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Success Story: Lajonté

January 11, 2014

DSCF2539Gaining professional skills at Goodwill has been a family affair for Lajonté Grier and some of his relatives. His grandmother completed Goodwill’s Hospitality & Tourism training a few years ago and his cousin has been employed by Goodwill. When Lajonté found himself out of a job last year, he decided to follow in their footsteps and seek assistance with his employment search at Goodwill.

Lajonté describes himself as having led a “rough life.” As a child, he floated in and out of group homes and received little encouragement to stay in school, much less identify career goals for the future. An uncle who worked in the construction business offered to help Lajonté gain some work experience by having him assist on odd jobs. “I was able to get some experience through these jobs, but I lacked the technical expertise,” explains Lajonté.

At Goodwill he learned that he could participate in a seven-week Construction Skills Training program to bolster his resume. Over the course of the program, Lajonté admits that he had to overcome certain fears of being back in a classroom and credits “being consistent and being bold” to helping him get the most out of the specialized training. A key turning point came when his class worked on a Habitat for Humanity project and installed 500 solar panels on houses to make them more energy-efficient. “That gave me confidence that I could do the work and do it well,” he says. “Now I not only knew how to use the tools properly, but I also felt comfortable as a leader in helping others learn.”

Lajonté’s leadership skills did not go unnoticed by his classmates and at graduation he received the “Team Player” award from his peers. While honored to receive the award, Lajonté says his work is far from over. He plans to take GED classes offered by Goodwill this year to continue his education. And while his short-term goal is to find permanent employment in the construction industry, his long-term goal is to work with children who, like him, are lacking a support system and mentor while growing up.

Setting clear career goals is important to Lajonté and he encourages other job seekers to do the same. “Pick a lane and if you can see the other side, stick with it,” he advises. “Don’t let anything hold you back.”

Elizabeth Isenhour

Elizabeth Isenhour

How do you help others?

Make It Count: Valuable Experience for Working Students

January 7, 2014

3538731559editEnrolled college students who also maintain part- or full-time employment are a common part of today’s academic climate. According to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 70% of U.S. students held down jobs during their four years of undergraduate study, and roughly one in five logged 35 hours or more per week throughout the school year. Similar trends exist within the online learning community. A 2006-09 survey of nearly 70,000 online students from 87 different institutions found that most were employed full-time while they earned their degree; additionally, half were married and 35% had children.

Clearly, a routine that effectively balances school, work, and family life is crucial for the success of online higher education. However, it’s also important for web learners to gain experience in the professional field they are studying while their program is in progress ― and for many, their current occupation does not match their long-term professional goals.

This article will provide some tips and ideas for online students who wish to gain valuable skills and experience that is vital to their prospective career without sacrificing that much-needed paycheck.

The Life of a Working Student

Before pursuing professional opportunities related to their degree path, online students should ensure they are able to make such a commitment. For this reason, University of Pennsylvania Professor Laura Perna recommends that students curtail their weekly work schedules. “While working more than 15 hours per week may be financially necessary,” she told U.S. News & World Report, “I suggest that students first be sure that they have taken full advantage of all available sources of financial aid, especially financial aid in the form of grants.”

However, it’s important to note that some employment options are more beneficial to students than others. Robin Dizes, manager of career development services at Peirce College, tells Fox Business that certain opportunities ― such as paid internships and temporary positions in the student’s chosen field ― often lead to promising career leads after graduation. “If you choose employment that meets your needs, you will be more likely to continue to work there long-term, and long-term employment is attractive to employers, builds your resume and allows you to have stability in your career,” she said.

The reality, however, is that many students are required to take on jobs unrelated to their field just to finance their tuition payments, pay rent and bills, and provide for extracurricular activities. Rather than jeopardizing their primary means of support, academic experts urge online students to seek out opportunities that will assist their career plans without consuming large amounts of time or energy.


lnternships are highly coveted among college students for several reasons. First, they enable students to experience firsthand the working environment they plan to enter once they have obtained a degree. Additionally, these positions allow students to network with professionals in their field, learn practical skills not taught in the classroom, and collaborate with other interns to hone their teamwork skills. And in many cases, internships lead to entry-level positions for students once they graduate.

