The Art of Expression

In 2012, Olatoye “Toye” Olawoyin moved to the United States from Nigeria in search of opportunity. His mother dreamed of a better life for her children, but was unable to relocate to America herself. At only 17 years old, Olawoyin departed from his homeland with only a dream in his heart and two sisters by his side.

Residing in Duluth, Georgia was no coincidence for Olawoyin. His uncle, who already lived in Duluth, offered Olawoyin and his sisters a place to call home as they began this new chapter in their lives. Having a home away from home gave them the chance to be able to get a head start on taking advantage of their new opportunity. Olawoyin enrolled in school at Central Gwinnett High School, where he has now graduated from.

February 2018

Struggling with English as a second language and a hearing impairment, Olawoyin had a hard time transitioning to life in the United States and finding employment. He was referred to Goodwill’s Workforce Development program by his counselor at the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Office to get help finding a job that fit his skills and abilities. While in the program, he received hands-on training, which included on-the-job assessments for attendance, punctuality, quality of work and co-worker relations.

During these assessments, Olawoyin worked inside Goodwill’s Pleasant Hill store, processing and sorting donations. It wasn’t long before those evaluating him and working alongside him realized he was an incredibly hard worker. “Toye was a model participant while in the program. He was always on time and never missed a day of training. He always had a positive attitude and worked well with his supervisors, the other participants and the store associates,” says Job Coach Felicia Moran. In fact, store management was so impressed by his work ethic that Olawoyin secured full-time employment at the store as soon as he completed his program training.

For two years now, Olawoyin has worked hard in the store, determined to make his own way and provide for his family. He sends a portion of his weekly paycheck back to his family in Nigeria and doesn’t allow his hearing impairment to prevent him from succeeding. Though he is quiet and shy in nature, Olawoyin is also resilient and determined to succeed in everything he tries.

As a “floater” in the store, he is ready to step in wherever he is needed. Whether he’s processing donations in production or arranging merchandise neatly on shelves, he’s always smiling and giving a thumbs up. “I really like my job and I want to keep working,” he says. Looking towards the future, Olawoyin hopes to continue saving his money so that he can visit his mother in Africa and further pursue his dreams of becoming an artist.

EarthShare of Georgia: protecting the environment, one employee at a time

For EarthShare of Georgia, conservation is king. In an effort to protect the air, land, and water, the organization partners with 50 employers from across the state to raise money for environmental nonprofits.

Primarily through workplace giving, EarthShare of Georgia coordinates employee giving campaigns to support more than 60 environmental and conservation organizations. With 30 based in state, and the others nationwide, there is an organization for everyone.

The group started as the Environmental Fund for Georgia in 1992, and then affiliated with the national EarthShare in 2001. In their 25-year history, EarthShare of Georgia has helped raise $6 million for its member groups.

EarthShare of Georgia’s Executive Director Madeline Reamy called into the show first. EarthShare was founded 25 years ago by environmental nonprofits who wanted representation in workplace giving.

Currently, nearly 400,000 employees across the state participate in EarthShare’s giving program, and come from a variety of companies, including Booz Allen Hamilton, Emory University, and MARTA. Employees are able to pick from a slew of environmental nonprofits, like Georgia Conservancy, Trees Atlanta, and Park Pride.

The group remains en vogue, especially as the environment becomes more and more of a hot topic. Many are connecting the dots between the benefits of improving the environment and strengthening communities. This work can also connect companies to volunteer projects in underserved areas.

“That is a new area that we have gotten into that is very exciting, because it brings many more people to the table to have a conversation about the environment and the benefits of a sustainable Georgia,” said Madeline Reamy, Executive Director of EarthShare of Georgia.

Individuals are encouraged to give and volunteer, as it makes such a critical impact on the environment. “The bottom line is those contributions help to conserve land in Georgia, they help to improve air quality, they help to strengthen work and improving the quality of our water,” Reamy added.

EarthShare of Georgia

In addition to the opportunity for employee giving, companies partner with EarthShare for its countless opportunities for employee volunteer engagement. More and more companies are looking for year-round opportunities for their employees to engage and give back to the community.

