Left to right: ESOL instructor Wendy Lau and student Tu Vo in one of Goodwill’s classrooms.
Left to right: ESOL instructor Wendy Lau and student Tu Vo in one of Goodwill’s classrooms.

Tu Vo is a student at the Seattle Goodwill’s Job Training Center. She and her family moved to Seattle from a small town in Vietnam just nine months ago, where employment was tough to find. Vo heard about the Goodwill program through a friend.

“[My friend] had studied here before, and said it was a good place to study, so I came here,” Vo said.

In today’s unpredictable economy, it is more important than ever to have a set of job skills that can carry you through changing times or for recent immigrants to learn how to adapt successfully in America. Vo is one of many people who are new to the United States and are taking advantage of Goodwill programs.

Seattle Goodwill’s Job Training and Education Center has been helping people obtain the job skills they need since 1923, with thousands of people completing programs in the last year alone. Goodwill’s 10 training centers in the greater Seattle area offer a variety of classes for those who are at economic, social or educational disadvantages, including English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), Retail and Customer Service Training, and Adult Basic Education, which includes writing and computer literacy.

Betsy McFeely, public relations director for Goodwill, says they see students of all ages and skill levels come through their doors.

“[There] are people who may want to come in and take a class or two, to enhance their skills, or maybe they have a lot of skills, but they don’t know how to use a computer, so they need to learn that piece to get into the job market.”

Wendy Lau, an ESOL instructor at the training center, says that family and friends bring in much of the center’s traffic.

“Tu’s family studies at Goodwill—her mother, her father and Tu,” said Lau.

To which Vo chimed in: “And my cousin!”

“The reason why Goodwill really works is because word of mouth is so strong,” Lau said. “They start off and take seed from here—so it’s beautiful, because the seeds come in and they grow here.”

In just a short time, Vo has completed an ESOL class, a Life and Work class and is now enrolled in Goodwill’s Career Pathways program, Community College 101. This prepares students to transition into college. Vo says the programs have given her a wide variety of abilities.

“I study about how to interview for a job, and study the culture here, and now in College 101, I am learning about how I can apply for college, and [find out] what information is important [to know] when I go to college.”

Lau explains that in the beginning, the college process is quite daunting for students in their program.

“I do have a lot of students who would start off at community college, but are overwhelmed with it, because they are in huge classes, and there’s no one-on-one interaction—there’s no hand-holding at all, so they’re freaked out.”

Over time, however, Lau says entering college becomes a smooth transition for Goodwill students.

“When [students] come here, they’re much more comfortable, because the classes are smaller. It’s more integrated and they’re interacting with everyone,” Lau says. “Goodwill builds confidence for them.”

McFeely says that the college program is quickly growing.

“Last year, 109 of our students were assisted with Career Pathways to get into college programs. That doubled from the year before—it’s become very popular.”

And the best part about Goodwill’s programs? They’re absolutely free.

“Everything we do is free of charge, thanks to our donors, shoppers and financial donors,” McFeely says.

Goodwill funds their programs entirely through the donated goods they sell in their 21 retail stores, and through monetary donations.

As for Vo, she has found work as a waitress while taking classes, and plans to study nursing. She says her experience at Goodwill has certainly been a positive one.

“I like it very much because I can learn information that will be very important to my future,” she says, adding, “The teachers are very interesting and they help me a lot. I have [made] friends from many countries.”

Lau says that Goodwill programs serve an even greater purpose than giving students individual skills.

“In our classroom, we’re teaching them how to become a part of their community in Seattle, in America in general and integrate. …You have people like Tu who go on and go to college and then later on, donate and help more people. It’s a great process.”


For more information about Seattle Goodwill, visit www.seattlegoodwill.org or call (206) 860 – 5791.

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