NONPROFITS: Recent Renovation Expands La Mesa Site

LA MESA – More than just a place to donate your still unopened white elephant gift from Christmas 1993 and more than a place to spend an afternoon thrifting for clothes, Goodwill is a place that is helping the world of work.

Goodwill Industries of San Diego County (GISD) since 1930 has been offering services to help connect those who want to work with businesses who need those workers, and the organization continues to be a regional leader nearly 100 years later.

Last year, GISD brought in $79.5 million in revenue, up from $76 million in 2022. The revenue generated at the nonprofit’s stores goes back into free employment programs and services for the community.

East San Diego resident Brian Tran, 21, fills out an application for work at Goodwill Industries of San Diego County’s newest employment center in La Mesa, as his father, Lang Tran, watches along with Goodwill Career Advisor I Cindi Cisneros. Photo by Karen Pearlman


In 2023, GISD helped more than 6,000 people in the San Diego community find meaningful work, said Darlene Cossio, director of marketing and communications for GISD.

Looking to do more in that endeavor, GISD, the local contingent of national nonprofit Goodwill Industries International Inc., opened its sixth community employment center in the county last week, inside its La Mesa Goodwill Retail store on La Mesa Boulevard.

The La Mesa site joins centers in Oceanside, Chula Vista, San Ysidro, Escondido and San Diego Midway District. A previous East County-headquartered employment center that opened in 2010 at the Goodwill retail store in Santee shuttered its doors in 2015.

“We want job seekers from East County to have access to an Employment Center in their community that will provide the free employment services and soft skill workshops they need,” said GISD President and Chief Executive Officer Toni Giffin.

Fabia Parkinson, GISD VP of human services said that in 2023, Goodwill enrolled and assisted 2,000 community members through the employment centers. Of that, 928 have obtained employment through Goodwill’s employment services in customer service, retail, security, hospitality, healthcare, food service, manufacturing and education.

“Goodwill expects to help at least 150 East County residents find employment and/or develop employment skills this year,” Parkinson said.

Giffin said Goodwill’s work in helping close the unemployment gap is meaningful.

“San Diego County currently has an unemployment rate of 4.4%, which means there are around 71,000 unemployed individuals, according to the Employment Development Department,” Giffin said. “With 15% of the county’s population living in East County, about 500,000 people, we have decided to open an employment center in a location that is convenient and accessible for this population.”

Employment Centers Helping Bridge Barriers

While revenue generated at Goodwill’s retail stores goes back into the organization’s free employment programs and services for the community, its employment centers are an important part of the organization’s mission: to provide employment and training for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment.

GISD currently has more than 1,200 employees (referred to as “ambassadors”).

Cossio said that more than half of its ambassadors have a disability or have another barrier to employment — including people who have been previously incarcerated, people with a language barrier, individuals with no previous work experience; and individuals with cognitive, intellectual and/or learning disabilities.

The La Mesa store, which first opened for business in 2011 and has 24 ambassadors, is one of its newest locations. The popular store drew about 78,000 customers last year. The La Mesa site was recently renovated and now has 2,200 square feet of retail space, with 480 square feet dedicated to the employment center.

Like the other sites, the La Mesa center will provide employment services and skill development to the community at no charge.

GISD is a multi-faceted organization that provides employment and training opportunities for people with disabilities, veterans, underserved young adults ages 16 to 25, and people with other barriers to employment.

Job seekers will be able to participate in skill development job readiness workshops, including workplace communication, conflict resolution, interview techniques and practice, assistance with creating a resume, completing a job application and applying for jobs in the community.

Goodwill also provides career advisors to assist job seekers in finding job leads, résumé development or résumé updating, job application completion and interview preparation. The organization partners with local companies on job fairs and hiring events. Goodwill also offers a two-week Job Readiness Certificate Program allowing the opportunity for participants to demonstrate reliability, commitment and initiative to potential employers.

Its career pathway program, whether the job seeker wants to promote within Goodwill or externally “gives them the skills they need to move up within Goodwill or be qualified for positions with local employees,” Cossio said.

“That’s really important because our goal is self-sufficiency and career growth.”

Goodwill’s San Diego Footprint

GISD currently has 28 retail stores and four outlet centers throughout the county.

The Goodwill nonprofit membership nationwide includes 154 independent Goodwill organizations. Goodwill also has a presence in more than a dozen countries globally.

“Every day, more than 300 people find a job with help from a local Goodwill,” Cossio said.

“As a learning organization, Goodwill is committed to providing ample room to train and teach incoming ambassadors at all its locations,” she said. “Donated apparel (is) tagged and organized by size, color and category in advance of being put into the retail store, making it easier for shoppers to find what they need.”

At Goodwill, all locations are considered training classrooms, and the La Mesa location is no exception, she said.

The organization emphasizes the importance of teaching exceptional customer service and making every shopper and job seeker feel valued.

Circular Economy and Goodwill

Cossio said another aspect of the good work Goodwill does beyond employment opportunities is its belief that sustainable shopping is an essential part of the circular economy and helps keep usable products out of the waste stream – like that 1993 Christmas gift that has sat unopened in your hallway closet.

“By shopping at Goodwill, customers contribute to the well-being of our planet by reusing products that still have comfort, style and use,” Cossio said.

But beyond the social aspect, business-wise Goodwill gives back to the community with about 98% of revenue generated by employment services fees going back into its community employment programs and services.

The donations and purchases made to Goodwill throughout San Diego County enable the organization to provide training and employment opportunities to people with disabilities and other barriers to employment.

Goodwill Industries of San Diego County
BUSINESS: Nonprofit
REVENUE: $79.5 million
CONTACT: 619-225-2200
SOCIAL IMPACT: Organization provides employment and training opportunities to people with disabilities and other barriers to employment.
NOTABLE: Goodwill Industries of San Diego County helped more than 5,000 people find employment last year and a member of Goodwill Industries International.