In January, below-freezing temperatures weren’t enough to keep Justin Bogers from doing his job. As Goodwill of Central Iowa’s community outreach specialist, there’s always something to keep him busy. His work sets the foundation for so much of Goodwill’s mission efforts.
The most important thing to know about Justin is that he has an unwavering devotion to helping his fellow man. He’s a dreamer, an idealist, an ambassador and an advocate. He believes that change can start with one idea, one person and one connection. And his passion for those efforts is evident when you walk into just about any room, and someone – if not everyone – knows him directly as a result.
We followed Justin around to six locations in the Des Moines community to observe his relationship building in action. These were the highlights of his day:
7:00 a.m.: Rise and Shine
Justin starts his day at 7 a.m., before the sun even peeks over the horizon. He begins by catching up on emails and other office work. Soon enough, it’s 8:25; time for him to lead a conference call with a group of United Healthcare case managers. Before he gives his presentation, he takes notes of everyone on the call. He recognizes most of the people he is talking to but wants to establish relationships with those that he hasn’t met yet. He never stops networking to further the efforts of Goodwill and their partners.
He reminds and encourages them to sign their clients up for Project SEARCH, a work-immersion program for adults with disabilities. Through a partnership between Goodwill of Central Iowa and Hy-Vee, curriculum on retail sales, food preparation and customer service are tailored to their needs.
Throughout his presentation, he is peppered with questions about Project SEARCH and Goodwill of Central Iowa. He’s well-versed in every aspect of Goodwill and knows an absurd amount of facts off the top of his head. When there are no more questions, the conference call ends, hopefully having persuaded a few people to get applications submitted. He then runs out to his car to head to his first meeting of the day.
9:21 a.m.: All Ideas Welcome
Justin is set to meet with several community partners at Iowa Workforce Development on the south side of Des Moines. From the short walk between the entrance and the meeting room, Justin is greeted by no less than five people who are happy to see him. It’s a testament to his abilities as a networker.
“Everybody in the community likes Justin,” Goodwill of Central Iowa’s Director of Mission Services Katherine Harrington said. “There’s something about his personality that’s ingratiating, and people want to work with him.”
At the table are Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Iowa Employment Solutions, Des Moines Housing Services, Department of Aging and Central Iowa Center for Independent Living.
They are meeting to discuss a grant from the Disability Employment Initiative that is being phased out. At the same time are also discussing what they could do to further the efforts that were created thanks to the grant. No idea is too “in the clouds” for him.
“It’s important to bring these ideas up with community partner.” he says. “Without that, you’re essentially talking to yourself and unsure if things could work.”
10:30 a.m.: In Need of a Favor
Goodwill of Central Iowa recently expanded its supported employment services to Story, Tama and Marshall counties. Along with this expansion, there is a necessity for a community needs assessment – a set of data that will inform Goodwill’s decisions about how to best serve these counties.
Justin sits down with a business development specialist from IVRS at the Good Beginnings cafe in the United Way of Central Iowa’s campus. They are there to discuss the possibility of IVRS sharing their employer needs data with Goodwill. It’s a move that will save both time and money. The IVRS specialist doesn’t even hesitate to help and immediately starts asking questions about what exactly he needs. This action illustrates just how well Justin is doing to encourage collaborative relationships in the community.
“If we step back and really look at the landscape of disability services, we’re all in it for the same reason,” Justin emphasized. “It’s wonderful to see that those collaborative organizations are willing to help each other so that we can work together in a unified way.”
11:55 a.m.: Creating Excellence
Justin drops by the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART), to pick up bus passes for the most recent cohort in the Creating Excellence in Re-Entry (CEiR) program. CEiR is his brainchild that he developed with several community partners. The program provides training and mentorship to men who are re-entering society from incarceration, with the goal of increasing work readiness and decreasing recidivism.
Back in November 2017, Justin attended the Iowa Access to Justice Commission Conference. He was sitting at a table with Randi Radosevich of St. Vincent de Paul and had just learned of some of the programming they were doing in support of the re-entry population. He drafted a rough sketch of what programming could look like together at the top right of a sheet of paper (which he still has in his office). Randi encouraged him to further pursue the idea. After working with program partners to put a more harmonious design together, they created the comprehensive system.
“Providing a second chance to someone demonstrates a belief in redemption and in leaving our past behind,” he said. “We should never be defined by our mistakes, but rather show learning and growth from them – and this cannot be done without opportunities to demonstrate growth and education.”
12:30 p.m.: Facilitating the Conversation
The walk to the Iowa Youth Homeless Shelter is short, but today it’s a difficult one. He faces gusts of wind so cold that it takes your breath away. After what feels like an eternity, he slips through the front door. He’s there to facilitate a meeting between their staff and Goodwill’s Day Services Lead Life Instructor Sean Abramowitz. Sean is look for consistent volunteer opportunities for the participants of the program.
Several weeks back, Justin and Sean had conversations to discuss the direction of the Day Services Program. They agreed that volunteer opportunities could be a good stepping stone for those participants who aren’t quite ready for full-time employment. Day Services is looking more at self-advocacy and providing opportunities for individuals to think of growth. The two of them take a tour of the shelter’s drop-in center, a place for runaway and homeless individuals between the ages of 16 and 21 to live in the short-term. All agree that this could be a fruitful partnership. With that, Justin and Sean walk back to the DART hub, thankfully with the wind at their backs this time.
1:30 p.m.: Networking for Opportunities
Much like the previous meeting, Justin facilitated a second meeting with Sean and DART, a community partner where he has an established relationship. All brainstorm possible tasks for volunteer opportunities. Justin steps in from time to time to help guide the conversation, but otherwise lets it play out between the two parties. They come to the conclusion that there might not be any opportunities to volunteer within DART, but that doesn’t stop them from creating a list of other organizations that could provide potential opportunities in the future.
“It was great to have them as a sounding board for opportunities that they could think of,” recounted Justin.
2:15 p.m.: The Rest of It
After the meeting, Justin has a few more tasks that take him through the end of the day. He is always on the move and does so with the needs of everyone else in mind.
“Justin is always thinking about what we can do more of, how we can do it better and how we can reach more people,” Katherine Harrington shared. “To have somebody leading with that kind of heart is inspiring, and it keeps us on our A-game.”
When you donate and shop at Goodwill of Central Iowa, you make work like Justin’s possible. In fact, 85 cents of every dollar earned in our retail stores and through shopgoodwill.com goes to support our mission of improving the quality of life for all individuals by providing skills training and helping people find jobs. Find the location closest to you or make a monetary contribution today.