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December 1, 2017

Goodwill Job Connection expands to Augusta; 100% of placements still employed

Courtesy / Goodwill Industries of Northern New England
Courtesy / Goodwill Industries of Northern New England
When Anne Johnson’s store closed and she was laid off, she found Goodwill’s Job Connection program. "The Job Connection team wasn’t judging me, they were there to help,” she said. “Hope and Carol [career adviser, life navigator] came to my home. They were on my side. They were as concerned as me about feeding my kids. That’s amazing.”

Goodwill Industries of Northern New England has expanded its Job Connection program, which provides both workforce and social support for job seekers, to Augusta.

The program began in Portland in April 2015, and expanded to Bangor last March. It matches counselors with job seekers, helping them with life skills, finding work experience, sometimes buying them a uniform or equipment, and sticking with them even after the person is settled in a job.

"We invented [Job Connection] here in Maine," said Heather Steeves, external communications manager for Goodwill, which has its regional headquarters in Portland. "We thought it would work, and it is."

The program has placed 154 people in jobs since it began. Goodwill found 100% of participants that it tracked a year after completing the program successfully maintained their job at their original place of employment, Steeves said.

The program combines workforce counseling with social services, aiming to give a person a foundation that's about more than wages.

Serving the needs of central Maine

"A lot of people in central Maine need more than skills to get and keep a job," said Kelly Osborn, executive director of workforce services said in a news release announcing the Augusta program. "People's lives are complicated, and Job Connection recognizes that. This isn't just about getting someone a career, it's about helping them learn to build a life that will sustain them."

The program pairs job seekers with a coach who is a licensed social worker, and the coach sticks with the person even after employment, if needed.

"We never say goodbye," Steeves said. "We never leave your side unless you want us to."

Job Connection is supported in part by revenue from Goodwill's stores, and so it differs from other workforce programs in that it can help with needs that are standing in the way of getting a job. For instance, if a participant needs scrubs for medical assistance training, Job Connection will buy them.

Wholistic approach

"We work through every challenge," Steeves said.

The Portland and Bangor programs are open to anyone with an employment barrier — from those with social, mental health, addiction and economic issues, to a doctor who may be a new English learner, or a Ph.D. who was laid off and can't find appropriate employment.

Participants in the Augusta program, which is partially supported by the state Department of Health and Human Services, must be in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The Augusta program is also mobile — going where the job seeker is.

Christine Audet, a "life navigator," with the Augusta program, said, "We meet people where they're at – figuratively and literally.

"A lot of people can't get to our office, so we'll meet them at the library, at campgrounds, in coffee shops, in their homes — we're a mobile team and that's very unique for a work program, but we know it's what a lot of Mainers need," she said in the news release.

The program also has business partners who take on participants as volunteers and potential future employees, giving the person work experience. Steeves said the program is looking for businesses willing to participate.

She said Mainers are used to thinking creatively, and the program is an example of that. The wholistic approach the program takes helps build a foundation "so the state can thrive."

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