Mission In Action: Simon & Ken


Last week Goodwill celebrated employees that have served in the Armed Forces and their many contributions to our agency. From the retail stores to administrative staff, Goodwill is proud to employ many veterans from diverse backgrounds.

Meet Simon and Ken. They work at one of Goodwill’s AbilityOne federal contract locations. Through AbilityOne, Goodwill provides employment for individuals with disabilities in a supportive work environment at several federal properties across Nebraska.

Simon and Ken explain their journey from serving in the Armed Forces to employment at Goodwill. They share the skills they gained while serving and how they continue to utilize them today.

Simon joined the Army at 19 years old. He decided to join after graduating high school and feeling unfulfilled while working at fast food restaurants. He knew that there was more for him to learn and enlisting in the Army was a great way to achieve personal growth. Simon shared his initial impressions after enlisting, “Basic training was tough. I wasn’t sure I could make it through, but once I did I found so many other opportunities were available to me.” Simon explained that the Army taught him about responsibility, reliability, dependability – some of the most important aspects of becoming an adult.

After leaving the Army and several years of unemployment, Simon found an opportunity at Goodwill. He said, “Goodwill just felt right.” He loves coming to work every day because of the people – his coworkers, supervisors and the people they serve. Simon expressed his gratitude for all the opportunities he has been afforded since coming to work at Goodwill.

Ken served in the Army Reserves for 16 years. Ken enlisted because he wanted to better himself and get more education. Ken explained the various jobs that he learned while in the Army Reserves and how he overcame challenges throughout his career. While being deployed in Iraq, Ken was exposed to many difficult situations in an unfamiliar place, but it opened his eyes to what he was able to accomplish.

When asked about how he decided to work at Goodwill, Ken happily exclaimed, “Goodwill chose me!” Ken also looks forward to coming to work because of the people he gets to work with. He appreciates the opportunities to continue his personal growth at Goodwill.

Goodwill is proud to provide employment opportunities for people like Simon and Ken. Their strong work ethic and dedication are a tremendous asset to our team. Goodwill is honored to serve those that have served our country.

Please follow and like us:

Spread the Word to End the Word

















Spread the Word to End the Word is an ongoing effort by Special Olympics, Best Buddies and our community supporters, like Goodwill, to inspire respect and acceptance through raising the consciousness of society about the R-word and how hurtful words and disrespect can be toward people with intellectual disabilities.

Using the term retard or retarded belittles people with intellectual disabilities. Spread the Word to End the Word is a day dedicated to educating people about the negative impact the “r” word has. By eliminating the “r” word from our culture, we can build a more inclusive and caring community.

March 1, 2017  all Goodwill locations will participate and advocate for eliminating the “r” word for our vocabulary.

Goodwill Impact 2016

  •  Goodwill’s Work Experience program enrolled 249 special education high school students from local high schools
  • Work Experience students earned a total of $279,820.25 in wages while gaining hands-on experience in a workplace setting
  • Work Experience is housed at nine locations throughout the Metro area
  • Our AbilityOne contract employs 122 individuals, 96 of which who identify as having a disability
  • AbilityOne employees service over 1.2 million square feet of property in federal buildings located in Omaha, Lincoln and
    Grand Island

Respectful and inclusive language is essential to the movement for the dignity and humanity of people with intellectual disabilities. However, much of society does not recognize the hurtful, dehumanizing and exclusive effects of the R-word.

Language affects attitudes. Attitudes impact actions. Make your pledge for #Respect today at www.R-word.org.



Please follow and like us:

National Disability Employement Awarness Month!

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The purpose is to educate others about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. Held annually, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is led by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Accord2016posterenglishing to Department of Labor statistics, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice that of the general population, and they are also nearly three times more likely to
live in poverty than those without disabilities. These are issues Goodwill is working hard to eliminate everyday through our Mission Advancement programs, specifically AbilityOne and Work Experience. We are all intimidated by things we do not know. Disability is a common experience that we all share. However, without an understanding of disability, we may have difficulty capitalizing on the talents of people with disabilities.

The Job Accommodation Network (AskJAN.org) is an information resource which helps develop a more inclusive workplace for individuals with disabilities, and can help develop skills to more effectively communicate at work with people with disabilities.

