South Bend, Indiana, has been an industry hub for decades, and the city is constantly working to improve the lives of its residents and economy in any way possible. The grand opening of The Academy at the Goodwill Bendix Campus was an exciting occasion for the South Bend area on the morning of Friday, May 26, and guests filed into the building to revel in the latest addition to the South Bend community.
The Academy went through a full renovation to provide a space for students to learn, experience, and engage with one another in a brand new state-of-the-art facility.
To celebrate this milestone in the South Bend community, Goodwill hosted a ribbon cutting and open house event to allow community members and businesspeople to tour the facility and experience all of the career paths students can choose at The Academy.
“Goodwill's mission is to help people realize their dreams. Today, that is what we are celebrating,” Goodwill President and CEO Debie Coble said.
The Academy is housed in a 100-year-old building with a storied past. The Bendix Campus was originally home to the Bendix company, which manufactured airplane parts and provided a large percentage of jobs for families in the South Bend area.
“Resources like this are such a critical piece of our stories,” South Bend Chamber President Jeff Rea said. “We're really thrilled and very excited to be here. This property plays such an important part in South Bend's history and helped so many families for many years. It's neat to see it put back into productive use. It's going to help a lot of families and businesses, and will ultimately really help our community prosper.”
The remodel was no easy feat, but as is the case in most endeavors, hard work pays off. Ancon Construction partnered with Goodwill to develop and execute a plan for The Academy, and as guests wandered through the halls of the fully-renovated facility, it was clear that the hard work behind the scenes will pay off to provide a quality education to community members for years to come.
“We wanted to create a creative environment where students and members of the community can feel like they're in an enriching and inspiring place to learn. We tried to be very conscious about the cost while providing spaces that are very inspiring,” Project Designer Matthew VanSoest said.
The Academy will offer hands-on skilled trades training for people interested in a variety of fields, including digital skills, automotive, construction, welding, and more.
The facility includes space to operate GoodwillFinds.com, Goodwill’s e-commerce initiative, which lists donated items of high value for sale online, where they can typically bring in more money for an item than they would be able to in-store. The ability to sell things at a higher price creates more opportunities for Goodwill to fund initiatives like The Academy.
Much of the rest of the space at The Academy is dedicated to the trades, where students can attend school at no cost to earn the certification needed to enter the workforce in the South Bend area and beyond.
Congressman Rudy Yakym has a passion for the South Bend community and spoke on the many positive things that will come from a school like The Academy in the area. Part of his job, he said, is being able to communicate with businesses throughout the state to try to meet their needs and provide ways to grow the economy both locally and nationally.
“One of the things that these businesses have said to me loud and clear is that they need a better-trained workforce,” Yakym said. “This facility does not only that, but it really positively contributes to the entire ecosystem within our community. It gives them a tremendous amount of community pride, and it helps students stay here, get a great job, and raise a family within our community instead of moving somewhere else.”
The Academy will also feature a state-of-the-art automotive technology curriculum and a spacious workshop complete with all of the lifts and tools found in a working shop. The goal of the program is to provide students with real-world experience in the industry so that they can step right into a career after graduation.
Automotive Training Instructor Martin Nowicki is excited to begin teaching the course, and credits programs like The Academy for his fulfilling career in the automotive industry. Now that the roles are reversed, he hopes to provide the same opportunity to learn as he was given while he was learning the industry at Ivy Tech Community College.
“I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to do. The training I received at Ivy Tech really helped me have a good career for a long time, and that's what I want to do for students here,” Nowicki said.
The automotive technology pathway is largely supported by the Gurley Leep Automotive Group, which operates out of Mishawaka, Indiana. The partnership not only provides a way for students to receive a well-rounded education at no cost, but it also provides a boost in the number of people entering the workforce and the economy as a whole.
“This is an Indiana company that has been around for decades and decades. Having them in a direct partnership here is really unique and fantastic. I'm looking forward to seeing that impact,” said Tony Ferraro, congressional regional director for Senator Mike Braun.
After receiving an education at The Academy, students will be able to enter straight into the workforce and immediately begin to work toward a fulfilling career in the industry of their choice. Mike Leep, Jr, president of the Gurley Leep Automotive Group, testified that working in the automotive industry can lead to a prosperous career with the opportunity to earn a high wage without years of schooling.
“These aren't jobs; these are careers. We have lifelong technicians in our company that are making over $100,000 a year. These are great careers, and this is going to provide a pipeline for technicians in our community. We're just so happy to be a part of it,” Leep said.
Although the grand opening was a huge milestone to celebrate, executives at Goodwill are already looking forward to expanding the impact of places like The Academy into other areas of the Region, including Lake and La Porte counties. Chief Mission Officer Kelly Nissan hopes that The Academy at Bendix will become a reference for other facilities across the Region in the future.
“I'm hoping that it becomes the benchmark and a template for how we can replicate this across all of the other communities that we serve. We're a very large organization with a huge footprint, so this is just the beginning,” Nissan said.
To learn more about Goodwill Industries of Michiana, Inc., visit goodwill-ni.org.