For them, EarthShare offers a variety of options, including multiple events revolving around Earth Day. The annual holiday is typically used as an entry point for interested organizations, and they can take part in three separate events, including a Corporate Green Day, Earth Leadership Breakfast, and a closing party. Members also receive special invitations to corporate sustainability forums, access to the Green Chamber, and discounted tickets to the sustainability speaker series.

This year’s Earth Day Green Challenge will be held on March 30th and 31st, and the Earth Leadership Breakfast will take place on April 12. Sponsors get package deals to support the different events. This year, Lewis Perkins of Cradle to Cradle will act as the keynote speaker.

More information on EarthShare of Georgia, and how you can get involved, can be found at www.earthsharega.org.

Support and Guidance for Students Without Mothers

Navigating the college-entry process can be a struggle for even the most informed and prepared student. With seemingly endless paperwork and costs that add up quick, it can be a tricky time for a young adult.

Trickier, still, if that young student doesn’t have a mother to help guide them through. Luckily for them, Atlanta’s Students Without Mothers nonprofit offers support and scholarships for students in the 21-county metro area who don’t have a mother in the home.

Started by Mary Torrence Williams in 2004, the organization provides financial assistance and life-skills for students who need a little extra adult guidance.

“Not having their mom just makes it really difficult to transition from high school to college,” Williams said. “There are so many questions and things that your mom would normally figure out for you. Most of the students we help are the first in their family to go to college, so there’s nobody who can help. There’s a lot that they need to get ready for this next big step in their lives.”

The nonprofit’s scholarship program holds an application period from September to January, and is open to high school juniors. While any students in this age group are encouraged to apply, priority is given to those living with a guardian whose annual income is less than $50,000 a year. The scholarship totals $4,000, which is disbursed in four $1,000 annual payments throughout the student’s college experience. To continue to receive the award, students must annually meet the scholarship’s standards.

Scholarship recipients are officially awarded in their senior year, after completing the groups Life Coaching Program. The Students Without Mothers’ Life Coaching Program helps provide additional support for students during this time of great transition in their lives. Working with Atlanta’s Gifted Education Foundation, the organization offers students the opportunity to work on important life skills training. The training sessions help students figure out how to choose a major, how to choose a college, how to deal with conflict resolution, and other important life challenges.

Students who receive the scholarship also receive a new or refurbished laptop for college. Computers are often a cost-prohibitive item for students coming from low-income families, and this additional resource will help on their college quest. Scholarship recipients are also awarded gift cards to help offset the costs that come even before starting their first college class: school supplies, dorm and room needs, and even personal items.

Since its inception in 2004, the organization has helped 72 students. Williams said that much of their success comes from the help and dedication of the nonprofit’s board. “I think the biggest area that we’ve grown is in our board members and board commitment,” she said. “They all share the passion and mission for the organization and they are all devoted to making this happen. It is because of their commitment that we have been able to grow and continue to help students.”

To help sustain their work in providing financial support for students, including scholarship funding, computers, and gift cards, the nonprofit is always looking for more donors and supporters. For more information on how you can give to the organization, or if you know a student eligible for the scholarship, www.studentswithoutmothers.org.

Love Rolls: Providing Comfort and Care for Atlanta’s Homeless

It’s fairly common to hear about seasoned CEOs and company leaders and their successful business and nonprofit ventures. It’s not every day, though, that one of these success stories comes from the mind of a high school sophomore.

Such is the case, though, for the burgeoning nonprofit Love Rolls, and its founder, Atlanta High School student Kendall Robinson.

What started as a project for the 2015 Youth Summit quickly turned into a passion project for Robinson, as she saw firsthand the difficulties Atlanta’s homeless population endured while living on the street. While handing out goods, including toilet paper, at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, she encountered a homeless man who confided in her his need for the item.

“He was so grateful to receive it because normally he would have to ration out one roll for one month,” Robinson said. “I was completely shocked.”

