Missouri’s Goodwill organization is celebrating its 100th anniversary by expanding into the field of education with four adult high schools that will help jobseekers get their degrees.
The locations will offer adults over age 21 who lack a high school diploma the chance to receive their remaining credits while also gaining workplace certifications. Registration is open now for four locations in St. Louis, Poplar Bluffs, Columbia and Springfield.
David Kutchback, the president and CEO of MERS Goodwill, said the mission of the organization has always been the same: “changing lives through the power of work.”
Missouri’s first Goodwill was opened in 1918 by Reverend Thomas E. Greene, becoming the sixth Goodwill location in the country. Greene opened the store in the Sunday school room of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church. The organization has expanded radically since then, currently including 75 locations that serve 89 counties. In 2001, it merged with Metropolitan Employment and Rehabilitation Services (MERS) to become MERS Goodwill.
Goodwill organizations around the country have expanded into many types of social services. The leadership team at MERS Goodwill learned about the idea of Excel Centers through visiting centers in Indiana, where the program originated.
Mark Arens, executive vice president and chief of program services at MERS Goodwill, said they were amazed by the impact the program had on people’s lives. Obtaining a high school degree, rather than passing a General Education Development (GED) test, he said, opened the doors to higher wages and more skilled jobs.
“If you’ve earned it, then you should be able to have your high school diploma,” Arens said.
The team went to Missouri Speaker of the House Todd Richardson to discuss the possibility of opening Excel Centers in Missouri. A law allowed a non-profit organization to operate certified Missouri high schools successfully passed through the state Legislature. In September, Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) selected MERS Goodwill to operate the schools.
When a prospective student signs up to attend an Excel Center, they are asked about a variety of factors that will impact their goals, including what classes they will need to graduate, their career goals, and their childcare and transportation needs.
The goal, Arens said, is for students to graduate not only with their high school diplomas but with a plan to go to college or secure a higher-paying job.
Arens said 156 people have already registered for classes. The first three locations, including St. Louis, are scheduled to open in October of this year, with the Columbia branch following in 2019.
“It is a really great way for that person to hit the reset button,” Arens said.
At the centers, classes will be held from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with certified Missouri teachers teaching four classes per day and students attending up to six. On Friday, teachers will hold the equivalent of office hours to allow students to ask questions and make up any classes they have missed.
Free childcare will be provided at drop-in daycares, which Arens said would be like “kids’ Excel Centers.”
“We know that sometimes with adults, it’s a little scary to go back to school,” Arens said. “We’re putting in the support that person needs.”
The Excel Centers will be funded through a mixture of public funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as donations from MERS Goodwill customers and other non-profit foundations.
Kutchback said this is not the only upcoming expansion for MERS Goodwill, which is also opening new retail locations in Manchester and Florissant. The St. Louis community, he said, has always been very supportive of Goodwill’s mission.
“We’re looking forward to the next 100 years to come,” Kutchback said.
Those interested in applying for an adult high school can call 314-982-8802 or visit https://mersgoodwill.org/excel-center-registration-form/.