Contrary to what many might believe, Goodwill is not just for Halloween costumes. The organization uses revenue generated by its stores to educate and train adults free of charge. Last year 4,000 students were served by Goodwill’s 10 job-training and education sites in Western Washington, with more than 900 of those students being served in Seattle.

“Students … coming into our classes are coming in to acquire skills they need to get a job or benefit them in advancing in the current job they are in,” said Janice Rapier, Seattle director of the Job Training and Education Center. “Right now about 65 percent of our students are immigrants and refugees.”

Seattle Goodwill offers five class sessions a year where adults can enroll in job-training programs as well as basic educational classes such as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), computer, cashiering, writing, math, citizenship and community college 101.

On Feb.15, Goodwill broke ground on its Job Training and Education (JTE) center development, to be located adjacent to their 1400 S. Lane Street Street site.

The current building “wasn’t really designed for instruction. It’s more of an office building,” said Rapier. “I’m excited because [the new development] is going to allow us to expand our services to our students. We will have more classroom space to serve more of the community.”

Rapier said the new facility is focused on having current technology with smart boards in the classrooms and five computer labs for student use. The three-story, 49,562 square foot building will house the JTE center and administrative support services. JTE classroom space will increase by 20 percent and JTE staff capacity will double. The building is designed by Mithun and Foushee & Associates. Occupancy is expected in April 2013.

Rapier said Goodwill serves adults from age 18 to the early 90s. The most popular classes are the ESOL classes as the majority of students are non-native English speakers.

Saroeut Ouk is a 26-year-old born and raised in Seattle to two first-generation parents who emigrated from Cambodia in 1984 during their country’s civil war. Ouk struggled in school from the start.

“I started at Lafayette Elementary. It was hard. I was in the lowest reading. I was always getting tutored. I struggled. I still struggle to this day,” said Ouk. “I barely ever did my homework because we didn’t know how to do it.”

Ouk dropped out of school in ninth grade, returned in tenth only to drop out again and attend an alternative school. It wasn’t until she started attending classes at Goodwill that Ouk was able to get her GED.

“I have always wanted to be a social worker, but that wasn’t my main focus,” she said. “My main focus was taking it a step at a time, to get my GED and then think about that later,” Ouk said.

Ouk is a member of the Green Corps program at Goodwill, which was developed in partnership with Seattle Parks and Recreation. This nine-month program helps students earn their GEDs, develop good work and life habits and improve their lives while learning about the environment.

“There are 11 of us in the program. We’re really close. A lot of us don’t have support and being able to be part of this program gives us a lot of support,” Ouk said. “It’s a good bond. Some don’t even have parents. It uplifts people and it gave me hope and belief. I don’t think I would be able to do it by myself.”

Students like Ouk owe their education to the instructors at Goodwill.

“One of the things that’s important to us with having such a large immigrant and refugee population is that they see instructors that look like them, to give them that encouragement that anything is possible,” said Rapier.

Wendy Lau has been an ESOL instructor at Seattle Goodwill for the past six years. She too has an immigrant background. Her grandparents emigrated from Canton, China, to Hawaii where he grandmother worked at the Dole cannery.

“I have the same feeling and the same environment as my students and their children,” Lau said. “It’s hard. Your parents come here and they have nothing, and they try to make a better life for you … You have a great sense to study hard and hopefully be a support for your parents.”

Goodwill is committed to addressing the barriers in people’s home lives and work lives through it’s direct and leverage services.

“Everyone is so excited about the brand new facility,” said Lau. “I think for the students when you explain to them that their education is free it amazes them because it’s from the community. This money is coming from Goodwill.”

“Goodwill is based on community support and finances and it’s being built for them. I think it’s a real honor for them to have it. They are very grateful that the American community could be so giving and so sharing.”

To learn more about Seattle Goodwill’s services, visit: or call (206) 957-5516.

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