Dr. Edgar James Helms
Helms College and Goodwill Industries International has a rich history dating back 114 years. Rev. Edgar James Helms (1863-1942), a man admired for his uncommon character and entrepreneurial vision, is credited as the founder of the movement that would grow into Goodwill Industries®.
Born near Malone, NY, on January 19, 1863, Helms tried careers in law and newspaper publishing, but felt called to the ministry. In 1889, he enrolled at Boston University’s Theological School. Helms and two fellow students requested that the City Missionary Society support them in opening a full-scale settlement house in the North End of Boston. Instead, Helms was offered a struggling inner city mission in Boston’s South End, Morgan Chapel, which had been established a generation earlier by Henry Morgan.
The young ministry student was appalled at the conditions faced by immigrants who found themselves in a new country without jobs and sometimes desperate for food, clothing, and shelter. Using burlap bags from Thomas Wood and Company, Helms went door-to-door in Boston’s wealthiest districts asking for donations of clothing and household goods. He began a system of collecting used items from the wealthy and repairing them for resale to the poor at Morgan Chapel (which would later be called Morgan Memorial Co-operative Industries and Stores). The proceeds from the sale of these goods paid the workers’ wages and were invested in the development of job training programs. Credited as the “Father of the Social Enterprise,” Rev. Helms’ vision of creating middle skills jobs as a means to access the American Dream continues today through the work of Goodwill Industries and through his namesake, Helms College.