When working with people with disabilities, the primary emphasis is to insure everyone focuses on abilities. After all, it is abilities and productivity that matter at work.


Here are a few helpful hints from AskJan when working with a person with a disability:
• Be considerate of the extra time it may take a person with a disability to walk, talk, write or perform a task.
• Smile and look a person with a disability in the eyes, as you would with anyone else.
• Talk directly to the person with a disability, not their companion, assistant or sign language interpreter.
• Watch your language – use people first language. Only mention a disability if it is essential to a conversation.
• Sit down when speaking for more than a few minutes with a person who uses a wheelchair so you are at eye level.
• Extend your hand to shake if that is what you normally do. A person who cannot shake hands will let you know.
• Don’t be afraid to say that you do not understand. Listen, observe body language, paraphrase, clarify, summarize and show you are eager to understand.
• Ask the person first – before assisting or advocating for a person, always ask if and how you can help.
• Ask the person what they think will work to overcome a workplace challenge before deciding on an accommodation.
• Respect personal space as you would with anyone else.
• Do not treat people like they are less than.
• If a person is in crisis, ask what you can do to help.

All play an important part in fostering a more inclusive workforce, one where every person is recognized for his or her abilities — every day of every month.

Please follow and like us:

Congressman Brad Ashford Becomes AbilityOne Champion

Congressman Ashford meets with AbilityOne employees in Washington D.C. and Omaha

Congressman Ashford meets with AbilityOne employees in Washington D.C. and Omaha

Today, we recognize and congratulate Congressman Brad Ashford on becoming the first AbilityOne Champion in Nebraska’s current Congressional Delegation.

An AbilityOne Champion is a congressperson that has pledged to support the important job opportunities created by  AbilityOne contracts.  These contracts create employment for thousands of people with disabilities nationwide, while providing important services to the federal government.

There are four steps one must take in order to become a Champion. They are:

  • Visit an AbilityOne site
  • Meet with an AbilityOne program participant in your Washington D.C. or local office
  • Use AbilityOne products in your offices
  • Advocate for AbilityOne on the floor of the House or Senate, on Social Media, or through a letter

Goodwill Omaha operates AbilityOne programs at five different sites throughout the state, from Offutt Air Force Base to the VA Hospital in Grand Island.  This spring, Congressman Ashford visited our AbilityOne site at the Zorinsky Federal building in Omaha.  During his time there, he met a number of Goodwill employees who have had their lives changed through their work with AbilityOne.

Thanks again to Congressman Ashford for showing support of AbilityOne and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

You can learn more about the AbilityOne program here: http://www.abilityone.org/.

Please follow and like us:

Our Mission at Work

joey carver

Joey Carver is a strong representation of the Goodwill Mission. Over  the course of ten years or so, Joey has been involved with multiple aspects of Goodwill.

When Joey was younger, his family moved around a lot due to the military. He’s lived in England, Maryland, California and Nebraska. He often moved around within those places more than once.

In high school, Joey found himself back in Nebraska attending Bellevue West. During that time he joined the Work Experience program offered by Goodwill. While in Work Experience he learned a lot and was able to complete a summer internship at Goodwill’s former headquarters building on 41st and Pacific Streets.

After high school, Joey was offered a job at Offutt Air Force Base working on the Goodwill contract. He worked with supervisor Pearl Wilder for about a year and a half then was let go. Joey says this was due to a lot of things going on in his life. He was working two jobs and attending school at ITT Tech  for computer networking.

This time of his life became hectic and Joey decided to take a break from work and school to regroup. About one year later Joey decided to see what Goodwill’s Partnership for Youth Development had to offer. This is where he learned about Job Corps and began training for cement masonry. When he completed these courses he moved to California to live with family and work.

In 2011, Joey received a call from a friend saying there was a position open at Offutt and he thought it would be a good fit. Before he knew it, Joey received a call from Pearl offering him the opportunity to apply. He did and soon moved back to Omaha, working for Goodwill again.

