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Seattle Goodwill -- a Brief History

HistoryLink.org Essay 4148 : Printer-Friendly Format

This is a history of Seattle Goodwill, a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1923. The organization provides employment training and basic education to individuals experiencing significant barriers to economic opportunity. It derives a significant portion of its operating funds from its thrift stores. The history was submitted by the Seattle Goodwill staff.

Seattle Goodwill Turns 80 in 2003

Seattle Goodwill was founded in 1923 by a group of local businessmen who recognized a need for training and employment for those without job skills. These founders established Seattle Goodwill at its original location at the corner of Boren Avenue and Virginia Street. Two years later, Seattle Goodwill moved to the corner of 1st Avenue and Cedar Street.

In 1930, the building at 1st Avenue and Cedar Street became too small, and Seattle citizens raised the funds needed to purchase an old hotel at 1400 South Lane Street -- the site of Goodwill's current facilities.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Seattle Goodwill returned to the original Goodwill concept of trading work for goods such as clothing, furniture, and housewares. In the Depression years of the 1930s, it is believed that in addition to those working for wages, each month as many as 1,500 people would work at Seattle Goodwill for short and long periods in trade for anything from a pair of socks to a complete outfit or a houseful of furniture.

As the social programs of the 1930s developed into a government system to care for the basic needs of the financially disadvantaged, Seattle Goodwill began serving those with physical and mental disabilities. For the next 40 years, Seattle Goodwill provided these services to the community.

A devastating fire swept through the Seattle Goodwill plant facilities at the corner of Lane Street and Corwin Place on May 10th, 1945. A campaign to rebuild was begun immediately and collection trucks were operating the next day. A new facility opened in 1947, and is still in use today.

With an increase in the number of organizations in our area helping those with physical and mental disabilities, in the 1970s Seattle Goodwill shifted its program focus to serve those with less visible challenges such as economic, educational, social, and vocational barriers to employment.

In 1979, in response to its new population, Seattle Goodwill began offering vocational training classes to prepare trainees to enter jobs within the community. These classes evolved into our current Employment and Training Program. In 1985, a small literacy program was added to address the educational needs of program participants. This program developed into our current Adult Basic Education Program.

Seattle Goodwill spent much of the 1990s expanding our programs and retail operations. During this decade we revamped our job-training program to more closely reflect the needs of the modern day employer and employee. Computer hardware and software, customer service and business communications were (and still are) popular and relevant courses. Our education program also changed in the 1990s to assist students immigrating to the United States and in need of English and basic skills instruction.

Retail operations were also the focus of expansion in the 1990s. Between 1995 and 1999, Seattle Goodwill opened five "New Generation" stores in the northern Puget Sound. These new stores featured their own donation drop off and processing facilities, a modern storefront, and a stylish retail environment; many also offered on-site programs.

Seattle Goodwill's newest program, STRIVE, opened in February 2002. STRIVE is an employment readiness program that focuses on helping participants develop the workplace behaviors and attitudes that are necessary to get and keep a good job.

In 2001-2002, our three programs -- Employment and Training, Adult Basic Education, and STRIVE -- together served more than 2,000 individuals and provided thousands of hours of classroom instruction and on-the-job training.

Today, we are a recognized leader in employment training, and a pioneer in innovative and effective adult basic education. Our Seattle store is the most financially successful Goodwill store in the world and our other nine stores -- located in Bellevue, Bellingham, Bremerton, Burien, Everett, Lynnwood, Marysville, Mount Vernon, and Tukwila -- continue to break sales records and to provide outstanding customer service to thousands of customers and donors each year. We are proud of all that we have accomplished over the past 80 years.

Seattle Goodwill Website (www.seattlegoodwill.org).

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Founders and employees pose in front of the first Seattle Goodwill at the corner of Boren Avenue and Virginia Street, 1923
Courtesy Goodwill Industries

Men and women lined up outside Seattle Goodwill's original plant during the Great Depression, ca. 1936
Courtesy Goodwill Industries

Fire-charred Seattle Goodwill plant, Lane Street and Corwin Place, Seattle, May 10, 1945
Courtesy Goodwill Industries

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