As Marcus McBride walks through the training center at the Goodwill Industries of the Southern Rivers campus in Columbus, he stops to chat with a few men taking a break from class in the food-service area.
“This is life college. That’s what it’s like,” says a a young man without even being asked about the training program. “You all changed my life, that’s for sure,” says an older gentleman unprompted as he strolls into the room.
McBride just smiles, knowing the unsolicited comments reflect well on Goodwill’s stated mission of “Developing People, Changing Lives, Building Communities.” He also understands that’s directly in line with why he came to work for Goodwill, which has a home office and employment and training center located at 2601 Cross Country Drive, off Macon Road in Columbus.
McBride, 36, is director of education and training at Goodwill Industries of the Southern Rivers. The Smiths Station, Ala., native is well schooled, holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as a doctor of philosophy degree, all from the University of Alabama. Yes, he’s a major “Roll Tide” fan.
McBride’s road to the Columbus nonprofit organization included several stops at other organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Jefferson, Blount & St. Clair County Mental Health Authority in Birmingham, Ala., The Bradley Center of St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Chattahoochee Valley.
Today, he is in charge of the education and training programs at Goodwill, which aside from Columbus, operates in a 50-county area that stretches from Newnan, Ga., southeast to Albany and Valdosta, and over to Opelika and Phenix City in Alabama. Aside from its 12 retail stores that sell donated items, Goodwill also makes a major impact with its career centers. The bottom line, McBride says, is to impact the lives of others in whatever way possible.
The Ledger-Enquirer visited with the education and training director recently to discuss his job and why he tackles such a mission, as well as how Goodwill goes about helping others find meaningful and decent-paying work, while fostering their self worth and dignity. On top of job placement, the center trains individuals to work in environments which include call centers, hotels, restaurants and fast-food outlets, retail stores and offices. This interview is edited for length and clarity.
Q. How long have you been here?
A. Coming up on three years in April. I got here in 2015.
Q. First off, why do you do this?
A. I know my very first experience out of college helped shape my life forever, and that was working with families in Birmingham that were connected there to foster care. I got a chance to be exposed to poverty I never realized existed. So it really gave me a passion for (learning) how do I actually develop myself and go back and make a difference in the community. How do I go back and give a voice to a population that sometimes doesn’t have a voice, like families that really need help. I gained an understanding that beyond race, class or gender, there were barriers that prevented people from making a decent wage, or having a job, that created this economic hardship that just made multiple other issues happen. So that was one of my reasons for being very interested in working with philanthropic organizations and those that had a solid of mission of helping people in the community.
Q. You look like a model Aflac or TSYS employee to me?
A. There’s always room for the big corporate careers and people that are going to do well there. One of the main reasons I moved back here is I wanted to make a difference where I grew up, and (thought about) how can I reach out and help the people in my communities that were closest to my hometown of Smiths Station, Ala.
Q. What are your duties as director of education and training?
A. My job consists of providing oversight for education and training across our territory. There’s a 50-county territory and we have education and training centers set up in Albany, Newnan, Valdosta and here in Columbus. Those centers provide services in outlying counties, too. But my job here is developing team members, helping them have the tools necessary to empower them to help our clients.
If you said, Marcus, what do you do? I am a leader and a great utility player because there’s not much that I wouldn’t do to help my team provide the services and skills they do in the centers. I do a lot of team leader development and coaching. I work with our partners in the communities because when we’re training people at Goodwill, we’re training them to enter the workforce. That takes partnership development with employers, the local workforce board, with our community partners such as our technical colleges and universities.
It’s making sure we set our clients up for success. We want to make sure they’re able to find a job. I’m not sure that people know about the quality that we have in our training programs, that it’s more than just ticking off the box. We do really put a lot of time and effort in training to help people develop the soft skills and the knowledge they’ll need to be successful in the workforce.
Q. That’s because if people have a good, decent-paying job, they become good citizens?
A. Yes. I would agree 100 percent that there’s a lot of problems that exist in our community that are definitely related to the socio-economic standing of certain areas and certain families.
Q. How many people are on your staff?
A. There’s probably 50 to 60 people in mission services, about 600 at Goodwill, and my team is probably about 15.
Q. What’s an average day like for you? It sounds like travel is plentiful?
A. There’s a six-hour (driving) span across our 50-county territory, and travel does come up quite often. But I really do enjoy getting out and working with the teams. I think of the Valdosta location and it’s a breath of fresh air for them and for me to get down there because they enjoy it and I enjoy being able to spend time with them and find out what’s happening in their community, how can I best support them to be successful, what are some of the success stories from the clients. The staff will discuss some problem areas, problem cases, all of those things that help impact our clients. I really enjoy that.
