Goodwill/United Way House stays open, will expand services

CLEWISTON — Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida has canceled plans to close its Clewiston store, which doubles as the United Way House for eastern Hendry and Glades County residents. Instead, thanks to some timely, proactive help by the Sugarland Plaza developer, the Ami-Peleg company, the agencies using the location will move into another space in the same plaza.

Lisa Sands, Hendry/Glades manager for United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee counties, had sent out an alert Wednesday, June 19, that due to Goodwill’s previous plan to close the retail location at 969 W. Sugarland Highway (U.S. 27), they would close the Clewiston United Way House, and all the agencies that operate out of the space would move to different locations until a new site could be found. The plan was to shut down the store Saturday, June 22, but it was withdrawn the following Tuesday, June 25, an email from Goodwill’s director of communications, Debra Donatto, announced.

“An outpouring of requests from the community made us take another look at that decision. Since it is the mission of Goodwill of SWFL to provide services for those in need, we found expanding our offerings in Clewiston made more sense than leaving,” her email stated.

In an interview Monday, Goodwill Vice President of Community Support Services Fred Richards stated, “We have quite the history there. We opened up our store and our Job Link Center in July 2009, so we’re actually celebrating our 10th anniversary this month.”

“With this new site, we’ll be able to not only enhance our retail shopping experience, but we’re going to expand upon our resources as well. We’re hoping to continue what we are doing, as far as providing the services that we typically provide in our Job Link Centers, but really expanding our family strengthening and self-sufficiency services,” he explained.

Clients typically get free internet access, faxing, use of computers, “soft skills” training, employment search services and help in accessing community resources. Through the Agricultural and Labor Program Inc., Goodwill is the only Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provider in the area and also provides Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) Case Management services in Clewiston and LaBelle.

“Historically, when we opened that center up, we were serving just over 670 individuals; now, we’re serving over 2,500, so that is another reason … We see that there’s a great need out there in the community,” said Mr. Richards. “So … we’re going to offer digital training, which is a new program that we’ve been providing in other counties. We’re going to be expanding our digital training offerings to help people with up-skilling and training. The result is that they can actually get certifications in several areas, such as essential computer skills, productivity and software skills, and also technology and daily life. There’s 10 modules that they can go through,” he said.

“We’re going to continue the United Way House model, where there’s different agencies partnering under one roof, but we’re going to be rebranding our job link centers and calling them Community Resource Centers, which more accurately captures the type and variety of services that we offer,” he added.

He said Goodwill will continue to be a United Way agency partner, “but we’re also going to be bringing in different partners and resources into the community centers that we never had before.”

Mr. Richards wanted to give credit specifically to the developer. “Without the developer, who actually found this property for us, being proactive and cooperative, I don’t think we’d even have an opportunity to be in that new site. With their assistance, that’s probably why it came to fruition as quickly as it did,” he said.

The new location will have 7,600 square feet of retail space and be co-located with the new, rebranded Community Resource Center. Other agencies there will be The Salvation Army and the Early Learning Coalition. While the transition will begin in July, the new store’s opening is expected this fall.

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