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‘She’s one of the most inspiring people I’ve met’: Edmontonian calls it a career after 43 years at Goodwill

Elaine Wenger working at Goodwill.
Elaine Wenger working at Goodwill. Courtesy: Doug Roxburgh

After more than four decades at Goodwill, Elaine Wenger is ready to move on to her next adventure.

Born with cerebral palsy, the 65-year-old has become an inspiration for many people seeking meaningful employment.

“I experimented, I found what I liked to do and the rest is history. I went from area to area and worked my way through the system. Now, I know just about everything there is to know about Goodwill,” Wenger said.

Elaine Wenger working at Goodwill
Elaine Wenger working at Goodwill Courtesy: Doug Roxburgh

She got involved with Goodwill when she was 18 and was raising her two-year-old son Curtis. Wenger still remembers her first day on the job.

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“I was ironing. The second day I was folding sheets. It was all fun…although, I still hate ironing,” she laughed.

Doug Roxburgh, marketing coordinator for Goodwill Alberta, said Elaine is part of the 30 per cent of Goodwill staff who have a self-disclosed disability.

Through her work at Goodwill, Wenger supported her children, Curtis and Mindy, through post-secondary schooling.

“I even went to school myself. It was something I wanted to do. I paid for it myself. I was in school and working too, raising my kids [as a single mom],” Wenger said.

LISTEN BELOW: Guest hosts Morgan Black and Brad Wisker interview Elaine Wenger and Doug Roxburgh on the 630 CHED Afternoon News

“She got involved through Canada Manpower,” Roxburgh said. “They had a program to help people find employment at the time in 1976. We now have a Career Connections program where we have job coaches who can help those who need a bit of assistance finding employment.”

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Roxburgh said it’s hard to put into words the effect Wenger has on people.

“She’s one of the most inspiring people that I’ve personally met at Goodwill. Her own story, how she interacts with customers. She’s a personal motivation for herself, her family, her friends and people who come in the store.”

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Since her start in 1976, she’s worked across Edmonton at various Goodwill locations.

In 2016 Elaine received a “Greatness Award” through Goodwill, which recognized 40 years of service.
In 2016 Elaine received a “Greatness Award” through Goodwill, which recognized 40 years of service. Courtesy: Doug Roxburgh

“She’s been all over the place just because of what she brings to the table,” explained Roxburgh. “On her own time, she would bake muffins and cookies for staff members and customers.”

At the opening of a new location in May, Wenger was asked to be part of the ribbon cutting ceremony

“We cut the ribbon and Elaine cheered ‘Let the party begin!'” Roxburgh explained. “The people who saw that enthusiasm came up to me afterwards and just said ‘Wow!’

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“She’s been an ambassador for so long, her energy resonates with people. You can feel it. Her enthusiasm resonates. We feed off of it. It’s something to behold actually.”

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Wenger said when she retires at the end of August, she’ll miss all the friends she’s made over the years.

“You can’t not make friends. You have to make friends with everybody…even if you don’t like them. It’s all part of customer service,” she laughed. “I have remarkable coworkers. I’ve kept in contact with old coworkers. Some of them have passed on or gone on to better jobs.”

Elaine Wenger working at Goodwill
Elaine Wenger working at Goodwill Courtesy: Doug Roxburgh

Roxburgh said he’s met many people involved in the Career Connections program and is constantly inspired by the stories he hears.

“Everybody wants a purpose in life. Our program gives people a purpose and a chance at employment, at work, at giving back, at doing what they want to do. I get a little choked up about this,” he said. “Goodwill is great for the community. We do a lot of amazing things [when it comes to] giving back to Alberta. Every time you spend money at Goodwill, 89 cents of every dollar goes back into programs to help people with disabilities.”

After 43 years mastering various aspects of the job at Goodwill, Elaine is once again ready for something new.

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“I think it’s time to hand over the reigns to somebody else. I’ve done my duty. I want to spend some time with my grandchildren. I’ve got three granddaughters. I want some Elaine-time. I want to enjoy that.”

As for if she feels appreciated after all these years?

“I better be!” Wenger laughed. “It’s been a long amazing journey, I’ve seen a lot, I’ve done a lot and met a lot of people. I’ll guess I’ll keep meeting people as I go through life.”

Wenger’s last day at Goodwill is Aug. 30.