Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Goodwill to All: New CEO Rick Hill leads Goodwill Keystone Area through pandemic—and beyond

Rick Hill thought he’d be playing golf every day, enjoying retirement.

“I was incredibly bored, and my wife said, ‘You might as well get another job,’” said Hill. “The stars aligned… I was introduced to Goodwill and its mission, and at that point I knew I didn’t want to do anything else but work for Goodwill the rest of my life.”

Today, at 58, Hill is at the helm of Goodwill Keystone Area, serving the 22-county region of central and southeastern Pennsylvania, including the Harrisburg area. It’s his third position with the Goodwill organization—that first position was in Frederick, Md. And that’s where he met a young man named Dillon.

“It was my first experience working with someone with a disability,” Hill said. “He would come to work every day smiling, so proud to come to work. Watching him progress with his skillset was like watching him blossom.”

A lot of people are familiar with Goodwill as the nonprofit organization that accepts donated items to stock their thrift stores—but that’s only part of their story.

The proceeds from Goodwill stores fund job-training and employment programs for people with disabilities, like Dillon, and for anyone affected by barriers to employment. Those barriers include anything holding someone back from getting a job—a recent incarceration, homelessness, drug or alcohol rehabilitation.

The 60-day employment program, described by Hill as a “metamorphosis,” is designed to help people acquire job skills matched with an employer.

“It’s the power of changing people’s lives through the dignity of work,” Hill said. “The idea of self-worth is one that resonates with me. We’re not giving a handout—we’re giving a hand up.”

Hill knows something about hard work from the ground up. Hill spent the bulk of his career working for two family businesses—Metropolitan Steel Inc. in Frederick, where he worked his way up to president and CEO—and then Metropolitan Choppers, LLC, a custom chopper motorcycle businesses that he founded.

“I had run these multi-million dollar corporations, so I thought for sure I could manage Frederick’s Goodwill warehouse,” Hill said of his first position with the organization. “What happened was I met the most engaging, hard-working folks I’d ever been around, and I fell in love with the mission.”

When he took over as CEO of Goodwill Keystone Area in December, Hill had big shoes to fill. He replaced John McHenry, who retired after a 47-year career with Goodwill.

Based in Harrisburg, Hill oversees a footprint of 44 retail stores and donation centers staffed by 1,500 employees that serve more than 3 million shoppers and 1 million donors annually. More than 74,000 items are sold online, and the organization recycles 17 million pounds of donated items every year, as well. Last year, the organization helped 4,200 people through their employment services.

But the number that makes Hill the proudest?

“I’ve worked in for-profit businesses my entire life, and we need to run this organization as a business even though it’s a nonprofit,” Hill said. “But the beauty of it is, 92 cents of every dollar we generate goes right back into the mission of creating employment and sustainable job skills. There’s no other job where anybody can say that.”

Hill was three months into his new position when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, shutting down Goodwill stores and donation centers for several months. For an organization that earns more than 80 percent of its revenues from its retail operations, it was a huge hit. Those annual revenues typically total $64 million.

One area of Goodwill’s operations continued through the pandemic, however—contracts to provide custodial services, even more essential during the pandemic, to a number of businesses and government facilities.

“For months, they were our sole source of income for the organization,” Hill said. “And they were dealing with a lot more cleaning requirements, so we’re very proud of our business services side.”

Some of those contracts include Harrisburg’s Federal Building, the Mechanicsburg Navy Yard and Franklin County’s Letterkenny Army Depot.

Meantime, Hill went to bat for Goodwill, with the governor.

“People were out of work and didn’t have an organization like Goodwill where they could buy clothes or household items—they were limited to shopping at big box stores,” Hill said. “So, we petitioned the governor and got permission to reopen donation centers in April. We were very grateful for that.”

All Goodwill stores were expected to reopen by the end of June. Hill predicts they’ll fulfill a great need amid troubled economic times—the need for central Pennsylvanians to be thrifty.

He also predicts that Goodwill will play a critical role in helping the unemployed.

“We’ll meet the challenges ahead of us with massive unemployment, and we’ll will adapt our programs to give people the skillsets they need,” Hill said.

For example, a new job-training program is being developed to help people acquire the skills needed to work in one of central Pennsylvania’s most prevalent industries—the warehousing and transportation sector. The program specifically teaches people how to use warehousing software programs and operate forklifts.

Another new program takes job training on the road via a mobile computer lab, since lack of transportation can be a barrier to attendance at traditional job training sessions.

Hill said that it’s important for Goodwill to “creatively innovate” to meet challenges such as shifting job skills, COVID-19 or anything the future brings.

“Goodwill as an organization started in 1902 and has seen its share of crisis, from the Spanish flu of 1918 to world wars, and every modern-era catastrophe that there is,” Hill said. “Goodwill adapts and changes, and this will be no different.”

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