(Featured photo: Helms College students prepare apple cinnamon muffins topped with struessel for Edgar’s Bakehouse. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News)
Augusta’s Goodwill has taken an innovative approach to its founder’s vision.
“In 1902, Edgar Helms, the Methodist minister who founded Goodwill, founded a trade school,” said James K. Stiff, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the CSRA.
In the early days, Helms would take in donated items and use them to teach people how to be cobblers, seamstresses and watchmakers. He operated the training center in a warehouse next to his church. The items they refurbished he gave to them. It wasn’t until years later that a deacon suggested selling the items to put more money into programs and training.
As time passed and trades changed, the retail model of turning donated blue jeans into jobs continued, and the education piece went to the community and technical colleges, he said.
But Goodwill’s Helms College on Washington Road in a former shopping center has taken that original vision, revived it and transformed it to meet the needs of the 21st century.
Since 2010, when Goodwill acquired the property, changes have been made to cause the center to be a unique model for other Goodwills to emulate.
The first phase of the Washington Road center included the retail training piece which follows the familiar model of used clothing being sold to create jobs. Phase I also included a Job Connection center to help people find employment.
Helms College’s first school is its culinary school, which not only teaches students to become chefs but provides real world training through Edgar’s Bakehouse, Edgar’s Grille and Edgar’s Above Broad. And at a fraction of the tuition of an institution such as Johnson and Wales.
“We have a hospitality division – Edgar’s Hospitality Group. And it operates 52 weeks out of the year and students come in when it matches their curriculum. Other culinary schools around the country only have pop-up venues that are only open when the school is open. What our advantage is is that we have this ongoing operation that students come into. It’s almost like a European apprenticeship experience,” he said.
That real world experience gives students an edge.
In 2019, 50 Helms College students were part of the back-of-the-house culinary staff at the Augusta National during the Masters.
Stiff said the Augusta National operates 24 kitchens that week with 550 culinary students in the back-of-the-house. At the end of the tournament, the executive chefs pick the top 24 students and award them with a Masters Culinary Team coat. In 2019, seven of those 24 jackets went to Helms College students.
“Our students are prepared for all this,” Stiff said. “They stand out.”
Stiff said starting a college was born out of a need they saw in the community. They felt they could do more for people.
“In the 1990s, this Goodwill based in Augusta was the largest welfare-to-work organization in the state of Georgia. We and the three Goodwills that divide up the state helped 6,000 fourth generation welfare recipients get a job, then we handed them off to the technical college system as part of our partnership. Then, we fast-forwarded a few years later, but the vast majority never completed a certificate, diploma or degree,” said Stiff.
That led to questions of why were they able to complete the 12-week program to get a job through Goodwill, but they were unable to get a certificate, diploma or degree. The answers, he said, all pointed back to the additional support they’d received when going through Goodwill’s programs.
So, they decided to start a college based on community needs. It took seven years to go through the process and get the necessary accreditations.
“When we started the school in Macon in 2007 and brought it here in 2013 – at that time – we thought ‘this is a way to help people with barriers to career advancement, have wrap around Goodwill services that they might need to complete a certificate, diploma or degree,’” he said.
Now, Stiff sees the college model as the future of Goodwill.
Helms College has expanded to include a School of Health Services with plans for a School of Technology.
The construction project is currently finishing up Phase III-A which includes the creation of the Helms College Welcome and Enrollment Center in the former SouthState Bank building, a student commons, library and media center and the school of hospitality expansion and applied learning bakery.
The work in Augusta isn’t complete. Phase III-B is in the wings. That project will include the expansion of the School of Health Services as well as an applied learning center. The applied learning center would be a clinic or other health care provider on site, requiring a partnership with a private entity.
“Every school has a classroom to lab and then onto an enterprise,” said Stiff. “By the time you finish a diploma or two year-degree, you build a resume. This helps level the playing field.”
Also in the next phase is the development of a School of Technology as well as an applied learning center for that school.
In September, representatives from 43 Goodwills from the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions – roughly Baltimore to Louisiana – will come to Augusta to see Helms College in action.
“We want to expose those Goodwills to this (and tell them) you can have a branch of the only college in the world affiliated with Goodwill in your territory,” he said.
In addition to tapping into the school and its curriculum, they could operate their own Edgar’s Bakehouse in their area to provide that enterprise experience. It may not be long before this principle goes into practice, Stiff said. They are already in conversations with the Goodwill in Phoenix, Ariz. about the possibilities.
Also in the works are plans for an open house in July to allow the general public to take a tour and see what goes on at Goodwill.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at email@example.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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