Goodwill Easterseals of the Gulf Coast (GESGC) has been a resource for community support since 1934 when it was founded by Edgar Allen. As a non-profit, charitable organization, GESGC is funded mostly through Goodwill store sales and private donations. Eighty-nine percent of Goodwill’s earnings goes to the community programs. GESGC’s volunteer coordinator, Lydia Gaudet, invited me to see first-hand how the company’s programs work.

The gulf coast campus, located in Mobile, Alabama, is home to a childcare center, administrative offices, a work/skills training area, a book donation center, and a variety of meeting spaces and community- center- style offices. There was also an auditorium with seating for up to 200 people. All meeting areas can be reserved for free. I was invited in to see the work/skills center and the book donation center. In this area they offer skills training and oversight for anyone.

Edgar Helms, founder of Goodwill

Workforce training like forklift operating, is offered through GESGC and certifications are given for these trainings. If someone needs to be certified in forklift operating you can come here for that certification and the GESGC will provide someone to do one-on-one training. This is free of charge and available to anyone.

In this training program, the organization also contracts with citizens who are hard to place in a typical work environment due to physical or mental limitations. One such person the organization is helping is an elderly man who lost his eyesight a few years ago. He comes to this center to work whenever he’s contracted by various companies and he is paid a wage for his work. Lydia Gaudet said without this center he would have otherwise been unemployed.

The book donation center is free for anyone or any organization to use. Volunteers come in and help to sort and package donated books for free distribution. The books range from good to great condition. There were several boxes of book donations prepared for my arrival to give to the children of Seraaj Family Homes, Inc. Gaudet offered as many boxes as I would need!

Volunteer Coordinator Lydia Gaudet and volunteer Jackie Trainier

As for the many business and education classes GESGC offers, there is an ongoing GED program and there’s a dedicated learning space for these students. There are math tutors available to assist with the materials. The GESGC is a certified testing center, so once a student is ready, they can take the test right there in a private area. Gaudet said there are no requirements on your education level to take the GED there. Some potential students even start the program just by learning to read.

There are also respite services for military families. Gaudet explained that if a military family is anywhere in their service area and they need respite such as babysitting or caregiving for a child or family member, GESGC will send a qualified person on staff to provide this service to the family for free.

The campus also offers technology training and Microsoft certification to anyone, which is also free of charge. There are classes geared specifically towards older job seekers to get abreast with technology and managing computers and devices, even down to using your new smartphone.

There are several available childcare services, after-school care options, therapy services, and early intervention for people from infancy to age 21, regardless of income or any disabilities. Gaudet said that several times there’s been parents who come in with children who traditional daycare could not provide for because of their certain functional needs. But there’s a place for these children at GESGC.

A brightly decorated after-school care room

Gaudet shared with me a summation of what kind of impact these and many other services have on our the local community. There was a lively classroom of adult- aged citizens with disabilities such as Down’s syndrome and autism. They were in the middle of their busy day of having fun and learning.

The challenges their GESGC’s clients may have faced at home or in society are shrunk to highlight their capabilities and assist them with things that may not come easily to them. There, they are no longer functionally limited, they are only capable of things society might limit them from accomplishing or even attempting. Not only that, but clients’ worries and frustrations are lifted long enough for them to laugh and have fun, and even develop a great friendship with their peers. GESGC has many services to offer. Find your local branch today and see what it has to offer.

The auditorium seats up to 200 people

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