Luis Rattia thought of Goodwill as a place to donate unwanted items, and an organization that helped poor people. He soon learned how much more Goodwill has to offer.
Fairly fluent in English, Luis had an advanced degree when he moved to Seattle in 2015 from Caracas, Venezuela. He was taking English conversation classes at the public library, trying to find work and build a network of friends. The staff at Casa Latina, a services resource for Latinos, referred Luis to Goodwill.
“Goodwill was really, really helpful for me. I went to job training classes and they helped me write a more American-style resume," Luis said.
Goodwill staff also advised Luis through the immigration process, finding a job and transitioning to living in Seattle. “Without Goodwill, I would be struggling.”
One of the surprising, hidden hurdles of the move to the U.S. was learning the cultural differences. Luis absorbed all the details from guest speakers in the Goodwill classes.
“They talked about immigration law, housing and utilities. They also told us what not to do, which is very important, too.”
Goodwill classes and volunteer experiences helped Luis learn more about American culture. “The way you interact with people is different here. In Venezuela we show our excitement and are more passionate about things. Here, everyone is more calm and relaxed.”
Luis came to the Northwest looking for work as a reliability engineer, his profession in Venezuela. With help from Scott Rice, instructor at the Seattle Job Training & Education Center, Luis landed a job as a project engineer at a Tacoma oil refinery.
The job stretched his engineering skills, and Luis is proud of the work he did and the experience he gained. His contract with the company has ended and he’s now working as an engineering consultant while looking for the next engineering position.
“I always knew I wanted to be an engineer,” Luis said. “I loved math and abstract thinking.”
Luis shared his nimble numeric skills as a Goodwill volunteer. Four days a week during the noon hour he tutored Goodwill students who dropped in for help with their math assignments.
“I wanted to give back to Goodwill for everything they've done for me,” Luis said.
Luis said the volunteer commitment also helped sharpen his English skills and added a layer of experience to his resume. “It showed that I was doing something productive with my time in the gap before starting work.”
Scott spotted Luis’s potential early on. It didn’t take much convincing to get Luis involved as a volunteer tutor or to attend lunchtime conversations to practice English.
“Luis knows how to take advantage of opportunities,” Scott said.
Luis encourages people from other countries to tap into Goodwill’s resources and staff professionals. “It’s better than asking your friends for advice or recommendations. Goodwill knows how to help you.”
Luis is soaking up the Northwest lifestyle: bike riding at Marymoor Park, visiting waterfront attractions, trying kayaking and eating all types of seafood.
“Americans don’t think they have a culture, but you do! Even eating a hamburger is part of your culture,” Luis said with a grin.
People registering as Goodwill students are greeted with a warm smile, firm handshake and a fairly rigorous interview process.
Staff members need to ask a lot of questions so they can determine how Goodwill can best help the new student succeed, said Scott Rice, instructor at the Seattle Job Training & Education Center (JTE).
“The hardest part is to get to barriers they’re embarrassed to talk about,” Scott said. “We also meet people who don’t realize they have barriers or can’t articulate them.”
Hidden barriers could be cultural—how to get health care, where to buy food, what to expect in a formal classroom setting.
For some people, being able to read is another barrier to finding work or living independently. When Scott didn’t find many reading resources for adult learners in the community, he created the new Reading Skills Lab for Goodwill students. Parties affiliated with the University of Washington are helping him develop reading assessment tools and the lab curriculum.
Scott’s work as an English instructor at the Seattle JTE introduces him to students like Luis Rattia (featured in this newsletter). Luis is an engineer who moved to Seattle from Venezuela.
“People like Luis come to us with amazing skills and experience. They just need a little help,” Scott said.
Luis participated in Goodwill’s English classes and was a student volunteer tutor. He also joined on-site casual lunchtime conversations.
“Like many people with higher-level fluency, Luis needed a safe environment to build confidence speaking English, and we provide that,” Scott said. “There’s only so much you can do in a classroom. You need to have real-world conversations.”
Volunteering gives students time to practice English and gain work skills. Scott said they also feel good about making an impact in the lives of others.
Many former students stay in touch, sometimes seeking additional help with a job search or other services. Scott doesn’t mind. “I tell them that once you’re my student, you’re always my student.”
We work with people to uncover the hidden barriers that keep them from living their potential. These barriers include cultural differences, lack of reading skills or transportation challenges. Our job is to identify the hurdles and help people find answers and resources.
Luis Rattia, featured in this issue of Goodwill Ambassador, came to Seattle from Venezuela with solid English skills and an engineering career. Luis knew he could be successful in his new hometown and learned how Goodwill could help him. While he took classes to increase his English fluency, he also got tips about the job search process in this country.
In addition, Luis got help with the hidden barrier of cultural transitions—how to access health care and figure out transportation options, for example. Cultural hurdles dissipate further when students interact through Goodwill’s volunteer opportunities and drop-in lunch sessions to practice speaking English.
Every day at Goodwill we see how jobs change lives. It’s rewarding to watch people overcome hidden barriers and succeed beyond their expectations.
You can help us in this effort. Enjoy an evening of fashion and fun at the annual Glitter Gala on October 15. When you’re pulling out seasonal clothes or sprucing up for holiday houseguests, donate your unwanted items to Goodwill. And stop in at your local Goodwill store when shopping for home décor or Halloween costume ideas.
Daryl J. Campbell, President & CEO
More than 600 people are expected at the Glitter Gala. The event features a fashion show with items from Goodwill stores, plus a dinner, silent auction and other activities.
“Our community partners tell me they never have trouble filling their table seats for Glitter Gala. Everyone knows it’s a great event,” said Jahna Hildebrandt, events manager at Seattle Goodwill.
This isn’t the typical runway show. Designers have used lampshades, tents, fabric flowers and other nontraditional items when crafting their Glitter Gala fashions.
Outfits from the fashion show will be part of the 33rd Annual Glitter Sale in November. Eveningwear, shoes, purses, jewelry and accessories for special occasions are available at the sale. There’s always a large crowd, and items are re-stocked all weekend long.
In 2015 the Glitter Gala and Glitter Sale together raised $703,000 for Goodwill programs. Proceeds from this year’s Glitter events will benefit Goodwill’s program that helps people earn their high school diploma or GED.
Goodwill’s fashion program interns are coordinating the Gala fashion show. Fashion design students from local colleges are creating outfits from a Goodwill shopping spree, incorporating the Gala’s theme “Take Root and Bloom.”
“I love the ‘take root’ theme because our programs help students get a good foundation so they can flourish,” Jahna said. “This isn’t just a pretty fundraising event. It’s really reflective of who we are and who we serve.”