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Goodwill Industries of Arkansas works to change lives through education, training and employment. That mission is poised to expand through its Excel Center.
The state’s first adult high school, the Excel Center provides students ages 19 and older the opportunity to earn a high school diploma through flexible, eight-week schedules five times a year free of charge. Brian Marsh, Goodwill Industries of Arkansas’ president and CEO, said part of the center’s plan is to remove barriers to a high school diploma, so Goodwill offers its students on-site child care, transportation aid — even life coaches.
Marsh worked with legislators in 2015 to pass a law enabling the school, and the Little Rock center opened in 2017. In the spring, Goodwill will open its second Arkansas school, in a converted 33,000-SF building in Springdale. Adding the school will allow Goodwill to serve up to 700 students per year (350 at each location).
Goodwill also offers workforce training services and certifications for unemployed or underemployed Arkansans, preparing them for careers in industries including construction, health care, manufacturing, IT, logistics, and consumer service and business. It provides employment services, helping people prepare for careers inside Goodwill and at other companies. And it helps formerly incarcerated people reenter the workforce through its paid, 12-week Transition Employment Opportunities program, which is seeking more employers with which to partner.
“Our recidivism coming out of that program is less than 6%. The state average is 46%,” Marsh said. “So we're highly successful.”
The organization also performed well amid the pandemic. Declared an essential organization by the governor, Goodwill Industries of Arkansas operated 30 of the fewer than 60 U.S. Goodwills that remained open in April 2020. “I think that is huge. I think dealing with the ambiguity of COVID over that, you know, 2020 to 2021, it strengthened us as a team,” Marsh said.
Looking ahead, Marsh is working with legislators to pass a permanent funding mechanism for the Excel Centers. He said 300,000 Arkansans over 19 don’t have a high school diploma, leading to employment barriers and perpetuating family poverty. “With sustainable funding, we would launch three additional high schools across the state,” he said.