Saying Maurice Lowery has a thirst for knowledge is a serious understatement.
“I’ve always told myself I’m going to learn more in a classroom than if I go home and watch the news,” he said.
The Charlotte, North Carolina, native and military veteran has chalked up thousands of classroom hours earning a bachelor’s degree, plus two associate degrees. And he’s currently working toward a master’s degree from James Madison University.
Lowery values each of the diplomas he’s earned, but it’s his 2019 graduation from another institution that he credits with transforming his life.
“All doors have opened since then,” Lowery said.
The program? Goodwill University, the training division of Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont. They offer training programs, free of charge, that provide participants with skills that are in demand for employers in our region.
“We focus on job training that leads to careers,” said Raquel Lynch, chief program officer with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont. “This is a program that combines the classroom with practical, industry-specific experiences.”
The Regions Foundation, a nonprofit initiative primarily funded by Regions Bank, is helping to ensure that hands-on learning lab happens for participants like Lowery by granting $25,000 to Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont’s Workforce Services Program.
“Skilled trade professionals have always been highly needed, and the need today is especially great due to the pandemic’s labor shortage,” said Marta Self, executive director of the Regions Foundation. “Workforce programs like Goodwill University are opening new doors through specialized skills training and by providing participants with a clear path to sustainable, rewarding and in-demand careers.”
For Lowery, that in-demand career is in home appliance repair. Lowery enrolled in the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Workforce (RENEW) Training Program, delivered at the Goodwill Construction Skills Training Center. Through the RENEW program, Lowery completed a 16-week training course that teaches the fundamentals of construction through an introductory course, Construction Basics, in addition to advanced training in Heating, Ventilation and Air Condition (HVAC) and Electrical Training.
“It offered me the chance to learn two different things at one time,” said the lifelong student.
Goodwill’s Workforce Services Program offers numerous learning opportunities through seven tracks covering everything from computer basics and customer service to construction and trade skills. Interested in entering the supply chain field? Goodwill University conducts a Warehouse, Inventory and Logistics program. Looking to gain expertise in piloting commercial drones? Goodwill University has that covered too. Class sizes average 15 students to offer a more personalized learning experience, with all training provided at no charge.
Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont chief advancement officer LaRita Barber says the nonprofit relies on a village of collaborators to ensure their training program remains affordable, valuable and relevant for participants.
“We believe we can’t do this work alone,” said Barber. “Our mission is not one that can be accomplished in a vacuum, it requires a community of support. When people ask, ‘What’s your ‘secret sauce?’, it’s really about relationships.”
In addition to funders like the Regions Foundation, those relationships include local employers who offer insights to participants and career opportunities to graduates.
“We have ‘Mentor Mondays’ where employers come to the classroom and explain what it’s like to work in the industry,” said Lynch. “We also have an Employment Engagement team that coordinates tours to offer participants on-site access.”
Goodwill is also committed to building other skills training into each course’s design for participants to apply – both on the job and off.
“We don’t call them soft skills, we’ve named them essential skills,” Lynch describes of communication, time management, teamwork and the added abilities participants gain. “A lot of people take them for granted. But in construction, you have to work in teams. You have to be able to ask for clarity. On a construction site, the ability to communicate effectively could be a life-saving skill. It could literally save somebody’s life.”
This isn’t the first time Lowery has understood the weight of being responsible for other’s lives. In 1987, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Following his deployment to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Lowery served during Desert Storm and Desert Shield.
“I was on special assignment in an underground bunker monitoring air space,” Lowery explained. “My role involved observing and monitoring anything that moved at an Air Force base, friend or foe. It made me see things differently, from different points of view.”
Lowery learned valuable life lessons from his military service. Now, more than two decades later, he’s learned more thanks to Goodwill University. What did he discover about himself through this training?
“I’ve learned that if I apply myself, I can do it,” he said. “Also, you’ve got to have patience. There is no shortcut to success.”
Lowery shares those thoughts and more as a testimonial presenter for Goodwill, speaking to students in classrooms where he once sat and to donors during fundraisers.
“Anybody I can talk to, Goodwill can always call me,” he said.
His key message?
“My favorite part is letting people know their money is really appreciated,” Lowery said. “I wouldn’t have been able to go through the program without that support. I have to thank someone for giving … $20, $50 — it doesn’t take a lot to help someone accomplish a dream or a goal.”
LaRita Barber, Raquel Lynch and the entire Goodwill team see the magic of graduates achieving those dreams and goals every day, nearly 300 just from the Construction and Trades Program since 2019.
“Maurice is not an exception, we hope his experience happens for every single person,” said Barber. “Our shared purpose is to help people see possibilities, seize opportunities and to prosper. We’re here to help people tap into their own greatness. Goodwill is not the hero in this … we’re just here to help our participants along their journey.”