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Nonprofit profile: Goodwill helps those with mental disabilities

- Susan Rathjen is vice president of Private Banking for Bankers Trust Co., Clive.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and for me, that’s a personal subject. It may be for you, too.

My mother has schizophrenia. She is so much more than a medical diagnosis, and her disease does not define her. But, it has sparked my passion and my goal: to bring awareness to the community about mental health disorders.

One way I try to do that is through my work with Goodwill of Central Iowa.

I have served on Goodwill’s board of directors since 2013. I was drawn to Goodwill after I took a tour and learned about its Day Services program, which provides skills and social training to adults with a range of developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. I saw individuals being served in a very caring manner, which inspired me to volunteer at Goodwill client functions.

I have some experience with physical disability too, as my husband suffered a traumatic accident, which included a head injury, in 1997. As a result, he is unable to work. But, we chose to look at his accident as a blessing and an opportunity, because he’s been able to stay home with our kids. He is the rock star of our home!

I’ve enjoyed volunteering with Goodwill’s Day Services program. It’s so important for the clients to have that interaction. Whenever I volunteer, I am reflective, and it reminds me that there are great services out there -- and that my situation is not that bad.

Today, my mother has a great support network with help from my father and from Veterans Administration services. But, not every family finds help to cope with the barriers they face.

Because of the stigma associated with mental illness, many people are too ashamed or embarrassed to seek help for themselves or their loved ones.

Goodwill of Central Iowa is available to help.

Goodwill’s mission is to improve life for all by providing skills training and helping people with barriers to employment find jobs. What I have learned is that those barriers are not just mental and physical conditions, but they include disadvantaging conditions such as being an older worker, having a lack of child care or transportation, and gaps in work history.

Last year, Goodwill served more people and placed a record 914 people with 439 central Iowa employers. And those placements resulted in an estimated $49,750,000 boost to the local economy.

And, Goodwill’s e-waste program kept close to 5 million pounds of electronics out of the landfill.

Goodwill is so much more than a second-hand store. And it does so much more than simply hire people to work at its stores. Goodwill strives to bring out the best in people, to make a positive difference in the lives of people it serves and to have a positive impact in our community.

Want to volunteer with Goodwill so you can improve lives? Here are some ideas:

  1. Assist at client events by chaperoning, serving food and interacting with clients.
  2. Drive clients to and from social events.
  3. Sort donations, stock shelves, fill displays and clean in our stores.
  4. Help our Shopgoodwill online auction department by photographing or packaging items, or determining their value.
  5. Organize a donation drive at your school or business.

For more information, go to dmgoodwill.org

Susan Rathjen is vice president of Private Banking for Bankers Trust Co., Clive. She was named this year to the Business Record’s prestigious 40 Under 40 list. She has received the Bankers Trust Leadership Academy Peer Award, she volunteers for Joppa Outreach, a faith-based non-profit that helps homeless people, and she serves as the event coordinator at Eternity Church in Clive.

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