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Hodges, Goodwill unveil new workforce facility

By MELISSA BILL - | Mar 31, 2021


Business leaders and Lehigh residents came together last week for the unveiling of a new workforce training facility — the first of its kind in the state of Florida.

HU Direct, an Express Division of Hodges University, and Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida formed an alliance to create the workforce training center, which will cater to the Lehigh community.

An unveiling of the alliance took place in front of the Goodwill Community Resource Center on Wednesday.

Dr. John Meyer, president of Hodges University and John Nadeau, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of SWFL addressed attendees prior to a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Nadeau opened by giving a background to SWFL Goodwill and its services.

“Goodwill has 156 locations across the country. Each one is operated independently and the reason that we do that is because the services that are needed here are a lot different than in other areas,” Nadeau said. “We want to be able to flex and provide services that address the local needs.”

According to Nadeau, Goodwill works with other non-profits in an effort to tailor services to the community.

“Our focus used to be on getting people started on their path. Get their GED, or maybe learn basic office skills. When they are done with our services, they are on the road, but not all the way to where they need to be,” Nadeau said. “So we are trying to focus on what I call upskilling. Instead of making a minimum wage, let’s give them the skills and abilities to make $15, $20 or $30 an hour. That’s what higher education’s all about.”

This mindset is what brought Hodges and Goodwill together for a common goal.

“What if we got them started and then Hodges could finish the path,” Nadeau said. “This led to a very exciting collaboration between Hodges and Goodwill and allows us to provide advancement training directly to the communities we serve.”

Dr. Meyer said it might have seemed an unlikely alliance, but there’s a lot of common ground to build upon.

“We brought together two very well known non-profits in the region and combined them to leverage their strengths. Goodwill’s entire mission is also our focus, which is about helping people move farther along in their careers and in their lives,” Meyer said.

Myers also commented briefly on its student demographics, which is largely adult women with children who are looking to broaden their education and career paths.

The East Lee County Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mike Welch also spoke about Lehigh’s ever-changing diversity.

“When I first came to Lehigh there were 50,00 people living here at the time, mainly blue-collared retirees. Today there are 136,000 people living here and it’s a rich cavalcade of various backgrounds and ethnic diversity. We also have one of the youngest demographics in Lee County,” Welch said.

“The continuum of services and resources that Goodwill and Hodges are demonstrating goes hand-in-hand with other things which are making an impact like our Donna Beasley Technical Academy, which is really taking off. In a couple years we will have a new tech college out here in east Lee County. Part of their continuum to get that school was that we had to get State Road 82 more modernized and efficient,” Welch stated.

The Hodges University and Goodwill SWFL workforce training center is a fully-equipped classroom, which will offer classes and workshops including English as a Second Language (ESL), Pathways to Home Ownership, Direct Support Professionals, plus various other workshops and classes.

Four additional workforce training locations are being planned for the SWFL region.

Hodges University is a regionally accredited, private nonprofit institution founded in 1990. The Fort Myers campus provides flexible day, evening, and online classes for undergraduate and graduate degrees.

For more information visit Hodges.edu.

Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that serves Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties.

Its mission is to help people with disabilities and disadvantages by offering life-changing opportunities to achieve independence. For more information, visit www.Goodwillswfl.org.