Goodwill NNE CEO Anna Eleanor Roosevelt speaks at Greater Portland Chamber's Eggs & Issues

Added by on December 4th, 2014 @ 11:46 am

Goodwill NNE President and CEO Anna Eleanor Roosevelt spoke of the Dignity in Work at the December 3, 2014 Eggs & Issues at the Holiday Inn By the Bay in Portland, Maine. She addressed the dignity work brings – and why employers need to ensure that people who desire to work, can work. She spoke about Goodwill’s Job Connection approach – a commitment that helps ensure people with the most challenges participate in their community through education and employment.

She discussed Goodwill’s history, and how Goodwill NNE is working to be instrumental in moving 10,000 households out of poverty in the next 10 years.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt is the granddaughter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Her remarks follow the video:

Some of you may have seen Ken Burns’ recent series on PBS. Now you all know a whole lot more about my history than I know about yours! In some ways that incomplete knowledge is like many people’s understanding of Goodwill, especially Goodwill of Northern New England. It seems that everybody knows about Goodwill stores, but that’s not all we are; you know a little bit about Goodwill – as generous donors and shoppers perhaps, but I bet few of you know the whole story!

I want to tell you the story of Goodwill’s founding – it was like an epiphany for me. In the late 1800’s Edgar Helms, a Methodist minister serving in the settlement houses of South Boston, saw, as we now say “new Americans” who were lacking in basic essentials: food, and clothes, housing – dignity. No one wanted to hire them. He wanted to help.

He went with horse and buggy and burlap bags to the homes of Beacon Hill. From their generosity he clothed those in need. Yet he saw that giving away the donated goods didn’t solve the root problem. People were still broke, hungry, and unemployed. They needed a way to provide and care for their families – they needed jobs, and those were scarce.

So he invented a business. Edgar Helms created Goodwill jobs out of those donated goods – collecting, sorting, repairing and selling. In turn, those jobs gave individuals and families who had come to this nation with high hopes – yet who had been barely holding on – a real chance to build their new lives and become active participants in their community.

A job – work – is the means to community engagement; and to dignity. Then, and now, there is dignity in work. All work.

Many folks think my world view was formed by my grandparents, but it really was Babar, The Elephant King! As a young girl reading the book Babar, I learned that in Celesteville, the city he built for the elephants, EVERYONE HAD A JOB; EVERY JOB WAS APPRECIATED for what it did for the community. Think about that. Every job was appreciated – the trash collectors, the doctors, the cooks, the custodians, the teachers, the salespeople, the lawyers, the mechanics….

But, today, in our reality, not everyone has a job, and not every job is valued, or seen as the contribution to community life that it is. Reports tell us, and many of us know first-hand as business leaders, that there are jobs waiting to be filled in our region. We also know that there are people who want to work – many of whom need a second chance (or a third or fourth, or a seventh) – another chance.

Kent Peterson, who is CEO of Fluid Imaging in Scarborough, knows the value of giving people the opportunity – AND the SUPPORT -to prove themselves at a skilled job. We were proud to recognize Kent’s leadership at one of our recent Business Appreciation Breakfasts because he so enthusiastically works with our workforce services team to meet his goals for a productive workforce. Our team, through our partnership with Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc, has tools that financially support the extra training time that it can take to help people overcome life’s challenges and be successful on the job – and in life. I’ve heard Kent say that they at Fluid Imaging were the beneficiaries of the experience. He said, “It made us proud of ourselves.” And it should.

For our region to thrive, we all need to think seriously about how to include a diversity of talents in our workplace. How do we play our part in community by thinking through the ways we can create value for that diversity? How do we make that slight mental shift from being so narrowly focused on getting a particular job done in a particular way, to being more broadly focused on getting the job done by hiring an individual whom we might otherwise overlook. That value shift has broader impact.

When a job gets done by someone you’d never considered as being able to do that job, it shows that you can do more great things in your business – for your business, and for the community. Success is more meaningful, and more sustainable because you have strengthened, in multiple ways, the economy of your community.