However, there are also some drawbacks to internships. Time commitment is a major factor; most internships require 20 hours or more per week ― and since the majority of these opportunities do not award any monetary compensation, students must forego paid work to satisfy their demands as an intern. However, even paid interns often encounter another problem: the work they perform is vastly different from hired employees. Interns often assist with housekeeping, office logistics, and other menial tasks that may have little (if anything) to do with their prospective career. Finally, the quality of the internship is important; some companies seek interns with the genuine desire to train them and expose them to working conditions in their future field, while others simply view them as free laborers.

Online students can learn about different internship opportunities by reaching out to their professors and corresponding with officials at their institution’s web-based career center; information is also available through nationally based websites like InternMatch and However, Forbes contributor Frances Bridges says the key to landing a desirable internship is through thorough research of the industry as a whole. Students should look into hiring practices and business philosophies of all the major companies and organizations in their field, as well as stock market performance, popular products, and other constantly changing variables. Students who can intelligently discuss the current state of their prospective profession fare best during intern interviews.


Depending on a student’s chosen major, there may be opportunities to earn experience ― as well as a little supplemental income ― by pursuing gigs as a freelancer. Fields where freelancing is common include writing and journalism, web development and marketing, computer programming, business consulting, and graphic design, as well as burgeoning industries like medical billing and coding and project management. Freelancing allows students to demonstrate their skills and passion for their field of study outside the classroom. This option is particularly attractive to students with part- or full-time jobs, since they often get to decide how many (or few) freelance assignments to take on at once.

Students are encouraged to check out established sites that cater to freelancers, such as ELance, oDesk, and Molly Merez, executive director of Ticket Summit, also recommends reaching out to local businesses and organizations. “Oftentimes companies don’t have the budget for a full time employee but do have the money to pay on a project by project basis,” she tells Fox Business.

One word of caution about freelancing opportunities: like internships, they are not all created equal. Stephen Fishman, J.D., notes in Nolo Law for All that regulations governing fair treatment and compensation of employees may not extend to freelancers. “Some [independent contractors] have great difficulty getting their clients to pay on time or at all,” Fishman notes. “When you’re an IC, you bear the risk of loss from deadbeat clients.” This may not be a major issue for students who obtain these jobs solely for the professional experience, but it certainly affects those who freelance to support themselves.


Many online students opt to tutor children and adults in their local community, as well as their collegiate peers; some specialize in group classes, while others tutor clients one-on-one. Like freelancers, tutors pursue independent gigs (based on the demands of their individual schedule) that allow them to gain experience in their field and earn a little money on the side. Most tutors focus on core subjects like mathematics and literacy, while others teach skills like personal finance, computer programming, or foreign languages. Regardless of the subject, the key components to being a successful tutor are identifying the educational demands within one’s local community, creating a viable lesson plan, and delivering satisfactory services that generate positive word-of-mouth.

Most college career centers provide resources for students who wish to tutor; additionally, web users can register with online tutor referral agencies like TutorGeek and Tutor Match to locate potential clients. Community outreach is also crucial; tutors should create a website with information about their services, post fliers on job boards advertising their services, and print business cards. Home-based tutoring is somewhat frowned upon. For this reason, students are urged to contact their local library or community center to inquire about reserving conference rooms on a regular basis. Digital tutoring is also a popular alternative to face-to-face sessions.


In lieu of paid opportunities, many students obtain skills and experience through unpaid volunteer work. Accounting students assist community members at their local library during tax season; aspiring nurses donate their time to blood banks and other medical establishments; and student teachers spend their time assisting educators in the classroom. Volunteering is especially useful for students in any major who don’t have any professional experience and are hoping to bolster their resume ― particularly opportunities that allow the student to travel abroad.

