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Vice President of Operations
Goodwill of the Heartland
By Nate Kaeding
Jessica Schamberger is vice president of operations at Goodwill of the Heartland, where she works with a variety of federal, state and local leaders to support the organization’s training and employment programs across 19 counties in southeast Iowa. A versatile professional with a passion for social service, Ms. Schamberger will also help lead the organization’s latest initiative, an $18 million contract packaging vegetable and soy oils for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s international and domestic food aid programs.
It’s a big undertaking with a steep learning curve, as I learned, but one that will ultimately position Goodwill for continued success in the future, as it faces a changing retail landscape.
“If you look at the landscape for retail in general, a lot of brick and mortar shops are shutting down,” she said. “As we look to our future, we recognize that our retail operations need to evolve. We also recognize the need to diversify and have other business lines.
Ms. Schamberger joined me in the CBJ’s North Liberty studios to discuss her original connection with Goodwill, what she has learned from climbing the ranks of the organization, and how its new federal contract will benefit residents here in the Corridor.
Jess, what’s the one thing about Goodwill that people should know?
We’re more than a store. We take 40 million pounds of donations – and when I use that number, I’m talking about Goodwill of the Heartland, which serves a 19-county area in southeast Iowa. We take those donated goods and resell them in a store. In fact, 91 cents of every revenue dollar is reinvested into our mission to help people overcome barriers to independence. We do that primarily through work training programs and other programs that support someone’s self-sufficiency.
Talk a bit about your career path and what drew you to Goodwill. How did you connect with Goodwill originally?
It was not a direct route. I wasn’t a focused kid in school. I didn’t know what it was that I wanted to do, so I finished high school and went to work. I’ve always loved to work. I worked for Starbucks coffee company.
This was in San Diego?
It was in San Diego. I’d do anything to bring the money in and pay the bills in southern California. I’d clean houses. I had a temporary job where I made up city abbreviations for the Yellow Pages. I did whatever I had to do, and then went back to school as a nontraditional student.
I ended up finishing my four-year degree at Mount Mercy University [in Cedar Rapids]. I had this outstanding professor, Mohammad Chaichian. I took a social inequalities class and got fired up about wanting to make the world a better place, to right wrongs and give people a second chance. And after I graduated, I saw this position at Goodwill for a job development specialist, where I could help people find jobs. And that’s been my life ever since – no turning back.
When you started at Mount Mercy, did you have a goal in mind? Was there another profession that you were pursuing at that time, or did you hope to figure it out during those years?
It was a little bit of a toss-up between earth sciences and working for the Department of Natural Resources or going into human services. I ended up sticking with human services. I was passionate about what I was studying in sociology, and I wanted to do something with that. I wanted to take action on what I had learned about in school and start to attack social problems. I felt like I could do that in an organization like Goodwill.