This simple request for an item so often taken for granted sparked an idea for Robinson. Since then, the group has transformed from a small coalition of Robinson’s family and friends to a collaboration with large donor organizations, including Procter and Gamble (Charmin), Kimberly-Clark (Scott Brand), and even Chick-fil-A.

Distributing more than 100,000 rolls of toilet paper to Atlanta’s homeless population, Love Rolls has started a movement for the community, holding toilet paper drives and filling up a warehouse space to store the rolls for distribution.

Individuals can either come to the warehouse for pick-up or come to one of the many outreach events where Love Rolls hands out the toilet paper.

Love Rolls has also extended beyond the Atlanta-metro area, and has made multiple out-of-state distributions, to Florida, Louisiana, and New Jersey, to name a few. Their goal for 2017 is to make even more trips outside of Atlanta to distribute the toilet paper.

The organization has helped countless individuals, but Robinson said one specific man, whom she met during a distribution at Hurt Park, left an impression.

“He said ‘Finally, somebody thought that we might need this,’” she remembered. “It made me realize that I am out here doing the right thing and I am helping people, and they are grateful for what they are receiving.”

Robinson says she couldn’t do the work without all the support from her family and friends. Love Rolls was only supposed to be a one-week drive, but turned into something much bigger. The word of mouth and community support have also enabled the organization to host their recent fundraising 5K, which included fun and games for participants, raffles and door prizes, and food trucks and a movie viewing.

“It was only because of the help of family and friends and getting the word out,” she said.

For more information on the organization, including how to volunteer or donate, individuals can visit www.loverolls.org.

Prepare for your next job fair with these tips:

Watch this video for tips on how to make the most of the next job fair or hiring event you attend. Did you know our Northeast Plaza career center is hosting a job fair on Wednesday, November 8? With more than 100 positions open from local hiring employers, you won’t want to miss this event! For more information, visit https://goo.gl/gUA7PR

A Blessing and a Newfound Purpose

Blessings come in all shapes and sizes. For Jovanda Martin, they arrived in the form of Workforce Development training at Goodwill of North Georgia’s Pleasant Hill career center. Martin hails from New Orleans, Louisiana, and was a dislocated worker following hurricane Katrina. With no college education, as well as a cognitive and a physical disabilitSuccess Story Template (11)y, she was having a difficult time finding a job.

She came to Georgia to live near her sister and her sister’s three children. Comfortably living on Social Security disability benefits, Martin became restless and interested in doing more with her life. “She wanted to be productive again,” says Dominic Carden, employment specialist at Goodwill. “She saw that she was capable of so much more than people assume.”

While enrolled in training, Martin sharpened her interviewing skills and learned how to work well with other people. She honed customer service skills by providing hands-on assistance to fellow job seekers in the career center. “Goodwill is a good place to start looking for a job. They have so much training and a job coach to help you,” she says.

As her training came to an end Martin applied for a job with YSS Athletics, a professional manufacturing facility specializing in athletic uniforms and apparel. She got the job and was hired as a production associate. She is responsible for quality assurance inspections of manufactured clothing, as well as order placing and maintenance of the company’s files. “I love it here – it’s a good environment,” Martin says. “Goodwill was really a blessing for me. [The training program] helped me get on my feet.” She is happy with her job and proud to come home with a sense of purpose.

Eager to inspire others to find their independence and realize their potential, Martin pays it forward by staying connected with the Pleasant Hill career center and sharing her success with new program participants. “I am very proud of Jovanda’s humility, attitude and persistence, as most people would have given way to anger, doubt and expectation,” Carden says. “She is truly an inspiring individual.”

Meet Justin

Humility is a core value for Justin McKibben. While he won’t tout his own successes very widely, he has overcome tremendous challenges to get where he is today. A major source of adversity McKibben faces is hydrocephalus, a medical condition once known as “water on the brain.” The condition, along with complications occurring in more than 70 surgeries he’s undergone in relation to the condition, cause McKibben a great deal of pain. When he was 19 years old, he decided to drop out of high school and live on disability checks. “I had fallen on rock bottom, skipping around from house to house,” he says. After some prodding from his family McKibben decided to get serious about looking for a job.

