The roots of today's Goodwill Industries International began as a simple idea in 1902 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Rev. Edgar Helms, a young Methodist missionary fresh out of seminary, arrived at Morgan Chapel in the poor community of Boston's South End. There he found struggling immigrants from Germany, Poland, Italy and other countries who had little money, no jobs, did not know the language and were losing hope.
To help meet their immediate needs, he took some burlap bags up to the northern part of Boston and went door to door, asking the wealthier Bostonians for whatever clothing and household items they could spare. His original intent was to give the materials away, but to his surprise, the immigrants were too proud to simply accept a handout.
So, he carried his idea a step further. He enlisted members of his parish to repair and clean the clothing and fix any damaged items, and set up a small operation where they could sell the donated clothing and goods at reasonable prices. He used the income to provide wages to the workers – and the first Goodwill store was born. Ultimately, the funds generated helped provide some basic education and language training, and gave the immigrants a "hand up," not just a "handout."
Some 100 years later, Helms' simple idea has become a powerful one. He pioneered an organization that has given hope, dignity and independence to more than 5 million people across the world, by helping them earn a paycheck and support their families. Today, Goodwill is indeed a worldwide movement: there are 173 regional Goodwill organizations in the United States and Canada, and another 24 across the world. There are more than 2,000 Goodwill stores.
The regional Goodwills are independent 501(c)(3) not-for-profit human services organizations, but are connected by Goodwill Industries International (GII). GII is based in Rockville, Maryland and is the Member Service Center that assigns territories, facilitates Goodwills working together, and oversees the Goodwill brand.