The History of GES

GII logoGoodwill was founded in 1902 in Boston by Rev. Edgar J. Helms, a Methodist minister and early social innovator. Helms collected used household goods and clothing in wealthier areas of the city, then trained and hired those who were poor to mend and repair the used goods. The goods were then resold or were given to the people who repaired them. The system worked, and the Goodwill philosophy of “a hand up, not a hand out” was born.

Dr. Helms’ vision set an early course for what today has become a $4 billion nonprofit organization. Helms described Goodwill Industries as an “industrial program as well as a social service enterprise…a provider of employment, training and rehabilitation for people of limited employability, and a source of temporary assistance for individuals whose resources were depleted.”

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Meanwhile in Ohio, Edgar Allen lost his son in a streetcar accident. The lack of adequate medical services available to save his son prompted Allen to sell his business and begin a fund-raising campaign to build a hospital in his hometown. Through this new hospital, Allen was surprised to learn that children with disabilities were often hidden from public view. Inspired by this discovery, in 1919 Allen founded what became known as the National Society for Crippled Children, the first organization of its kind.

In the spring of 1934, the organization launched its first Easter “seals” campaign to raise money for its services. To show their support, donors placed the seals on envelopes and letters. Cleveland Plain Dealer cartoonist J.H. Donahey designed the first seal. Donahey based the design on a concept of simplicity because those served by the charity asked “simply for the right to live a normal life.”

The lily – a symbol of spring – was officially incorporated as Easterseals’ logo in 1952 for its association with resurrection and new life and has appeared on each seal since. The overwhelming public support for the Easter “seals” campaign triggered a nationwide expansion of the organization and a swell of grassroots efforts on behalf of people with disabilities. By 1967, the Easter “seal” was so well recognized, the organization formally adopted the name “Easterseals.”

In 1999, Goodwill and Easterseals merged here on the Gulf Coast, to create a stronger agency that can do even more good in the community: Goodwill Easterseals of the Gulf Coast.

Goodwill Easterseals now operates eleven (11) retail store/donation centers, two (2) bargain stores, eleven (11) individual attended donation centers, two (2) child development centers, and eight (8) community centers in addition to our Gordon Smith Campus, which houses several programs and administration. Our locations reach 12 counties in Southwest Alabama and Northwest Florida. We have five main areas of service: Children & Family Services, Education Services, Employment Services, Support Services, and Business Services.


In the last SIX years, we have seen a 50% increase in people served because of the increasing generosity from donors and partners. In 2016, we changed 11,038 individual lives through our programs and services -more than we have ever been able to help before- thanks to our many donors and shoppers. We are proud that our yearly audits show that we are good stewards of your donations: 91¢ of every dollar we spend goes toward helping the people who need it the most. (See our 2015 Annual Report below):

IMG_6776Our mission is to help families, in whatever shape they are in – needing a job, a GED, or literacy skills, help with parenting a special needs child, or a place for their adult family member who can’t stay home alone. Families need help teaching their children to be ready for school, or getting for free a piece of medical equipment they can’t afford.  People with all abilities, challenges, and backgrounds are working hard, achieving their goals, and seeing dreams come true. Low-income families are retaining more of their earnings and building a brighter, more secure financial future. Youth and adults alike are taking positive steps toward their future by learning new skills, building confidence, and moving toward a life of self-sufficiency. People with disabilities are enjoying recreational activities and living more independently, bringing joy and laughter to families despite some tremendous challenges.