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Spreading Good Will

  Alumni Profile  

Goodwill Industries founder Edgar James Helms, class of 1889, was a man friends say was “out to change men, change communities and change nations.”

Born a frontier Iowa farm boy, Helms had by the age of 23 owned and operated two newspapers. In his spare time he attended Cornell where he earned a bachelor of philosophy degree and preached in area towns. He had to work numerous hours during college because he had limited finances. In fact, he left college in the spring term and within six months embarked on a newspaper career. He was secretary and treasurer of his junior class and a member of the Amphictyon literary society.

At 26, he planned to become a missionary in India. But after his marriage and graduation from Boston Theological School, a Methodist bishop instead sent him to Boston’s south side to help immigrants, the poor, the lame, and the alcoholic.

Early on, Helms chased the brothels and bars out of the area. Hebegan collecting clothing and goods in affluent neighborhoods, spreading them out on church pews and inviting the poor to take what they needed. They grabbed and quarreled over the goods, which caused him to modify his methods, requiring the poor to be trained to mend, repair, and sell the used goods. By 1902 Goodwill Industries, the world’s largest private rehabilitation organization, was born. Over the past 100 years, Goodwill has continued its mission of serving people with workplace disadvantages and disabilities by providing job training and employment services. In

1918 Helms joined the faculty of the Boston School of Theology. He was known for holding his classes wherever he did his work so his students learned to preach and minister with him. The small church where Helms began his work on Boston’s south side is now the prestigious Church of All Nations. When Helms died in 1942 more than 1,500 people attended his funeral.

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