Journey to Employment: Willie

Born with a muscle condition that has impaired his mobility since a child, Willie found it difficult as an adult to find an employer that would accommodate to his needs. It was through a day treatment program that Willie learned about the employment services Goodwill had to offer and he decided to reach out.

Willie’s first job at Goodwill was at Duluth’s main facility, working with textiles. Now, almost two decades later he holds a clerical support position at the Government Services Building in the downtown business district. He’s maintained this job for nearly 15 years and greatly enjoys his work.

“Goodwill has been very supportive over the years. I was afraid to go out and work, I wasn’t ready…They prepared me for where I’m at now”, he says with a tone of confidence.

When not at work, Willie is involved in the production of plays at his local church and crochets hats, mittens, and other various items. He is also active with fitness and can be found exercising at the local YMCA each morning before he goes into work.

“It’s important to keep active,” he says. I just like to do a little bit of everything.”

The newest Goodwill location in the northland, in the Kenwood Shopping Center.

Kenwood Goodwill Opened June 12

“It’s a new look for Goodwill in a great location in a busy shopping area,” said Kent Fugere, Retail Sales Manager at Goodwill Industries Vocational Enterprises, Inc. “With the colors and layout of the store, it’s going to be a great shopping experience for our customers. People are already very interested—we’ve had to turn them away while we’ve been getting the store ready to open. We’re excited to bring the new look of Goodwill to the northland.”

The Kenwood Shopping Center is now home to Goodwill’s second Duluth location, bringing the non-profit’s stores up to 14 in number across the northland, and a new place for Duluthians to donate their gently used clothes and other items.

The new store sits on the corner of the Kenwood Shopping Center in between Erbert & Gerbert’s and Duluth Teacher’s Credit Union, with a donation drop-off located at the rear of the building. Thrifty shoppers and donors now have an alternative to the Garfield Ave. location, and can stop at Goodwill during a trip to the shopping center.

The new 4,000-square-foot store opened for business June 12 after weeks of renovations.

Goodwill is excited about the increased presence in the Duluth area and the opportunity to continue serving the people of Duluth and its surrounding communities.

Kenwood Goodwill store hours for shoppers are from 9am-7:30pm Monday-Friday, and 9am-6pm on Saturday. Goodwill accepts donations of gently used clothing and household goods during regular business hours at the store location. Contact the Kenwood store at 218 522-4461 for more information.

A new sign is up at the future location of the Superior Goodwill store.

Superior Goodwill: Moving!

The Superior Goodwill is preparing to move to a new location at 2911 Tower Ave. in the Townsquare building.  The store will be larger than the existing location, with ample, easy to access parking.  We’re in the process of remodeling, painting and setting up all the soon to be filled racks, and we invite you to take a look at some pictures of our progress!  Stay tuned to our blog and social media pages for up to the minute news on our new and improved store locations!

The Weight of Words

“I am a survivor, not a victim,” Johnson said. “I don’t give up. I might fail, but I always feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Gunnar Johnson, a Goodwill client of seven years, was recently interviewed by the Duluth News Tribune (DNT) for an article on “People-First Language.”  Gunnar was able to share some of his background, to include past struggles and how he has been able to overcome difficulties through working at Goodwill.

According to, “People-First Language” is defined as putting the person before the disability. The site states that our choice in language can change the way we see a person, and it can change the way a person sees him or herself.  Disability is Natural goes on to say that our language shapes our attitudes; our attitudes shape our language; they’re intertwined. And our attitudes and language drive our actions.

As the DNT article states, Goodwill Duluth has been creating jobs and training people with disabilities for 96 years, and yet People-First language isn’t a policy that is specifically spelled-out.  Instead, the mindset and vocabulary inherent in People-First Language has long been adopted into Goodwill’s culture.  People with disabilities comprise the single largest minority group in America, and as such, care should be taken in showing the proper respect–a push currently being made among Goodwill’s employees.

Gunnar is choosing to focus on the positive, and has made many strides in his professional life.

“They (Goodwill) really work hard for people with disabilities,” said Gunnar. “It’s been a good place to work.”


Photos by Bob King of the Duluth News Tribune.

Employer Profile

Commitment to the power of work

Bernick’s Beverages and Vending, a family-owned Minnesota company, has long held a commitment to public service as part of its corporate culture. As a part of that commitment, the company’s Duluth branch has worked with Goodwill for decades, helping Goodwill to fulfill its own mission of finding jobs for people with disabilities or other barriers to employment.

Rick Hartzell, fleet and building maintenance manager, said it’s rewarding to be able to help people with disabilities.

“There are a lot of people out there that need an opportunity in one way or another,” Hartzell said. “We’re glad to give them an opportunity when we can make it fit.”

Bernick’s strives to give back to the community at all of its major branches, including St. Cloud and Dresser, WI.

“We use disadvantaged help wherever we can to help the community,” Hartzell said.

“You want to help keep these people employed,” said Jason Bernick, company director of corporate affairs. “It’s a way of supporting the community. The crew is supervised; they do a good job. It’s a good morale boost too.”

The branch here in Duluth has worked with Goodwill for more than two decades. Up until his recent retirement, Ken Hallgren was part of that partnership. He started working at Goodwill in 1976, and went on to work for Bernick’s (then called Automatic Vending Services) a few years later.

“Kenny did a good job,” Hartzell said. “He fit the bill very well. He was kind of a character in a way…he and I got along really well. He felt like he was a part of our team.”

Indeed, Ken became such an integral part of the Bernick’s team that the staff threw him a retirement party in August 2010.

“I enjoyed it,” Ken said of the party, adding that he misses seeing his co-workers and sees them often at company picnics and other events. “Bernick’s was great, really good. I miss working with them.”

Ken’s job changed through the years, as the staff at Bernick’s was happy to accommodate his changing needs. He started out cleaning and recycling, but as the Bernick’s facility grew larger and Ken had a knee replacement, he moved onto jobs that didn’t require him to walk around so much, such as dumping expired product.

Goodwill client Brad Shea is now working at Bernick’s, and has been there for about a year doing some of the same jobs that Ken had. He said he enjoys the work. Bernick’s is now working closely with Goodwill to accommodate another client.

Hartzell said that through his 14 years at Bernick’s, Goodwill has always strived to make sure things go smoothly for the company and its employees.

“They’ve been very good to work with,” Hartzell said. “They’re always concerned that they’re providing the right person that we need. It makes it a very easy relationship.”

Facilities manager Tony Klar said Goodwill staff members have been great about keeping the lines of communication open.

“It’s been really good,” Klar said.