Q. There also are plenty of meetings?
A. I do have quite a few meetings when I’m traveling. A lot of times I’m able to not be in a meeting, but in the (active) training program. A lot of times we may be teaching trainees how to process our donations in the retail store or learn how to operate a multi-line phone system for clerical work or provide good customer service for a retail client. When I’m able to participate or model or coach or be in the moment with the training center, those are very powerful moments because when I’m later able to go back and see the progress that’s been made … a lot of times it’s like night to day. That’s because they’ve either had very limited job experience, very little exposure to the work world or they have some very intense organic barrier that the team is working with them on.
Q. How long are the trainees, or students, in the programs?
A. The typical student is in the program for three or four months.
Q. How many folks come through the training in a year’s time?
A. A ballpark number, I would say, is close to 800. That’s the intensive training centers. For all of our communities combined in our centers combined, the population we serve is about 20,000 each year. Along with that, (we’re) connecting about 3,100 of those to employment. Those are our stats from 2017.
Q. The bottom line, you help place people in jobs?
A. Right. We evaluate individuals for the workforce, and then we’re trying to gauge if they are going to be able to go through this training program and then be placed into competitive employment. In the evaluation, either this person is going to go to Goodwill or a similar program for training, or they may go to a program that provides even more support, where someone may not work individually, but with some support and some type of case-worker manager or social worker always present with them. Other workers, after the training, we work with our employment specialists, who work with employers in the community and our trainees, to find that good fit to make sure they’re going to be successful.
Q. Does it ever become emotional for you?
A. It does. It’s not a job that’s void of emotion. Every person that I work with here at Goodwill, I would say they are very passionate about what they do. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people. It doesn’t cost anything to treat people right. … Our team members that work for Goodwill are caring, and they have a personal and professional investment in helping people grow and develop. When you leave off the clock, you can’t just cut that off, thinking that you’re not going to care about this person or that person because I’m off work. I’m sure when they’re at home, around their dinner tables, it crosses there mind: How can I have done something different, or how can I help this person grow a little bit more tomorrow. Because we hear a lot of compelling stories and a lot of people open up to our counselors and our case people that are working at Goodwill, and you just can’t shut that off at 5 o’clock when you go home.
Q. What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
A. I would definitely say the most challenging part goes along with that same cost of caring. You can’t be all things to all people, and as much as we want to make sure that we’re able to help people grow and develop and check off every box in which there may be a need, unfortunately we can’t do that. That’s why there are other great places alongside Goodwill that help build the community. That’s probably one of the most difficult things whenever you’re working in any place that works with people with a lot of need ... if I had a magic wand (I would wave it).
Q. What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
A. The most rewarding part is when I look at the success stories or the success videos capturing how we actually impacted change in someone’s life, and you’re able to hear the thank you, the genuine thanks from this family or individual that Goodwill has changed their life … A lot of times it may be something very small that we may not know how much impact it made on the client we’ve worked with, and I think it’s very reassuring for the team and for myself.
Q. Finally, what does the future hold for you over the next three to five years? Will you be here or somewhere else helping people? Any goals for you?
A. You know, that’s an interesting question. As much as I talk about having a plan or having the future lined up for goals … I can’t say that I have a specific plan of saying this is where I want to be in three to five years. I’m actually really enjoying the job that I have here at Goodwill and I feel like it’s beyond a job, that God has aligned me in the right space at the right time now to do the work that I was called to do.
Hometown: Smiths Station, Ala.
Current residence: Phenix City
Education: 1999 graduate of Smiths Station High School; earned a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies from the University of Alabama in 2003; earned a master’s degree in educational psychology from Alabama in 2008; earned a doctor of philosophy degree in educational psychology and research methods from Alabama in 2012
Previous jobs: Adjunct professor with the Department of Counseling, Foundations and Leadership, Columbus State University; vice president of operations with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Chattahoochee Valley in Columbus; case management coordinator with The Bradley Center of St. Francis Hospital in Columbus; co-therapist with the Jefferson, Blount & St. Clair County Mental Health Authority in Birmingham, Ala.; assistant director of Emergency Services with the American Red Cross in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Family: Wife, Dr. Suzanne McBride, a family-practice physician, and three “fur baby” dogs — Reilly, Lucky and Bama
Leisure time: Enjoys spending time with his wife and other family members and friends; also likes to travel and go boating