell me what it says to you.’ And it would be something like ‘Without commitment, you’ll never start. Without consistency, you’ll never finish.’ Some people would get deep, talking about their drug rehab and how that commitment and consistency is evolving, and that would spark another person. And then you would start seeing them be on that family vibe: ‘I know where you’re coming from. And I’m going through it.’ Normally, in my mind, in a different world I’d go like, ‘We’ve got to get to work.’ But then I’d think. This is the work.”
In the midst of helping their existing and new clients, the team faced another challenge. The pandemic lockdown forced Goodwill to close their store and donation centers, and the organization chose to furlough affected employees rather than lay them off. The Mission Services department had a new group of clients who needed help finding alternative employment or applying for unemployment insurance. With the team’s help, many found temporary employment through a new partnership between Goodwill and the City of San Francisco to staff temporary pandemic housing. All told, the organization placed almost 500 unemployed people, some from Goodwill, in these roles. Later, SF Goodwill helped move many of them from these temporary jobs into permanent positions elsewhere — all without meeting them in person.
“I would highlight the ability of our team to troubleshoot issues,” said Employer Engagement Specialist Henry Hoffman. Before COVID, we’d had many times when clients changed phones or experienced an issue during the process of being interviewed and hired. We would troubleshoot and still get people hired despite those issues. The ability to handle adversity is something I have no doubt our team applied to the pandemic response, because we’d had pretty much everything thrown our way and had learned to work through things on the fly.”
The team believes there is no going back. Michael Scott, who now manages the Goodwill Career Center, said, “We’d always wanted to provide virtual instruction. The silver lining of COVID for us was that it pushed us to get there fast. And now we see that remote classes can be more accessible to more people.” Added Employer Engagement Manager Troy Henry, “We’ve learned we can work with clients even better than when we were only one on one. With a hybrid model, if a client can’t make a class in person, they can still make the class.”
Clients can now complete paperwork remotely without needing to travel to Goodwill, making intake and follow-up more efficient for all involved. “We’ll never return to all in-person services,” said Megan Kenny. “Access isn’t just providing people with a physical space to go to. It also means meeting people where they are. We can adapt from a live intake appointment to digital follow-ups with ease, helping us serve people in the way that works best for them, and that brings the best results.”
Through all of the hardship the pandemic caused, including the heartache at losing 13 clients to COVID, the team kept up their passion for the work. Said Goodwill Engagement Specialist Minh Tran, “It’s more than a job. It’s wanting to make a difference in the community. Wanting to make sure the single mother doesn’t go homeless… and making sure that someone released from prison has the ability and resources to get back on track, and not let the world judge them for what they did, but look at them for what they can be. It’s those things that really drive us.”
For Heather, the dedication of Troy and Steena to her success has made all the difference. After earning two associate degrees while in jail, she is now enrolled at San Francisco State University to get a bachelor’s degree in Sociology while applying for a manager role at her employer, a local nonprofit. Said Heather, “I didn’t know that giving back could feel so good.”
After gaining release from the justice system at the age of 33, Sara emerged into a world with barriers everywhere she turned. She felt lucky that she’d found a place to live with her boyfriend’s family, but she had no money to support herself and lacked confidence. “I had to figure out a way to lay that whole old life down,” she recalls. “That started with work.”
“People think that if you want a job, you just go to work, right? But when you don’t have the same options — because you have a disability or you’re justice involved or your English isn’t so good — there’s very few places that will still give you a shot. I couldn’t qualify even at Target and other simple retail jobs because of my background.”
Sara was able to find temporary gigs as a security guard at events while she applied for full-time work — ”tons and tons of jobs” — but kept coming up dry. “It felt like there were resources for men getting out of prison, they could join the union, they could do construction work, but there wasn’t much for women trying to re-enter the job market.”
Eventually Sara found a support group for recently released women, where they shared resources and ideas for employment. There, she first heard about Goodwill. As a girl, Sara had gone thrift shopping with her mother, so Goodwill only meant one thing to her. Her friend explained that Goodwill offered on-the-job training, a temporary, six-month program for people ready to work. She encouraged Sara to apply and two months later, she found out she’d been accepted. "Okay, it's a temporary job,” she remembers thinking, “but it's 40 hours a week. Something is better than nothing."
