Helping hands

Goodwill franchises across the country are offering landscape services to help individuals with employment barriers.

While widely known for its clothing stores and accepting donations, Goodwill Industries International also provides landscaping and lawn care services.

“When you think of Goodwill, you don’t really think of landscape services,” says Terry Hayes, president and CEO, Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region, which offers commercial and residential landscape services through Go2 Property Services, the branch’s landscaping company. “Sometimes folks think Goodwill is all about stores and donations.”

In reality, Goodwill is about helping people in the community who need to work to get their lives back on track.

“Our stores and the Go2 Property Services do two things for us,” Hayes says. “They provide us jobs for people to go to work, and then we use profits from those businesses to provide training to help more.”

The landscape services are run somewhat independently from the Goodwill stores. Goodwill franchises have the option to start their own landscape service and run it the best way they see fit. This means they each vary on types of contracts, kinds of work offered and how they find crews to do the work.


Since its first contract 15 years ago, Goodwill San Antonio’s landscape program has grown to two facilities, doing about 3,000 acres of landscape maintenance.

“We do about $5 million a year in landscape maintenance on our federal contracts,” says Mark Ramirez, director of contract services for Goodwill San Antonio. The company also started contracts with some commercial clients in San Antonio.

Unlike San Antonio, Go2 Property Services bids on jobs just like a “typical” landscape company, even bidding against local companies. A custom website allows potential customers to learn about the company and the services it provides, and request services.

“It’s amazing how people get excited about buying into using a business that has a mission like we have,” Hayes says, referring to Goodwill’s mission to help people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work. The company maintains 21 of its own Goodwill facilities, along with 71 commercial and residential customers. In Ohio, Goodwill of Erie, Huron, Ottawa and Sandusky Counties does the mowing and maintainence for the city of Sandusky.

The company set up a meeting with the city manager to discuss Goodwill helping maintain city properties that were overgrown.

After the city manager approved the deal, Goodwill received grants and help from private foundations to purchase $17,000 worth of equipment.

Now, the company has branched out and does local cemeteries, border control offices and another municipality in the area. This year to date, the company has done 73 city properties. Last year it did more than 150.

It also maintains rental properties in the area. “A lot of the properties we have here (in Sandusky) are very high rental-based,” says Eric Kochendoerfer, president and CEO of the branch. “The landlords aren’t around and the people move out and the properties are not taken care of.”

Services offered.

Although the company started off doing just landscape maintenance, Goodwill San Antonio now offers irrigation and gardening. They have certified arborists to do tree care work and certified technicians to apply herbicides. The company is also looking to get into landscape architecture.

The organization also recently received a contract from the San Antonio housing authority. In the proposal, Goodwill said it would utilize a percentage of the people living in the housing community in order to help those individuals obtain an income and be able to transition from subsidized housing to something more permanent.

Goodwill of Erie, Huron, Ottawa and Sandusky Counties in Ohio focuses on maintenance.

They also don’t deal with any chemicals, and if a job came along that needed chemical treatments, the group would subcontract it out.

Since Goodwill is a nonprofit, the organization doesn’t bid jobs at a profit. Instead, it focuses on what the group of workers will get out of job, such as job training, good public relations and being a good neighbor to the city. Go2 Property Services offers five different lines of business to customers: landscaping services, custodial services, concrete polishing services, facilities maintenance and painting.

Some of the organization’s larger customers are local YMCA facilities, which means the crews are maintaining manicured fields as well as mowing and normal maintenance.

Go2 Property Services also has two unique projects under its belt.

The first is a green wall at the Goodwill of Seattle headquarters. It features around 100 varieties of plants native to Washington and Oregon, and the landscape crew maintains it.

The other project was installing a grant-funded playground at the Lakewood YMCA. The crews converted the area in preparation for the elaborate playground, including hiring a subcontractor for concrete curbing.


For Goodwill of Seattle, Go2 Property Services hires individuals who need employment help to get their lives back on track. The organization gives them training (including GED programs) and all employees are professionally licensed and certified.

The landscape department is a member of the Washington Association of Landscape Professionals, and all lead employees are USDA certified pesticide applicators.

“A lot of people have that first initial question of ‘Who am I expecting when I hire Go2? Are these volunteers, are these individuals getting job training on my property?’” Morrison says. “That’s not the case. By the time someone is with Go2, they are a skilled employee.”

Prior to hiring the individuals, Go2 Property Services does a background check, drug screen and interview process. Depending on the position they’re applying for, they may also need one to five years of experience in the landscape industry.

Morrison says it’s important for the crews to have previous experience because all of their customers pay for services, so it’s important to make sure they’re getting the best quality product they can.

The employees are divided up into five different crews, and each crew will focus on a different trade associated with the landscaping. The crews stay the same each day and they go to the jobs where that particular service is needed.

Goodwill San Antonio works with the Ability One Program, a federal program designed to assist people with disabilities gain employment. Goodwill bids on a project with the government and if it’s selected, people with disabilities are employed to work on those contracts. Seventy-five percent of the hours worked on a contract have to be performed by someone with a disability.

“They are provided with case management and assessed every 90 days,” Ramirez says. “They have to meet certain criteria to work on it for their hours to be counted.”

Most of the crew members don’t have experience in landscaping prior to joining.

“They may have cut their grass,” Ramirez says. “They may understand, but to the degree that we do it, I would say 75 percent of them have not had that experience.”

When someone new is hired, they go through a one week training course, featuring videos provided by manufacturers of the equipment the crews use. They are also briefed by the project manager and an environmental specialist. They also go through Occupational Safety & Health Administration training, and during the off season, all crew members have a refresher training course. They also have monthly safety meetings and training.

After training is complete, individuals are put on established crews, and crew leaders are required to have at least five years of landscaping experience before getting promoted.

“There is a lot of team work to make sure the team is successful,” Ramirez says.

The organization helps the crew members get training and any certification they may need in order to help them advance their careers in the industry. Currently, they have approximately 10 certified technicians to apply herbicide.

“The goal is always to help a person with barriers to employment in the commercial world to gain some experience and training and knowledge so he can reenter the workforce without the need for support,” Ramirez says.

Goodwill of San Antonio also works with the Wounded Warrior Project and currently has 135 disabled veterans working on the organization’s federal contract services. Roughly 85 of those veterans are combat disabled and a number of them work in the landscape service.

“We try to employ people that the Federal Government is either subsidizing or has a disablement,” Ramirez says. “We think we should try to employ those people that are unemployed.” Goodwill of Erie, Huron, Ottawa and Sandusky Counties hires individuals with developmental disabilities, employment disadvantages or felonies who don’t have lawn care or landscape experience.

“We have a team leader at each property who does have experience,” Kochendoerfer says. The remaining of the crews get trained on the job. Since the organization only focuses on maintenance, their crews don’t need as much experience as a crew that offers multiple services.

Each year, the organization tries to bring back the same individuals. A raise is offered and typically the crews are similar year-to-year. They also get a fair amount of internal applicants for open positions.

“We’re a pretty unique Goodwill in the aspect that only 50 percent of our revenue is generated from retail,” Link says. The organization has two actual factories where employees do assembly and manufacturing for other companies. Sometimes these individuals will then apply for open jobs in the lawn care section. If they have skills that fit, and will be able to handle the functions of the job, they are hired to fill openings.

“We’re in it for the job training aspects,” Kochendoerfer says. “That’s really what brought us into this particular service: trying to help the city save money and remove the blight while fulfilling our mission by providing job training to individuals with disabilities or disadvantaging conditions. It’s been a great program; it’s been a win-win.”

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