The images are seared into Jessica Goodall’s soul: the countenances of despair and heartache that were transformed into hope and comfort.
She spent many of her childhood days – and sometimes even the nights – at Abby’s House, a shelter for abused women and children that her great aunt, Eva Engel, founded in Worcester, Mass.
That’s where Goodall’s passion for social work began. She was one of the lucky ones. She knew with inextricable certainty at an early age what she wanted to do with her life.
“I’ve just always felt it was my purpose ever since I was pretty young,” Goodall says. “I just always felt I was meant to help the most underserved population. I have always been extremely blessed and lucky in terms of having a very loving and stable upbringing. I just felt like I was given the opportunities and skills and abilities to be able to intentionally give back. As I grew and realized that you could do that as a profession through social work, I just knew that was my purpose.”
After obtaining her bachelor’s in sociology from Framingham State College in Massachusetts in 2002, she moved to Southwest Florida to be closer to her parents. She worked in the child welfare system in Naples for 11 years, but left it in 2014 to pursue a master’s in social work at FGCU.
That’s where Goodall, 37, hatched the idea to start her own company, Eva’s Closet, in honor of her great aunt.
“The most impactful thing about FGCU was the understanding of what would be the most effective social service agency to serve the populations in Southwest Florida,” she says. “And not only serve them, but serve them in a way that social agencies weren’t necessarily doing. FGCU impacted me in a lot of different ways I didn’t realize until I was done with the program. Dr. Amanda Evans and Dr. Thomas Felke were hugely impactful. They were amazing.”
In her last semester in 2016, she founded Eva’s Closet, a Fort Myers non-profit that provides necessities to those in need with “grace, respect and honor.” It supplies gently used clothing, shoes, household goods, baby supplies and other essential items to families and individuals at no cost and also aids the local public school system in providing school uniforms and clothing to homeless and transient families.
“The combination of what I’m providing is a little bit different from what most agencies do in that I’m able to directly allow my clients to come in and give them clothing, food and baby supplies,” she says. “And I refer them to other agencies if I know it will be pertinent to their situation. It’s super gratifying.”