Goodwill placed her in their Burlingame store, not far from her home in San Mateo, so that she could travel easily on the bus. Sara remembered feeling anxious on her first day, wondering what the people there would think of her background. “I was really trying to hold on to all the work that I had done in the groups and programs in prison, and so really this was a big, big step on the way to me kind of re-entering society,” she remembers. Her store manager Daisy put her to work on the first day with clear directions about what to do and how to do it. Sara recalls, “I just really enjoyed the physicality of the work, how fast my days went, and really enjoyed how much I learned in a really short time.”
After six months, the program came to an end. Finding no open positions in the Burlingame store, Sara felt a sense of loss as she went back to temporary work. She now had recent work experience and more confidence than before, but still no full-time job. “I got a part-time job at an apartment house leasing office, which was just the worst because I was just sitting there.” After three or four months of diminished prospects, she was delighted to receive a call from Daisy, who had moved on to manage the South San Francisco store. Sara recalls, “She said, ‘I would love for you to come back.’ and I said, ‘Yes, yes, and yes.’”
Sara’s full-time role at Goodwill came with benefits, including health insurance for the first time in her life, but there were also risks. “I told myself, just don’t screw this up,” Sara recalled, worried that the trust Daisy had shown in her was unfounded and that her opportunity could dry up, setting her back. “Working at Goodwill opened up a whole new world of possibilities, and I really wanted to make the most of it. It felt like a one-in-a-million shot.” With each passing day. Sara gained confidence at handling all of the mundane and the unexpected situations of running a retail store. Once she learned a skill, she found courage to suggest a way that it might be done better.
Daisy took notice, and in a couple of years suggested that Sara apply for a supervisory role at another Goodwill which would require opening and closing the store, counting the money in the cash register, and taking responsibility for the alarm codes and keys. This brought up complicated feelings. At first, Sara felt that she was an imposter who didn’t deserve the chance, then she battled feelings of rejection by the manager who had mentored her to this point. “I just couldn’t believe that they thought I could do this,” she remembers thinking.
Besides, Sara told herself, the store was in the Mission district of San Francisco, far from the bubble of safety Sara had created for herself on the Peninsula. She would have to ride BART into the City, then transfer to a bus. “I had stayed out of the City mostly. A part of any recovery is creating routines, and making changes to those routines is a high anxiety kind of situation, because you don’t know what it could trigger when you’re going into an area that may be full of drugs, full of crime, full of bad influences.” She told Daisy, “I don’t want to do it.”
Daisy gently nudged Sara toward speaking with the Mission store manager, reminding Sara that she had made it this far, and finally Sara relented. She took the job and day by day grew more comfortable with the busy street life in the Mission and her new role. Her experience working in other stores gave her ideas about how operations in the Mission store might be improved, and that in turn led to greater responsibility. She also found a new community of co-workers and residents who embraced her, and began to train new employees who were part of the same temporary employment program that had been her gateway to Goodwill. Within six months, Sara was promoted to assistant manager at the Goodwill store in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood, and a year later became manager of her first store, in the Sunset.
As her career took an upward trajectory, Sara picked up new skills and training from Goodwill, one building from the next. She learned how to manage people, including those who were not performing up to their potential. She came to see that Goodwill sometimes gave a person who failed to show up for work or who relapsed into drug use more than one “second chance.” When they were ready to recommit, Goodwill welcomed them back. Sara also learned the business of retail — from resolving customer service issues to visual merchandising to creating spreadsheets to track and report store performance to rebalancing the product mix on the sales floor to increase revenue. “It’s a continuous collaboration around best practices, with stores learning from one another and from leadership.”
Today, Sara is a part of that leadership as Director of Retail Operations in charge of ten Goodwill stores across three counties. Now a ten-year veteran of Goodwill, Sara knows the systems, processes, people and performance inside and out, and is a go-to leader when questions about retail operations arise, which is every hour of every day. Looking back, she says, “Rebuilding my life and being able to belong to something was a really, really important part of my recovery. For me, it's the little things. Having somebody depending on you to be there, to open the store, to run the day, to be a part of something that is bigger than yourself, right? And so you start to build... that just starts to build your confidence, and really makes you feel like you still have value.”
“Good ideas and hard work get recognized and rewarded here. If you put in the time, if you put in the effort, if you have the commitment, you can get the job, and not in just an ‘Oh, here you go’ kind of a way.” Investing in the success of people is what keeps Sara at Goodwill. “It definitely brings a deeper meaning to your work. It feels important. I know how important it was for me to have people believe in me and give me a second chance. And so I want to pass that kind of feeling on.”