It’s fitting that Value Village is the title sponsor of Northwest Center’s 50th anniversary—we’ve been partners since 1967, just two years after Northwest Center was founded. Northwest Center collects clothing and household donations with The Big Blue Truck™ and The Big Blue Bin™, Value Village buys that merchandise to sell in its stores, and the revenue funds education and employment programs. This innovative “social business” model was decades ahead of its time. Today, the partnership is stronger than ever.
William Ellison opened the first Value Village store in Renton, WA in 1966. When he approached Northwest Center in 1967, former Northwest Center CEO Jim McClurg recalls, “The finance committee was a bit suspicious—what he was offering sounded too good to be true. They invited Bill to make a presentation to the full board, who liked the way it sounded. It was probably one of the most important things we ever decided.”
Good for the Community
Northwest Center CEO Tom Everill agrees. “Bill Ellison’s offer changed the course of our history,” he says. “Our partnership with Value Village has given Northwest Center a sustainable source of funding that lets us design innovative programs for the community. Bill Ellison was a pioneer in creating business models that produce social good. Thanks to our founders’ decision, Northwest Center has grown into a force for social change and human value.”
The partnership benefits the greater community, says Value Village CEO Ken Alterman. “By purchasing goods from nonprofits, we fill our shelves with locally sourced goods; we pay nonprofits whose services directly impact members of that community; and we provide a marketplace for shoppers looking for a great value and one-of-a-kind finds,” he says.
Good for Inclusion
Northwest Center exists to promote inclusion, with the conviction that society will only reach its full potential when people of all abilities participate fully in classrooms, businesses and community. We pioneered early intervention in a “natural environment” with the people and in the places important in a child’s life. In our Early Learning Programs, children with and without disabilities share the same classrooms and playgrounds. Employment Services places employees at local businesses where their skills are best suited to the job, to work side by side with everyone else.
“Inclusion is not a benevolent compromise,” Everill says. “It makes the community stronger and more successful.” Indeed, Northwest Center proposes that people with conditions such as autism, Down syndrome or cerebral palsy are valuable assets not in spite of their differences, but because of them. “Their unique perspectives evoke qualities in everyone around them that otherwise would be lost,” Everill explains.
For years, Value Village has hired employees through Northwest Center. Value Village first employed workers who performed their tasks with the guidance of an on-site Northwest Center job coach. Today, the company regularly hires individuals who work as part of the store team. One such employee is Brian, who worked at the Crown Hill Value Village for more than six years. When Brian’s family moved from Seattle, he told Northwest Center that he loved his previous job and wanted to work for Value Village again. Now he’s a Community Donation Center Ambassador at the Totem Lake location and lauded as an essential part of the Value Village team.
The Greater Good
“Community support isn’t about a reputational boost or strategic opportunity,” Alterman says. “It’s a fundamental product of how we choose to operate.” Every Value Village store employs nearly 50 employees, who receive comprehensive benefits and career advancement opportunities, he says. “But most valuable is the cycle of good we create through our partnership. The more merchandise Northwest Center brings to Value Village, the more the community donates and shops at our stores, the greater the good we can accomplish together.” Value Village is such a perfect fit with Northwest Center’s mission, we named an award for Bill Ellison. Each year at our Golden Hearts Luncheon, Northwest Center presents the William O. Ellison Award to a community member or company whose accomplishments embody the inclusive spirit. It’s the spirit Ellison fostered with Northwest Center 48 years ago—one that shows no sign of waning today.
This story is the part of Northwest Center’s 50th Anniversary Project: 50 Stories Worth Sharing. To celebrate our 50th anniversary, we are sharing 50 stories that illustrate the value of inclusion and the way everyone benefits when People of All Abilities engage with each other in the classroom, the workplace, and in the community.
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