McKibben connected with his local Vocational Rehabilitation office, and he stopped by Goodwill’s Cartersville store looking for clothing when he noticed a sign for the career center. He entered the center and immediately felt a connection. “I was at the career center every day for four months,” he says. “I used every resource it offered – computers, job boards, job fairs – everything.”

October (2)

Following a work evaluation, work adjustment and what seemed like hundreds of job applications, McKibben got an offer to work at FedEX in Marietta as a package handler. When he accepted the position his connections at Goodwill stepped in again to help him. “I didn’t know my rights as a disabled citizen,” McKibben says. With support and suggestions from the career coaches at Goodwill, McKibben’s employer instituted small accommodations for him, like lowering the time clock and recycle bins.

Now eight months into the job, he has already received more than one pay raise and is working on getting his GED so he can transition into a quality assurance position at the company. He arrives early to work each day and works hard to show his appreciation for his new position. “Without the career center I wouldn’t be where I’m at,” he says. “When I go to work, I work.” Ever humble, McKibben is quick to credit others for their role in his achievements. But there is no denying he is a shining example of success in the face of extreme adversity.

Meet Curtis…A Veteran, Trainer and Helping Hand

While serving for four years in the Air Force as an Aircrew Life Support Specialist, Curtis Sigur was responsible for ensuring that all flight and safety equipment was in perfect working order before departure. “I was in charge of inspecting survival equipment on the planes,” he says. From packing emergency items to inspecting survival kits, the attention to detail provided by Sigur protected and helped many members of the Air Force.

Sigur’s interest in joining the Air Force came when he was 18 years old. “I’ve had relatives serve including my dad who served in the Army and I had a friend who was in the Air Force. The Air Force just seemCurtised interesting to me,” he says. Through his time serving, Sigur received the Kuwait Liberation Medal for participating in Operation Desert Storm. A prestigious honor, the medal recognizes service during the liberation of Kuwait. In addition to the medal, Sigur also received an Outstanding Achievement medal for his hard work and leadership.

Upon returning from duty, Sigur came across the Smyrna Career Center on his way into the store. “I was just walking into the store to look for some vintage items and noticed the sign for the career center and everyone looked friendly inside, so I walked in,” he says. After speaking with the career center facilitators, Sigur was referred to the First Choice Veterans Program.

Sigur’s desire for helping others shined through his time spent at the career center. With a background and passion for information technology, Sigur assisted visitors at the career center with logging in, building their résumés and searching for job postings online. “Being a part of the program really brought out my skillsets and allowed me to help others look for employment,” he says.

Today, Sigur continues to help people. As a Corporate Trainer for Coca-Cola, he helps associates grow and expand their knowledge. Through the process of onboarding employees, training employees on machinery and updating and presenting procedures, Sigur has been a valuable contribution to the Atlanta-based company for nearly a year.

With hopes to inspire other veterans returning for work Sigur says, “Goodwill is a good place for a veteran to go. It’s good to know there’s an organization like Goodwill to help you and respect you for serving your country. It was a very positive experience for me.”

Adaptable and Dependable

At the age of 12, Tossapop Strickland developed an interest for electronics and soldering. “I began soldering when I was a kid in Thailand with my uncle’s soldering iron. I would take apart toys and piece them back together,” Strickland says. In 2013, he and his family relocated to the United States to be near family and better schools. Strickland’s surroundings changed, but his interest in soldering stayed with him.    24

Adjusting to his new home and a new high school, Strickland learned the importance and value of being adaptable. “At first it was hard. The weather, time and language were difficult to adjust to,” he says. Learning to speak English as a new high school student, Strickland worked even harder to maintain his grades and develop the ability to speak with his peers.

His English continued to sharpen as his friend group grew, but Strickland’s listening and comprehension skills lagged behind. “My speaking was off the charts, but not really my listening or reading,” he says. Upon graduating high school, he looked to transition directly into the workforce. He worked as a delivery driver for a family restaurant, but it did not provide him with a feeling of satisfaction.

