DUNWOODY, Ga. — Goodwill of North Georgia CEO Keith Parker met with the Dunwoody Perimeter Chamber on Nov. 19 to discuss poverty, job training and charitable giving.
The talk was part of the chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion series. Parker, a Roswell resident, took the helm at Goodwill of North Georgia in October 2017. Prior to his new leadership role, Parker served as CEO of MARTA.
“This Atlanta metro area is interesting,” Parker said. “By almost any measure, it’s one of the best places to live in America. The unemployment rate is extraordinarily low … we have a great airport, an incredible music scene and movie scene, but at the same time the worst places to be born poor.”
In some zip codes in Atlanta, if you’re born into poverty, there’s a 96 percent chance you’ll die in poverty, Parker said. Income inequality and a lack of economic mobility should not be Atlanta’s reputation, he argued.
“What’s the number one way to get out of poverty?” Parker asked. “A job, and that’s what we do.”
Goodwill accepts donations of clothes and home goods at any of its 65 retail stores, then uses the revenue for career training. Annually, Goodwill collects upwards of $2.5 million in donations and serves more than 7 million shoppers.
There’s a perception that Goodwill shoppers are mostly low income, when actually their typical shoppers are middle-aged, middle-class women, Parker said
“Our shoppers include everyone from college students who don’t want the same T-shirt they can get from any other store, to seniors who don’t want to spend a ton of money on new golf clubs, to parents of young children,” he said. “They think, ‘Why in the world am I going to go spend retail prices on this brand-new stuff when my 6-year-old is going to outgrow it in three months anyway?’”
Goodwill estimates that in 2018 it helped divert 4 billion pounds of material from landfills.
Goodwill employs nearly 3,000 people, and by the end of the year will have helped 26,000 people find jobs in 2019, many of them veterans, former inmates and people with disabilities.
“We accept any person who comes through the door asking for help,” Parker said. “The only thing we don’t do is try to motivate people to work. You have to have the motivation to want to work yourself, everything else we’ll help you with.”
Parker said Goodwill isn’t slowing down, it plans to open dozens of new stores and help 130,000 people find jobs in the next five years.
“Please continue to donate and donate to Goodwill,” Parker said. “It turns into workforce development opportunities for others.”
This article was edited on 12/12/19 to reflect that Goodwill of North Georgia operates 65, not 62, retail stores.