Huffington Post contributors Steven Weddle and Billy Beltz urge prospective overseas volunteers to thoroughly research all potential opportunities before signing up. “You’re about to make a very serious commitment in terms of time, money and impact on others,” they note. “Questions to ask include: Is your program fee going to good use? Will you actually add meaningful value to your project? Will you be safe?” They recommend visiting reputable sites like Volunteer Forever to learn more about viable international opportunities.

For those who wish to volunteer stateside, the University of New Hampshire encourages college students to contact different organizations within their local communities; websites like provide detailed, area-specific information about different opportunities. And while all volunteer work is inherently rewarding on a karmic level, students should prioritize opportunities that help them build the skills they need to succeed and gain insight into the industry they’ll enter upon graduation.

Other Ways to Gain Experience

In addition to internships, freelance work, tutoring services, and volunteer projects, online students can prepare themselves for the workforce by attending seminars, conferences, and other events associated with their future career. These gatherings often provide outlets for attendees to learn new skills, network with professionals in their field, and learn more about the current state of their industry. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) may also be useful; these free web classes typically don’t award credit, but they do impart valuable skills and proficiencies to students who complete the coursework. Coursera, edX, and Udacity are some of today’s leading MOOC providers.

But even with all of these options, students should seek out as much wisdom as they can from their current job, even if that job isn’t related to their degree or career path. Every position carries transferable duties and responsibilities; restaurant workers must excel at customer service, office assistants gain a good grasp on the inner-workings of business operations and corporate culture, and employees in retail learn about sales, marketing, and financial management. And regardless of the position itself, every place of employment offers the chance for students to network with co-workers, clients, and customers.

Juggling academic responsibilities and work obligations can be frustrating, and these demands ostensibly leave little time for other pursuits. However, there are plenty of professionally oriented opportunities available to today’s online students that require minimal time commitment, but still manage to reward them with the skills, experience, and expertise required to excel in their field once they’ve earned their degree. The trick is knowing where ― and how ― to find them.

This article was contributed by staff writers at

DIY Photography Backdrops

January 3, 2014

If your New Year’s resolution is to take more family photos, you don’t have to spend a fortune to capture beautiful images of your loved ones. Whether you’re a photographer looking for extra photography props or a family trying to add some flair to your annual family picture, creating the perfect backdrop can quickly become a frustrating experience. It’s not always easy to find items that complement a picture without overtaking it, especially if you don’t where to look or what to look for. Goodwill, however, can help you create a perfect backdrop for your family photos with ease – and without breaking the bank. The next time you head to your local Goodwill store, look for the following items:


  • Sheets: Sheets are a staple when it comes to photography backgrounds because they function as the perfect backdrop. Look for neutral colored sheets—think white or black—since these colors will make the subjects in your photograph pop. Before you hang your sheet and take your family photo, make sure that you don’t hang it in front of a window (light will shine through) and that it’s free of wrinkles (these will show up quickly in a picture and will tip off everyone that you’re using a sheet).

Photojojo Booth Chalkboard

  • Oversized picture frames: If you’re looking for a fun way to spruce up a family photo, try using oversized picture frames. You can easily create a unique photo by purchasing a large frame—or even a large artwork or portrait—and taking out the back. Have the two family members on the end hold the frame, get everyone’s face inside of it and snap away. The end result will be a frame-worthy family photo.


  • Fun accessories: Don’t let your family photos become yet another carbon copy of last year’s photos. Instead, hunt for some fun accessories that make this year’s picture stand out. Goodwill is full of interesting outfits, unique hats and all sorts of other accessories. Adding in some flair through these props will liven up your family pictures.


  • Signs: Another way to spruce up your family photos is to look for unique and interesting signs that you can add to the backdrop of your picture. Let each family member pick out their favorite sign or look for signs that complement each other to create a theme. Doing so will give your backdrop visual interest.


  • Furniture: Goodwill is a haven for unique furniture pieces, which can be used in the background or as props in your family pictures. Old chairs and tables can easily be repurposed into funky props with a fresh coat of paint. Bonus: after the picture is taken, you’ll have a new piece of furniture for your home!

Your local Goodwill store is sure to have anything and everything you could possibly need for creating the perfect background for your family photos this year. With a little creativity, you can create a unique family photo without spending a fortune.

