Twenty-eight years ago, Debie Coble earned her paycheck by managing a Goodwill thrift store. Today, she serves as executive director for the same organization, Goodwill of Michiana, where she oversees regional efforts throughout northern Indiana and the Niles area.
While many think of Goodwill as mostly a place to donate used items to be resold at thrift stores throughout the community, Goodwill’s mission extends much further than a shopping experience. Today, Debie is responsible for the behind-the-scenes work funded by those thrift stores.
In just less than three decades, Debie has lost count of the number of success stories she has witnessed as the result of Goodwill efforts, which help Michiana residents with trouble finding employment get back on their feet, among other services.
“One of the first gentlemen I had the privilege of working with was a young man who had both physical and cognitive limitations that made it challenging for him to find employment,” Debie says. “We were able to get him a job at Kroger’s in Elkhart, and this young man stayed there for over 20 years.”
Debie said the man went from being timid and reliant on Debie’s help, to an independent employee who enjoyed his job.
“What was neat was to watch him no longer need me, because Kroger’s had embraced him and he had become a part of their family,” she says.
Debie works with another man who spent 20 years in and out of jail and prison due to a drug addiction. With the help of Goodwill, he was able to find a new path.
“Now he is three years sober,” Debie says. “He has changed from the inside out. Now he is in our maintenance department, he is married and he is achieving goals outside of work that he never thought possible.”
Every 38 seconds each business day, another person earns a job with Goodwill’s help.
Goodwill of Michiana offers a variety of programs to help people of all ages.
“We work with the neediest folks — folks with disabilities, folks within the prison system, who were involved with gangs, with drugs, who had unfortunate pasts,” Debie says.
Regardless of the troubles faced previously, Goodwill’s mission emphasizes that the organization is committed to helping people have brighter futures.
Goodwill of Michiana offers a long list of programs to help people find education and training to garner the skills necessary to find employment. One such program, the Excel Center at Goodwill of Michiana, serves as a high school for adults in which people can receive free public education resulting in a high school diploma. The center also pays tuition costs for students to earn certificates or begin undergraduate studies at a number of area colleges.
Goodwill of Michiana also has five career centers, including one facility on Grape Road in Mishawaka and another on Western Avenue in South Bend.
“If [people] want to update their resume, look for jobs, prepare for interviews, we offer various workshops,” Debie says. “When folks shop and donate to Goodwill, that is what pays for those services.”
Debie encourages anyone within Michiana to take advantage of what she describes as “lifesaving” services.
“Come have a conversation with us,” she says. “We can help you get plugged in to the right path to meet your needs.”
She encourages people to find their path through Goodwill of Michiana, even if other resources have not been helpful.
“We are a hand up, not a hand out,” she says. “We get to help people achieve goals they never thought they would achieve every single day.”
How to give:
To donate to Goodwill of Michiana or to learn more about its mission, visit a local thrift store, or go to Goodwill-ni.org.
Photography by Wes Jerdon/Westley Leon Studios