To have a thriving economy in which every person who wants to work CAN work, we each need to do our part – but we all reap the benefits.

Thanks to the leadership of our Board of Directors, we are moving forward with a commitment to be instrumental in moving 10,000 households in our region out of poverty, in 10 years. We’re not certain that we’ve got the right number in the correct timeframe. We are certain that we’ve got to get started. Just as Goodwill’s founder, Edgar Helms, saw a need and developed a corresponding solution, we see the need to help people build stability in their lives through work. Every person in our community, no matter what brings them here – whether they are Mainers; or from away; or from AWAY away who wants to work, wants to build a stable life, has talents that will make our workplaces and community stronger and richer with experience.

Remember Paul Simon’s lyrics in his song Love and Hard Times?

“It’s easy to be generous when you’re on a roll. It’s hard to be grateful when you’re out of control.”

When life has been topsy-turvy for years, building stability takes practice. We believe we can help people move through turbulence into stability by getting, keeping and growing in a job. It’ll take longer than the typical 30, 60, 90 day check-in. What it takes is a commitment to each other. We’re calling it Job Connection: an approach that sticks with folks who have had the most challenges, so that we can address those challenges together. And, we are going to be able to immediately expand the impact of this work, thanks to Sterling Kozlowski’s leadership, and an early and transformative investment from KeyBank of Maine. They share our vision of sustainable communities, thriving communities, where all people are fully engaged and participating through education and employment.

At the start of this we talked about influences…

I want to tell you a story about my daughter: About 15 years ago we were in Warm Springs, in a little chapel on the campus of the Rehabilitation Institute there, commemorating the 50th anniversary of my grandfather’s death. We had missed the rehearsal, and had actually arrived just in time for her part in the service. All the other participants were seated behind the communion rail. Dr. Forrest Church, the presiding minister, anticipated as he said, “her awkward leap” and graciously opened the rail for her. She then had to choose between the lectern where announcements were made, or the pulpit – from which the Gospel was preached. Being a Roosevelt, she took to the pulpit and from there she read from her great-grandfather’s words: the economic bill of rights – Clear and strong. How proud I was of her!

Let me read it to you:

January 11, 1944…

Every American is entitled to:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

Yes, my grandparents influenced me…and probably you, as well. It all fits. This speech ties together the elements of building stability – for a person, for a community economy, for a nation.

Contemporary research in health care reinforces the thinking behind this economic bill of rights. For decades, Robert Evans and Gregory Stoddart have led research on the driving factors of a community’s health. They mapped out nine areas: Social environment, Physical Environment, Genetics, Quality of Health Care, Health & Function, Disease, Behavior, Well-being, and Prosperity.

Perhaps you’re as relieved as I am that it’s not all about our BMI – though important. :)

Why does this matter to all of us?

Through our work, we are seeing clearly how the social determinants of health drive how we help people build stability in their lives.   At Goodwill, we’re focused on three of them: Access to Education and Training, Safe Housing and Employment/Job Satisfaction. These are critical factors that we can influence, and change. This is what drives us at Goodwill and drives us to partner with you and others in the community to achieve these outcomes.

I came here to this Goodwill because I felt like I fit in. What I saw in the work of Goodwill Northern New England was a commitment to shared dignity. It came from the organization’s earliest days. The digging deep and “getting hands dirty” kind of commitment to every person’s right to personal stability and engagement in their community, THROUGH WORK. That’s what the economic bill of rights says: everyone deserves a job. A job is the way we help build our community. In order to live in community we all need a decent roof over our head and we need food on the table. Personal stability and engagement in the community – that’s what makes our economy. Edgar Helms recognized it over a century ago; my grandfather spoke about it 70 years ago; we see it today.

Give someone a chance and they can change their life. Beyond a chance people need support. It takes practice to keep life changed. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our dignity is connected to their dignity.

For more information about Eggs & Issues, visit the Portland Regional Chamber website.


Ken Christian
Senior Director, Communications
Goodwill Administrative Office

Updated 5 months ago by Calvin Gilbert