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Banking on the Goodwill of others

Henrietta Watson of Steele Creek holds her certificate Friday after graduating from a nine-week banking course with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont in Charlotte.
Henrietta Watson of Steele Creek holds her certificate Friday after graduating from a nine-week banking course with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont in Charlotte.

STEELE CREEK -- Ever here the story of the fishing pole, a good-willed stranger and the lake that helped a woman change careers? Quite a story, and one that wrapped up a memorable chapter Friday morning for Henrietta Watson.

Watson, who moved to Steele Creek a year ago July 1, worked a decade at the General Motors headquarters in Michigan before hearing the news. The company sent her department to Mexico -- and not on vacation.

"My department went to Mexico and I was laid off," Watson said, "then I was invited here."

Following the promise of employment, the 54-year-old found work all of three months before adding her name to the stat sheet. Just one of a soaring number of unemployed nationally, numbers in the past year almost as dire in the Carolinas as in Watson's prior home state of Michigan.

That is, until Watson went fishing. There she met a stranger with a plan by the river bank, bringing new meaning to a familiar term.

"I was networking," Watson said.

The stranger told Watson about Goodwill, about the career development classes offering opportunities in a dented economy.

"It's almost a small community college setting," said Bo Hussey, vice president of marketing and communications for Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont. "We try to prepare them with all the resources someone needs to find a job."

Just in greater Charlotte, Goodwill has 36 donation centers (20 stores and 16 attended sites) and enough classes to help thousands find jobs. In 2008, five area locations aided 13,300 people with job skills training, networking and four to nine week classes in specialties like banking and customer service. The program that began more than 10 years ago will graduate its 100th class -- just in the banking program -- later this summer.

"We're finding that there are jobs out there," Hussey said. "Are they harder to find right now? Yes, but they're out there."

On Friday, Watson graduated from a nine week banking course she hopes will help her land a customer service position. After a weekend off to breathe Saturday and Sunday, she was right back out with the resumes Monday. But back to Friday--how excited was the former auto worker to graduate the Goodwill program?

By the sound of her voice Thursday afternoon, the event might as well be graduation, senior prom and the homecoming dance all rolled into one.

"I'm so geeked, I don't know what to do," Watson said.

Along with finding employment, Watson plans to volunteer her time to Goodwill youth programs. Just like numerous local professionals did for her class and many like it, conducting mock interviews and resume training. All for free to anyone willing to put in the work.

"I really believe that if you go in and try to apply yourself more and don't sit around waiting for something to happen for you, you can," Watson said of bouncing back in the current job market. "What this has done is to refresh what I already had and come up to speed with what's happening now."

Watson never imagined a day out fishing would net what it did, all because of some stranger willing to help through a program she knew nothing about. Even more surprising to the woman who donated to Goodwill for years is that, in doing so, she served as every bit the helpful stranger herself.

"It's a process that starts with donations, then the money from purchases of those donations goes to these programs, which we use to help put people to work," Hussey said, adding that 88 cents from each dollar collected goes to programs like the one helping Watson. "Every success story begins with a donation."

Want to know more?

For more information on Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, including the closest stores, donation sites and occupational skills training, visit goodwillsp.org.

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