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Goodwill offers second chances to justice-involved individuals

Special Report, for The City Sentinel April 2021 print edition

Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma’s mission is taking a step further when it comes to justice-involved individuals.

Goodwill is a local nonprofit providing jobs and training to individuals with an incarceration history dealing with non-violent and non-sex-related crimes. As a result, hundreds of justice-involved Oklahomans have been able to acquire skills and job training that they will be able to take with them throughout their lives and a new journey. 

“As many of us know, Oklahoma has some of the highest incarceration numbers in the country,” Goodwill Director of Training and Employment Services Amara Lett said. “This means every year, thousands of individuals are being released on parole without direction or a source of income.”

This is where Goodwill and its numerous employee support programs steps in. Through the Begin at Home program, Goodwill is able to offer employees supportive “wraparound services” through community partners to gain access to much-needed tools and resources ensuring their success. People released from incarceration often step into difficult circumstances and benefit from the Begin at Home program to provide support in the day-to-day transition back in society. 

Through a new partnership with the Department of Correction and Probation and Parole Services, Goodwill hires Oklahomans in transitional facilities to jump start their skills training before being released from the system. 

One example is Amanda Parsons, a Goodwill employee on pre-release with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. She currently works at one of the Goodwill retail locations as a cashier, and with the skills she’s learning at Goodwill, she plans to build a career and brighter future for herself. 

“It’s success stories like Amanda’s that make what we’re doing worth it,” Lett continued. “A good number of the people we’re helping have nowhere else to turn when they’re released, and many employers won’t hire or work with anyone with a felony conviction.”

Goodwill’s approach to second-chance employment efforts illulstrate how the nonprofit works with employees to build skills. These are skills that will help them advance to higher positions in Goodwill and garner new career opportunities. 

Many employees begin at a retail location in an entry-level position, but through support from Goodwill, can soon be promoted to management and supervisory positions, which allows for more diverse employment opportunities with Goodwill and other employers in central Oklahoma. 

“Incarceration is not the beginning or end of anyone’s story,” Goodwill CEO Jim Priest said. “It only takes one moment to change the trajectory of someone’s life, and Goodwill offers a first step in the right direction.”

In addition to Goodwill’s mission services, those who donate at one of 17 Attended Donation Centers across central Oklahoma have another chance to help justice-involved individuals as Goodwill has donated clothes to the Diversion Hub in Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma County Jail. 

To learn more about these programs and how Goodwill is changing lives through its mission, visit okgoodwill.org.  

Note from Publisher Patrick B. McGuigan: The City Sentinel newspaper and its online news website advocates criminal justice reform. The management and staff have long supported data-proven, pragmatic programs which, combined with generous and determined individuals, aim to help people build capacity for personal success. The Goodwill program described here is a leading good example of such efforts. We salute Goodwill and its leadership – and all organizations and individuals working to provide education, skills-training and other practical assistance for individuals have been incarcerated or are at risk of incarceration. Oklahoma can, methodically and over the course of time, become more peaceful in daily living – and more respectful of the possibilities for non-violent people who have been or at risk of incarceration. 

Shellie Simpson is learning to work hard (and smart) with the help of Goodwill staff. Photo Provided
Shellie Simpson is attentive as a Goodwill advisor guides her through development of her technical skills. Photo provided.
David Kirsch, now active the Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma training program, moves a cart of clothing around the facility where he is working. Photo Provided.