Brian Itzkowitz: GoodWill (Job) Hunting

It’s Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend and the Goodwill Industries of Arkansas retail store on Markham Street is a hub of activity. Shoppers push overflowing carts down the aisles, examining blouses and pants and shelves of knick-knacks and household appliances. Goodwill associates replenish merchandise almost the moment it vacates the shelves, and a steady stream of customers waits in short lines to pay for their treasures.

Things are just as busy in the adjoining warehouse, once the stockroom of the now-defunct Circuit City. Shoes, clothes and accessories overflow from crates and cardboard boxes. An assortment of furniture occupies one vast corner, mismatched golf clubs and various sporting equipment another. Box after box of books, toys, videos and household items are stacked in neat, labrynth-like rows. An American flag – likely donated by a school – stands tall by a discarded wooden desk. At least 10 Goodwill associates deftly sort, price and move merchandise to new crates, carts and pallets. A loud bell heralds the arrival of another carload of merchandise for donation; a piece of paper in the donation station denotes 35 donations today, 80 on Tuesday, a particularly busy day.

To the casual observer, this is just business as usual at a bustling retail operation. But a closer look reveals something of much more significance. Brian Itzkowitz – President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Arkansas – explains it best.

“Job development and job training have always been at the heart of our mission,” he says. “We help people overcome barriers by giving them an employment history and real work experience.” The barriers, Itzkowitz tells us, are often developmental disabilities or a record of incarceration for non-violent crimes.

All Goodwill programs in the country focus on employment, but each one places special emphasis on the particular needs of the community it serves. In Arkansas, the need is relief for an overflowing prison system and converting previous offenders into employed, taxpaying citizens.

To meet that need, Goodwill Industries of Arkansas launched Transitional Employment Opportunities (TEO), a 16-20 week referral-based program that helps previously incarcerated non-violent offenders obtain gainful employment and learn career skills that will help them beyond the walls of Goodwill.

The failure rate (repeat offense rate) of those who go through the TEO program is less than 8 percent, Itzkowitz says, while the state average is 44 percent, a statistic Governor Beebe lauded at a recent luncheon celebrating the organization’s 85th anniversary.

We met a woman at that luncheon named Sarah who was a graduate of the TEO program. A mother of three, Sarah landed in jail and lost custody of her children. She vowed to turn her life around upon release, but found it next to impossible to find a job. After submitting almost 100 job applications, Sarah’s parole officer helped her get enrolled in Goodwill’s TEO program. Today she has her own car, steady work and custody of her children. She gives most of the credit to Goodwill.

No matter your political stance, Itzkowitz says the TEO program is good news. “We are helping turn tax recipients into tax payers, and we’re also helping people overcome their barriers to independence. Anything that helps someone overcome a barrier helps us become a stronger community as a whole,” he says.

After graduating from the University of Miami in 1989 with an international finance and marketing degree, Itzkowitz worked for three retail chains (Rite Aid, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video) before joining Goodwill in Baltimore as director of retail operations in 1998. In 2003, he accepted a position as vice president of retail operations in Fort Myers, Fla., and in 2008, moved to Little Rock to lead Goodwill Industries of Arkansas as its president and CEO.

“In this position, I can directly see how our efforts are making a difference in peoples’ lives,” he says. “Goodwill is a great organization and a social enterprise; giving people a hand-up, not a handout.” He adds that it’s not a charity, but a chance.

Many state and community leaders, including Governor Mike Beebe, have taken note of the passion Itzkowitz brings to this position.

“Brian came to Arkansas, fell in love with the state, and has dedicated himself to making it a better place,” Beebe says. “His passion for helping people help themselves has changed lives, and Brian’s drive will ensure that many more Arkansans get the chances they need to change their futures for the better.”

Since Itzkowitz took the helm, the number of people served by Goodwill Industries of Arkansas has grown from 1,060 in 2008 to more than 6,000 at the end of last month. Since 2008, the organization has created more than 250 jobs and job placement for more than 1,000. Goodwill has also opened another nine stores, 10 more career service centers, two bookstore donation centers and two regular donation centers.

The Markham Street location – one of the largest Goodwill retail stores in the state – is home to one of the 12 career service centers. Complete with 20 computers powered by two servers, the center offers free job training and placement services that are open to the public. People can get resume help, job search assistance, skills development, career counseling or adult education and training classes. A chalkboard at the front of the room displays available jobs—everything from positions at Hawker Beechcraft and the City of Little Rock to jobs at Little Caesars and Embassy Suites.

Gail Holmes, a petite woman with a kind smile, is the Markham career specialist. “She discovers people’s needs, finds job leads and helps hone interview skills,” Itzkowitz says.

Goodwill also employs citizens with developmental disabilities, like autism, and hopes to create an autism program for adults in the near future.

This is a mission that is especially meaningful to Itzkowitz. He and his wife Dawn have two sons, Braeden, 11, and Bryce, 10, the younger of which was diagnosed with autism in 2004. Since that time, the Itzkowitz family has been doing all they can to shine a spotlight on autism and help children and families affected by it. Dawn is the Arkansas Walk Now for Autism Speaks chair, and she is also on the board for “A-Camp,” a summer day camp for kids on the autism spectrum.

“We are woefully lacking in [adult autism] services,” Itzkowitz says. “We will continue to look for unmet needs in the communities we serve and be a part of the solution.”

Goodwill also places a lot of emphasis on innovation in the workplace. Itzkowitz says an employee discovered he could melt vinyl records into bowls and planters for resale, so Goodwill sold them on its shelves. Another employee turned discarded 3.5-inch floppy disks into pencil boxes to sell. The company started an e-waste program in 2009, in which it accepts old computers and other e-waste and recycles and/or refurbishes it, diverting electronic waste from landfills in Arkansas.

And Goodwill Industries of Arkansas has even more big things on the horizon. On June 12, the organization announced plans to expand from its current 49,000-square-foot location on West Seventh Street to a 576,000-square-foot facility at 7400 Scott Hamilton Drive in southwest Little Rock.

Called the Goodwill Resource Center (GRC), the new location will feature a clearance center and classrooms and will be the location of all donation and e-waste recycling operations. Approximately 50 positions will be created to support the continued growth of the organization through this expansion.

“This facility will give us the space we need to employ more Arkansans and continue to help train our workforce to be sustainable in their lives, families and all of our communties,” Itzkowitz says.

If you’re interested in helping Goodwill and the citizens it serves, Itzkowitz has a suggestion. “Our motto is ‘Donate, shop, change a life,'” he says. “Our mission couldn’t be realized without the generosity and support of Arkansans. When you donate and shop at Goodwill, you can truly change a life.”

To see exclusive Goodwill video and an interview with Itzkowitz, visit To learn more about Goodwill Industries of Arkansas and its work in the community, visit

About Brian Itzkowitz:

  • He’s an avid cyclist. He’s hardcore. He just completed the 100-mile bike ride in CARTI’s June 9 Tour de Rock.
  • And a Lance Armstrong fan. The most recent book he read was Armstrong’s “It’s Not About the Bike.”
  • He’s a team player. He believes in supporting other organizations in the community, and lends his time to a number of them, including the Family Service Agency, the Arkansas Workforce Investment Board, the Little Rock Workforce Investment Board, the State Rehab Council, Goodwill International, the Arkansas Society of Association Executives and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock College of Business Advisory Board. He also serves on the leadership team for Arkansas Walk Now for Autism Speaks.
  • But golf is not his game. He describes himself as a “really, really bad golfer.”

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