Now, nearly three years later, Joey still shows his will to work hard and take on responsibility. He currently works in Stratcom shampooing carpets, as well as driving a shuttle for other Goodwill employees on the base. This is a big responsibility, as Joey has to be on time and is responsible for driving safely on base, as well as throughout the city to multiple locations.

Joey said he enjoys working on base because he gets to interact with military members and he feels safe there.

When asking about his supervisor, Joey said “Pearl provides encouragement. She also knows a thing or two, about a thing or two,” with a big grin on his face.

“She also makes me feel comfortable.”

“Joey is always courteous to everyone. He helps me out wherever needed. He also gets very good remarks on his paperwork and professionalism,” said Stratcom Supervisor Pearl Wilder.

When not working at Goodwill, Joey likes to go fishing. He told me a story of one fishing trip in particular where he had some bad luck. He lost the anchor to the boat, his fishing lines and he also broke his glasses. I think its safe to say no fish were caught on this day.

In the near future Joey would like to finish his final three classes that will provide him certifications in computer networking.

Joey has experienced many ups and downs thus far in his life but he continues to strive and work hard to accomplish his goals.

Thank you Joey, for working hard and believing in the Goodwill mission: changing lives and strengthening communities through education, training and work. Keep up the great work!

Please follow and like us:

Changing lives through friendship

Friendship can change lives.  For Goodwill AbilityOne employee Steve Hennessey, a friendship that started over forty years ago has greatly improved the life of both friends.  Read more about how life with a disability hasn’t stopped Steve from being a great friend to Jim Germer.


Grace: For janitor and lawyer-turned-pastor, friendship is a constant

“LINCOLN — Steve is bald now. Jim’s hair has turned completely white.

It is one measure of their long and somewhat improbable friendship, a subject this pair of middle-age men is considering on a recent November day over Steve’s lunch break.

A 54-year-old janitor in jeans and a red vest that says Goodwill, Steve has settled into one of the hard plastic chairs of the beige basement break room of the Robert V. Denney Federal Building. Across the table from him is his best friend Jim, a lawyer-turned-lay-pastor who has driven up from Kansas.

“How many years has it been? Forty?” Steve Hennessey asks over a dish of warmed-up spaghetti and meatballs.

Jim Germer slowly swirls a bottle of Mountain Dew and considers Steve’s question.

A lot of time has passed since the two were matched in a program that paired people whose brains worked differently.

How long have they known each other?

Since college. Through the milestones after that. Law school for Jim. Special Olympics for Steve. Marriage for Jim. Bachelorhood for Steve. Law and advocacy work in Kansas for Jim. Cleaning holding cells, the soil lab and break room for Steve. A house in Crete for Jim and wife Jayne. A basement apartment with at least three TV sets and piles of movies for Steve.

Through the years, Jim and Steve have been each other’s constant. They talk by phone every Tuesday. They see each other at least once a month. Steve comes to Jim’s family reunions. Jim drives Steve to see his brother in McCook and his sister in Hebron.

When Steve had hernia surgery in June, he recovered at Jim and Jayne’s in Crete. When Jim forgot to send a birthday card to Jayne’s mother, Steve had his back — sending one for him and signing Jim’s name.

“We met,” Jim finally answers Steve, “in … 19…”

Maybe it was 1978. Maybe it was 1979. The when doesn’t matter as much as the how, the why and the who.

Jim Germer was a psychology major from Hebron who ran track at Nebraska Wesleyan University. The son of a lawyer, Jim was trying to decide whether to follow his brain — and his dad — and become a lawyer, too, or follow his heart and be a minister. He was laid-back and a little shy and really admired his roommate, a fellow psychology major working a part-time job at a place called The ARC of Lincoln.

The ARC is an organization started in the 1950s by parents of children with intellectual disabilities. Back then, the term for that was mental retardation. Back then, children with such disabilities were more separate, more cloistered in institutions, hospitals and their homes. Back then, they were not as integrated into society as they are today.

Children were sent away to schools or lived at home. Their circles were small and limited to family or medical experts. They could not be served in public schools, and society was hardly set up to welcome them in jobs or housing.

That was beginning to change in the 1970s, and a national expert based in Omaha realized that people with disabilities would need help from peers on the “outside.” He proposed a citizen advocate program in which the Steves of the world would be matched with Jims for guidance, advocacy and friendship.

