Rappahannock Goodwill Industries Celebrates 50 Years
From humble beginnings in 1966, Rappahannock Goodwill Industries (RGI) celebrates its 50th anniversary as one of the largest employers in the region.
It began when the Junior Women’s Club of Stafford, along with the predecessor organizations of what we now know as Mental Health America and ARC, organized a committee to study ways to serve people with disabilities. In the 1960s, there were very few resources available. What would eventually become Rappahannock Goodwill Industries — Opportunities Unlimited — opened in 1968.
Greg McCracken, the first executive director, recalls the early days as volunteer based. “That first board realized we couldn’t grow the organization with volunteers only; we had to hire professional staff.”
In 1972, the group re-chartered and became Rappahannock Rehabilitation Facility (RRF). “We changed the focus to training, with expansion of vocation work opportunities and services,” McCracken said.
When Woody Van Valkenburgh became executive director in 1980, RRF had received a $500,000 HUD Community Development Block Grant and was expanding into an 11,000-square-foot facility. “That move went a long way to making us more public, and strengthening our brand,” Van Valkenburgh said.
New programs were developed that enabled RFF to meet a new goal. “We wanted to get employees as normally integrated into society as we could and they wanted,” Van Valkenburgh said.
A significant milestone occurred in 1991, when then Goodwill Industries of America invited RRF to affiliate, becoming Rappahannock Goodwill Industries.
By the mid-90s, RGI recognized big manufacturing was waning, and the company began looking for a product or service employees could perform in RGI facilities. They responded to a request from the FBI at Quantico for laundry services. Soon they had their own laundry facility.
The donated goods resources program provided a new revenue source. “At first our stores were marginally successful financially, but they gave us more opportunities for employing people and brought us recognition in the community,” Van Valkenburgh said. “Today, Rappahannock Goodwill successfully operates 12 stores and an outlet that provide revenue to fund mission-related programs and services,” he added.
RGI continued to adjust to the changing economy, diversifying in order to maintain its revenue stream, and provide more and different job and training opportunities to people with barriers to employment.
“People with disabilities are the heart and soul of this organization and will remain so, yet moving forward, greater emphasis will be placed on serving all those who face barriers,” said President and CEO Donnie Tolson. “RGI will focus on an open door for all who need our help. We will continue to provide assistance to those who are transitioning to community jobs, and be a resource to help employers fill gaps in workforce development training, including high school credentialing.”
“People come to us with obstacles confronting them that we could barely conceive, and through their perseverance and assumption of responsibility they overcome those obstacles,” Tolson said. “Names like Cary and Shamaya and James and Emmetri and Chris and all our successes are constantly on my mind and in my heart.” (Their stories and more can be viewed online at Rappahannock Goodwill Report to the Community.
The challenge to provide services to more people in a changing economy has been met by the RGI leadership. In the past six years, the budget has grown from $18 to $30 million, and staff has increased from about 350 to 650. In 2015, more than 7,000 local people were assisted by RGI’s many programs. By the close of 2016, that number is expected to increase to more than 9,000.
While the methods and programs might change, the mission of Rappahannock Goodwill remains; helping individuals experience the power of work regardless of disability or barrier.
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the organization’s 50th anniversary newsletter. It is reprinted here with permission.