Michelle LaRoweMichelle LaRowe is a mom, parenting author, and the editor-in-chief of Longhorn Leads, parent company of KidMondo,,  one of the first online baby journals. Visit and start chronicling your baby’s major milestones and everyday moments for free!

10 Tips for Breaking into the Childcare Field

December 31, 2013

blocksChanging careers can be difficult, especially if it involves a completely new industry. Childcare is a path popular among those searching for second careers. Although it may seem overwhelming at first when considering the significant task of managing the care and well-being of someone’s child, it doesn’t have to be a difficult transition. Here are 10 tips to help ease newcomers into the childcare field:

1. Read Childcare Books: Books are able to provide you with guidelines, suggestions and resources of how to interact with children of all ages and backgrounds. The more you read, the better prepared you can be to adapt to the unique set of abilities and challenges that each child brings to the table.

2. Volunteer: Taking advantage of volunteer opportunities involving children can give you an example of what you could be facing on a daily basis in the field of childcare. The best part about volunteering is that you gain hands-on experience, learn tried-and-true techniques from professionals, and can stop at any time if you find it too difficult to manage.

3. Offer to Babysit: Like volunteering, babysitting for a co-worker or neighbor can offer insight into what spending extended periods of time with children is like. There is no substitution for real-life experiences caring for children.

4. Research Trends: Conducting regular research of childcare trends on the Internet will ensure that you stay current on the latest studies, theories and techniques about childcare and childhood development. Consider using a notification service such as Google Alerts to receive emails with the latest relevant Google results for your desired subject matter. Subscribing to childcare RSS feeds and blogs could also be greatly beneficial.

5. Take a Part-Time Job: Unless you are 100% positive that working with children is what you want to do, take a part-time or weekend childcare job first to test the waters.

6. CPR and First Aid: Knowledge of CPR and first aid procedures is not only an important skill to have, it is often required of people who work with children. It also looks good on a resume for a wide range of career paths.

7. Take Classes: Check in your community for free or low-cost childcare classes or workshops that teach skills for dealing with children. Depending on the area where you live, these classes could involve anything from early education theories to parenting techniques.

8. Research the Target Age Group: Caring for a three-year-old is much different than caring for a pre-teen. Before deciding to work with a specific age group, it is important to understand the social, cognitive, emotional and educational development of every age range. Do your homework to better understand the needs and abilities of the age range that you wish to care for.

9. Kiddie Trends: While you certainly want to keep a finger on the pulse of emerging childcare and parenting trends, you may also want to pay attention to the latest trends popular among children themselves. Kids will develop a newfound respect for someone who can hold a conversation with them over the latest games and television shows.

10. Meditation Techniques: Knowing and applying effective meditation techniques are useful to keep yourself centered when chaos surrounds you. Childcare can be a fun and rewarding experience, but like any job, it can take its toll on your patience some days.

Working as a childcare provider requires an enormous degree of patience and empathy. However, the rewards are great when you are able to connect with a child and become a positive role model in his or her life. Whether you want to be a private nanny or a preschool teacher, you can be poised to help shape the future of the world by nurturing and encouraging young minds.

Ken Myers holds a master’s in business leadership from Upper Iowa University and multiple bachelor degrees from Grand View College.  As president of, Ken’s focus is helping Houston-based parents find the right childcare provider for their family. When he isn’t working, he enjoys spending time with his three children and his wife.

Why I Volunteer: Jennifer’s Story

December 26, 2013

Jennifer Bingham (2)I love being a volunteer at Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont because it helps me make connections.

I started out at Goodwill as a job seeker. I was new to Charlotte and needed to find employment and a place to live.  I am also a veteran and I found a program at Goodwill that offered job seeking services for veterans and their family members. Through this program, I was able to attend a job training class, meet other veterans and connect with housing resources for homeless veterans.  I met people with the same circumstances as myself and we were able to exchange information to get where we needed to go. From that point forward, I was able to help myself and wanted to do the same for others.