With a seasoned interest in electronics, Strickland hoped to find a career that aligned with his passion for solving technical problems and working with his hands. He was referred to Goodwill’s Electronics Assembly and Soldering program by a friend. While in the program, he received technical soldering training and obtained industry-recognized credentials, including IPC 610 Specialist/Inspector and IPC J-STD Board Repair Tech certifications. Even with extensive knowledge in the area, Strickland needed help getting his foot in the door. “Goodwill helped with my English and communication skills for interviews,” he says. “I learned how to sell myself when applying for jobs.”

Overcoming the challenges of interviewing and networking, Strickland got the chance to put his skills to work when he gained fulltime employment as an electronic assembler at Scanfil. “I didn’t know it was possible to have a career in electronics. I never had the chance to try, but Goodwill gave me the confidence,” he says. In nearly half a year on the job he has distinguished himself as a top performer at his work site.

Bringing a great attitude, a natural interest in the work and strong technical ability to every task, Strickland surpasses expectations for every project presented to him at Scanfil. “I work in all of the departments. They put me in departments that are backed up or need to get ahead,” he says. As a valuable asset to the organization, his supervisor Roxana Flores says, “Tossapop masters each department right away and produces quality work. He exceeds the daily goals that some people take weeks to do.”23

Now that he’s hit his stride in his new country, Strickland hopes to continue advancing his career. “I really love what I do and I am thankful Goodwill helped me get here,” he says. Strickland took the opportunity to showcase his skills and not only loves what he does, but excels at it.

SheWill: Teaching Financial literacy with a side of self-esteem and empowerment

JULY (4)At a 2013 Financial Literacy and Education Summit held at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray stated that “a large majority of K-12 teachers in the U.S. say that personal finance should be taught in school, yet less than a third say they’ve taught lessons about money, and more than half feel unqualified to teach their state’s financial literacy standards.”

Atlanta’s nonprofit organization SheWill understands this critical need, and is doing its part by teaching financial literacy to local girls between the ages of 8 and 17. These girls learn the importance of financial awareness and career empowerment.

Through an interactive, lecture-based curriculum, girls are taught through age-appropriate activities related to finance and work-readiness. For many, the idea of high school graduation is many years away, but the program provides them with insights and a framework for what they can expect when they complete school.

Research has shown that girls are able to understand the fundamentals of money and finances as early as three years old, so SheWill believes that starting them at 8 makes them even more prepared to learn. They talk about the basics, like what money is, how it’s used, how to count it, and then how to implement the financial skills into their daily lives. These types of skills help young girls to understand real life situations like bill pay and financial struggles or constraints that their parents might be going through.

Sheena Williams, Founder and Executive Director of the organization, hopes that beyond the financial training, that the girls learn individuality, self-esteem, and independence. She teaches them these skills through a variety of programs within the organization. In the mentoring program, girls are paired up with professionals who can guide them and teach them in their desired fields of study. Girls go through the fundamentals of finance in a 10-week course, but also meet and communicate regularly with their mentors to talk about areas they can build on. Then, in the SheWill Lead program, coursework focuses on the development and nurturing of leadership skills.  Finally, in the organization’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, girls learn that leading a business is just like leading their own life.

SheWill also travels to local schools, community centers, and social clubs to bring the organization’s curriculum to girls all over the city. Through their outreach programs, girls can learn how to balance a checkbook, put together their first resume, or build a business plan, all while incorporating fun activities, like Zumba.

The organization doesn’t stop with just the girls in the program, though. Understanding that this learning must continue at home, they offer opportunities for mothers and daughters to attend classes and events together. Girls 13 and over can bring their moms to the classes, and while the young girls learn their own lessons, moms are given tips on other financial topics, like couponing, budgeting, saving, and finding free activities for the family.

The organization is always looking for volunteers, including individuals to take part in the mentoring program. Those interested in learning more about how to help out, or who want to sign up for a class, can visit www.shewill.org.