The purpose, explained Bonnie Ackerman, who ran the citizen advocate program in Lincoln, was to carefully select and recruit “advocates” who would be willing to make a long-term commitment to their “protégés.” They would not be paid. But they were not quite volunteers, either. This was not some gig you could try and then slough off.

Given all the unsettling changes that people with intellectual disabilities faced — especially those without family — it was important to set up something lasting.

Orphaned since he was a toddler, Steve Hennessey had grown up in a Beatrice residential center called the Martin Luther Homes that provided education and job training to children with intellectual disabilities. Steve had a mild disability that made reading and understanding things in depth somewhat difficult. It made him anxious. He never learned, for instance, how to drive. But he could follow instructions, stick to a routine and be counted on to complete a task. He had incredible common sense.

At 18, Steve moved to Lincoln and settled into a group home. He became active in the Special Olympics and plugged into support agencies like The ARC. He was eager to become independent.

One day, Jim’s roommate who worked at The ARC, a guy named Steve Bond, said Jim just had to meet someone and possibly become his advocate. Someone who was athletic like he was, shy like he was, friendly and warm like he was.

You guys, said the roommate, are so much alike.

Jim, meet Steve Hennessey. Steve, meet Jim.

The two became friends. They bowled together. They went out to restaurants. Jim introduced Steve around. When Jim started dating a woman named Jayne, she liked Jim even more after she met Steve. She liked what she saw of Jim’s compassion and gentleness.

Once Steve and Jim had a running race. Steve beat the Wesleyan hurdler.

Jim and Jayne got married. Jim went to law school. Jayne became a college librarian. Steve moved into his own place. He got a job with Goodwill, sorting donations.

The couple went to Steve’s Special Olympics events. They took him to their family parties. Steve still grouses about the time Jim’s uncle poured him a tiny glass of wine. He does not drink!

Jim said his relationship with Steve caused him to narrow his legal focus to the rights of people with disabilities. He pursued advocacy work and for a while headed a Manhattan, Kansas-based organization called Kansas Advocacy and Protective Services.

Jim felt almost negligent when he moved away from Lincoln, but a mutual friend who worked with disabled adults assured him that Steve was fine. Steve had a job, an apartment and a regimented routine. He walked everywhere and cooked little, eating what he could buy in a restaurant or nuke in a microwave. His main entertainment was movies. Steve got several TV sets — one for regular watching, one with a VCR, one with a DVD player.

Ackerman, who now works for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said it’s important not to “overprotect” people with disabilities. She said that they should be able to live the “least restrictive” kinds of lives and that Steve had proved himself to be independent enough. He didn’t need a babysitter.

Jim has stepped in over the years to iron out little wrinkles, like setting up appointments. Despite the geographic distance as the Germers moved first to Kansas and then to Crete, they remained close to Steve. They were each other’s family.

Steve’s own family had splintered in 1961, after the children’s father was killed in a garbage truck accident. Their mother, Lillian Hennessey, had a breakdown following that. She could not care for the children. A family adopted the older two siblings, but Steve was placed at the Martin Luther Homes in Beatrice. Today the place is called Mosaic.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Jim helped Steve reconnect with his mother and siblings. Jim would take Steve to see his mother in a nursing home in Milford. His sister Lorene, who has intellectual disabilities too, lives in a care center in Hebron. And Steve’s brother, Mike, lives in McCook.

Jim drove his friend all over the state to visit.

But Steve’s world has been in Lincoln. He has worked for Goodwill Industries for 37 years — longer than all but one of the nonprofit’s 638 employees. He has been stationed at the federal building for 24 years. He lives less than a mile away and walks to and from work. He always stops at the same Kwik Shop for coffee before his 6 a.m. shift. He always gets to work early. He rarely takes a day off.

Steve is surrounded by guardian angels, including his boss, Cyndi Hartman-Splear, who mother-hens Steve about not eating so many bologna sandwiches. There are plenty of others along his path and at the federal building. Steve makes the U.S. marshals laugh. He has so endeared himself to U.S. District Judge C. Arlen Beam that the federal judge requests that Steve be assigned to clean his fourth-floor chambers.