My first volunteer experience at Goodwill came while attending the Hospitality and Tourism training class.  Our class was asked to volunteer for Goodwill’s annual Cornerstone event at the Westin in Charlotte.  We were responsible for greeting the guests as they arrived for the event. Afterwards, we were free to enjoy the luncheon and hear other success stories from Goodwill participants.  I loved the event and I look forward to attending it every year.

After that, I made it official and became involved with the Champions for Good volunteer program so I could offer my assistance to Goodwill on a regular basis. I have received numerous benefits while volunteering at Goodwill.  Volunteering exposed me to potential employers, helped me increase job skills and enabled me to assist others. Sharing, learning and being inspired are experiences I have gained from being a Goodwill volunteer. I am Goodwill.

Jennifer Bingham is volunteer with Operation Independence at Goodwill. To learn more about available volunteer opportunities at Goodwill, click here or contact Manager of Community Engagement Kilby Watson at

DIY Christmas Decor

December 19, 2013

The holiday season is upon us!  It can be tempting to go out and purchase new Christmas decorations each year, but why spend extra cash when you can make your own decorations with items found at Goodwill stores?  Get crafty this holiday season and create one of these ornaments or this great book Christmas tree!

What is your favorite Christmas craft?

AllisonPlatteAllison Platte is a Charlotte, NC blogger & internet marketing specialist that writes a lifestyle and fashion blog, In the Queen City.

How to Mix Secondhand Finds with New Items

December 17, 2013

As more daring interior designers have always known, adding vintage furniture, artwork or striking found objects to a room is an easy way to add character.  But if you’re not careful, it’s also a potential recipe for turning a room into a confused hodgepodge of modes. Here are some rules of thumb to mastering the subtle art of secondhand elegance.


Begin with a Neutral Canvas

When set against the backdrop of an imposing color, an assortment of vintage pieces might make the room look scattered. White or neutral-colored walls, on the other hand, accommodate a high degree of heterogeneity by giving individual elements more breathing room. To stir in a little more warmth, beige, grey, taupe or black backdrops will serve a similar function.

Work Within Unified Themes and Color Palettes

In the same way that neutral walls curb the busyness of a room, composing the layout of a room according to common visual elements cuts down the carnivalesque ambience. This is particularly important when using pieces that have an antique appearance to begin with (and doubly so if they happen to be vintage pop culture items). When set against similar color schemes and patterns, the used items take on a consciously curated style rather than haphazardly kitschy.

Choose Wisely

As a rule, plan on contemporary furniture for large pieces and use retro items for accessory items or accent furniture. However, if you come across a larger secondhand piece of furniture that you can’t pass up, applying a little TLC to your find will ensure that it doesn’t stick out for the wrong reasons. Often all it takes is some reupholstering or a deep clean to have an old treasure looking new again. But first, consider the amount of time and energy you have to dedicate to giving a secondhand item a makeover before you lug it home.

Highlight a Signature Item

One of the greatest things about thrifting is the thrill of finding rare, one-of-a-kind items. When you score that truly oddball mid-century modern chair or Op Art coffee table, don’t let it recede into the background. Arrange the furniture and items in your room around it as a centerpiece to showcase its uniqueness.

Use New Fabrics with Old Furniture

Even when a piece of furniture has been handled with care over the years, upholstery tends to fray, so accenting a vintage chair with a brand new blanket or modern throw pillow will breathe some life back into it. Since the raison d’etre for the new fabric is to provide sharp and unpilled texture, it need not be an attraction on its own: a simple throw from Target will do the trick.

An underlying goal of mixing new and secondhand items should be to create an overall vision of simplicity while livening things up with juxtapositions on a smaller scale. Using a vintage, ornate wood end table as a television stand is a good example. Finally, while it’s good to begin any schematic with a master plan, let a room evolve over time.  Imposing a single concept all at once can result in a forced, almost sterile appearance—and as in much of life, the best things often come to us out of the blue. So always be ready for your next unexpected find!

Uma Campbell is a freelance writer from Southern California. She loves mixing secondhand treasures with newly bought items in her home. To view more of her writing, please visit the Luxe Water Walls blog.


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