Grants & Scholarships

When your plans get turned upside down

Goodwill’s pandemic pivot

We all know what happened to even the best laid plans in 2020. For Goodwill Industries of Southern New England, that meant upending their promising Warehouse Training Program. During the seven-week program, 20 under- or unemployed individuals were to receive technical and hands-on skill training to provide them with the necessary competencies to obtain a living wage job.

Goodwill received a $40,000 grant from the Foundation through Economic Security—one of our three strategic initiatives—to support the program. But when the program was scheduled to begin in the spring, COVID cases were rising throughout the state. “Once COVID struck, it was tough even for our own staff to work. We didn’t know what we were going to do with our warehouse, but we knew we needed to put this very hands-on training program on hold,” states Christine Yankee, vice president of program services for Goodwill.

“We had to figure out how we could still work with those we serve...typically people with barriers to employment,” Christine continues. Conversations with the Foundation followed as to how awarded funds could be utilized. Rather than putting a hold on the funds until a hands-on program could be run safely, we worked with Goodwill to develop a Plan B. So they adapted a Vocational Evaluation services program they had offered for more than 40 years into a virtual program, submitted a revised application, and were approved.

The Virtual Vocational Evaluation services are designed to help unemployed individuals explore work interests, determine aptitudes and skills, and formulate career plans. Christine explains, “Job seekers and Goodwill Vocational Evaluators are able to see and interact with each other through an online teleconferencing system, making it essentially the same experience as the face-to-face evaluation.”

Components of the program include a professional development curriculum to provide job seekers with an understanding of workplace expectations and the skills needed to meet them; workshops on such topics as résumé writing and interviewing skills; and retention services through which Goodwill supports both the employer and employee for six months.

“We try to target folks who are not eligible for other services and who are not only unemployed but considered at-risk,” Christine says, noting individuals may be considered at-risk due to disabilities, being of an ethnic minority, having English as a second language, being of low socioeconomic status, or other factors.

“The Foundation grant is allowing us to serve people in need that we otherwise could not serve. The funding has allowed me to bring more staff back. We all just want to help everyone. There’s nothing worse than turning someone away,” Christine believes.

Before it went virtual, the Vocational Evaluation program had a 95% placement rate for those who completed the program. Noting an increase in manufacturing jobs in Rhode Island, Christine is optimistic about the virtual program's potential success, as well. “If we have someone eager to get a job, someone who really wants to work, we’ll keep working with them until they’re employed. There are jobs out there,” she concludes.

The program highlighted here aligns with the Foundation’s focus on investing in effective workforce development efforts. We support proven programs that demonstrate results, with an emphasis on serving high need populations (i.e. low income job seekers, people of color, and those with the greatest barriers to employment). To support grants like this one, consider a gift to the Fund for Rhode Island,, or contact our Development team about co-funding opportunities,