Goodwill Industries and the American Dream

By Richard Carlson, President and CEO

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The central tenet of the American dream is that if you work hard, you will be able to support yourself and your family, save for retirement, and invest in your children’s future. First described by James Truslow Adams in his book “The Epic of America” in 1931, the American dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” He later said that “too many of us have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Said another way, John D. Rockefeller Jr., expressed his philosophy of life in a statement of principles in 1941 entitled, “I Believe.”  Among his stated principles is this: “I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.”

And from our own Goodwill Industries founder Dr. Edgar Helms who said, “Friends of Goodwill, be dissatisfied with your work until every handicapped and unfortunate person in your community has an opportunity to develop to their fullest usefulness and enjoy a maximum of abundant living.”

These are the truths I believe in. These are the truths that I first learned from my parents and grandparents. And these are the truths I discovered when I first joined Goodwill as a young social worker in 1976. It is work that adds dignity to one’s life. It is work that gives a family hope. It is a hard day’s work that builds character and a future. And it is our work that strengthens our communities. That is the mission of Goodwill … changing lives through the power of work. And we see that throughout the organization every day.

I have had the rare and wonderful opportunity to devote my life’s work and career to these same truths and to be part of an organization that truly believes in changing lives through the power of work. Over the course of my 40 years of service with Goodwill we have served more than 190,000 individuals and their families in West Michigan and have placed into competitive employment 21,000 people. At the end of the day, Goodwill has shaped me as much as it has been my honor to have been part of shaping Goodwill.

When I first started my career with Goodwill, I could not have imagined that this would become the dedicated journey that it has become. I am so very grateful to the immensely talented and committed team of employees and board members I have had the pleasure to work with over the years. I am also very aware that we could do nothing were it not for the courage and determination of those we have served who devoted themselves to finding a better life and their own piece of the American dream.

In the end, I will always be grateful for the decades of community support that Goodwill Industries has received. Without you and this remarkable community partnership, we would not be here today.

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