Steve is so focused on routine that he will not waver. That means no to rides, even from friends. He doesn’t carry much money. He doesn’t answer the door. And Jim knows that if he doesn’t call Steve between 6:04 p.m. and 6:14 p.m. on Tuesday nights, Steve won’t pick up the phone.

Jim was worried during the partial federal government shutdown in 2013 that almost put Steve out of work. Steve needs his routine.

Where Steve’s life has been routine, Jim’s days — especially now, in his ministerial role — are unpredictable.

He left the Kansas disability organization about a decade ago following a shakeup in leadership. In recent years, he has served the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America as a lay pastor. He pinch hits for rural pastors south of the Nebraska-
Kansas border. Sometimes he’s at the hospital visiting a dying parishioner. Sometimes he’s giving the Sunday sermon.

But on a recent weekday he has driven to Lincoln to visit Steve.

“How old are we now?” Jim asks Steve.

“Old,” Steve laughs.

Steve will turn 55 next month. Jim is 56.

The two enjoy a wide-ranging conversation that includes a local scandal, favorite TV shows — “Batman” in particular — and Mountain Dew versus the healthy juice Steve dubiously sips before declaring: “That’s not bad stuff!”

Asked what he likes about his friend, Steve says: “I don’t want to get my goose cooked!” and “You’re going to get me in the doghouse!”

Interwoven in the banter are reflections on the past. About how when Jim met Steve, Steve’s job was sorting donated shoes. About how Jim used to drive a car that was really like “a big boat,” a term that still cracks Steve up. About how Jim breaks things, like the butterfly gift Steve gave him one year. About how Steve remembers everybody’s birthday.

“He forgets,” Steve pokes fun at Jim. “I call him ‘space cadet.’ ”

Steve also calls Jim his friend, his partner.

“Like Pancho and Cisco,” he says. “The Lone Ranger and Tonto.”

Jim explains that their friendship is mutual. Reciprocal.

“Steve’s one of the most considerate, compassionate people I know,” Jim says.

Their friendship nourishes them both and, in that regard, it’s no different than other relationships that sustain us, said Linda Timmons, CEO of Mosaic.

“The networks we build in our lives help us get through. I always use the Beatles’ line, ‘We get by with a little help from our friends,’ ” Timmons said.

At their recent meeting, even though his friend Jim had driven for over two hours to see him, Steve remains bound to duty and routine.

After his usual 30-minute lunch, which Steve dutifully clocked out for, it is time to push his cart to clean the daycare. He is not deterred.

He keeps saying pleasantly, but firmly:

“I’ve got to get going.”

“Are we done? Thank you.”

“I’m going to get back to what I’m doing.”

Jim bids his friend farewell.

“Bye, Steve,” he says cheerfully. “Call you Tuesday.”  ”


From the Omaha World Herald, November 30, 2014: http://www.omaha.com/columnists/grace-for-janitor-and-lawyer-turned-pastor-friendship-is-a/article_03e44e5d-b99d-5a41-b0cd-ad162d3dcefa.html

Please follow and like us:

Honoring Those Who Have Served

Photo credit: google.com

The U.S. Veterans Administration notes that 22 million veterans have reintegrated back into civilian life since World War I. That reintegration often proves difficult for veterans as they face numerous challenges, including finding meaningful employment to support themselves and their families. They lack the skills, education and credentials for jobs in the current marketplace. Many also have physical and emotional disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Still others face non-work-related challenges such as lack of health care, child care, housing and transportation.

At Goodwill Omaha, we strive to streamline re-entry and reduce the stressors of an already challenging time in the lives of returning military members. Many veterans who approach Goodwill for career services are surprised to find that they can gain much more than just job search assistance.

Goodwill Omaha employs veterans throughout our retail, employment and training, contracts and administrative divisions.

At our October Town Hall, we honored 18 of those veterans. Goodwill employees who have served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard were given plaques and gift cards as a small token of our appreciation for their dedicated service to our country. Veteran Tom Bessey represented the group, telling the audience what his service means to him. He then led the group in a moment of silence for our fallen heroes.

Thank you to all the veterans who have served our country.

Please follow and like us: