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Detroit's Goodwill in good hands

Porscha Hunter is an employee of Goodwill's Green Works Inc., a program creating jobs for Goodwill trainees and providing industrial recycling. Photos courtesy Goodwill

March 27, 2014
Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit is in good hands with Lorna Utley at its helm.

Since her appointment as CEO nearly seven years ago, the nonprofit organization has increased its avenues of revenue sources and reduced its federal government funding dependency. Recently, Utley was given the top Goodwill award.

The organization is a little better off than other Goodwill organizations around the world because it is connected to the auto industry, said Utley, who lives in Grosse Pointe Woods.

“We are different because much of our revenue is earned,” she said of how the local Goodwill budget is supported.

Once 60 percent of the budget was dependent on federal government grants. Under Utley’s guidance, the non-profit has reduced that number by half. Now only 30 percent of its multi-million dollar budget is federally supported. Utley said she finds this, as well as seeing the organization grow and serve more people, quite rewarding.

“We do have good programs. We work with the developmentally disabled. We are very diverse from the revenue stand point,” she said.

For her endeavors, Utley has been chosen from 165 Goodwill CEOs worldwide to receive the Matthews Entrepreneurial Award from Goodwill Industries International.

The award is based on her “demonstrating the entrepreneurial spirit in the development of new market revenues and jobs for people with barriers to employment,” a press release said.

It went on to say under her leadership, despite a recession, Greater Detroit Goodwill grew.

The Greater Detroit Goodwill umbrella includes the donated goods stores dotting Wayne, Livingston and Macomb counties and parts of Oakland and Washtenaw counties. Goodwill’s younger clients are working at Ben & Jerry’s in the Compuware Building. Adults are lending hands at DTE, Clean Downtown and Goodwill’s Green Works Inc. Contracts with these firms provide both funds for the nonprofit and employees’ wages, on average $11 an hour, she said.

The Clean Downtown program supplies staff to pick up litter, remove graffiti, sweep and provide landscape maintenance in downtown Detroit.

Green Works occupies a 96,000 square foot recycling facility in Detroit in tandem with DTE. Here workers are stripping and recycling copper and steel from equipment DTE has replaced, whether the equipment was outdated or storm damaged. These wires and transformers or underground cables would routinely have been sent to a landfill.

“We sell it (the recovered materials) on the open market and share the profit with DTE,” she said. “It’s repurposed and keeps it out of the landfill. We have been doing this for many years.”

Goodwill also offers basic instructional programs, such as learning how to write a resume, interview and dress for the interview.

Of the youth training program, Utley said, the at-risk youth have few opportunities to learn the skills of how to find a job.

Last year, 13,000 clients were touched by Goodwill whether it was a “light touch” with clients learning to write a resume or a “heavy touch” in which clients are enrolled in a 16-week training program, she said. The placement number Utley cited for 2013, was 1,275 in which people were earning a competitive wage at a full- or part-time job with a retention of 60 to 180 days.

Utley joined Goodwill in 2007 after 28 years in General Motor’s human resources department. She was hired as the vice president of philanthropy then moved into the CEO spot in October 2007.

She sees her accomplishments on which the award is based as “Being able to see it thrive, grow and serve more people. We hold our own and won’t grow heavily dependent on government resources.”

Goodwill’s resale shops located throughout the metro area are well known. Not as well known might be that Goodwill provides man power for cleaning Detroit’s streets and, Utley said, Goodwill offers suppliers the man power to make parts or assembly such things as safety kits and license plates.

“This is great work experience,” she said. “Additionally, it is working with the auto companies. We have been with Ford for over 80 years.”

She goes on to say Goodwill’s mission is to help those who are employment challenged, to train them and assist them in finding employment opportunities.

“They don’t have a past work history. No work identification or experience,” she said.

In conclusion, said Utley, who holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Purdue University, “I want this one (Goodwill) to be a good strong presence in metro Detroit.”

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