After years working in restaurants and on construction sites, Eddy Monjaraz Jr. wanted a new job.

He wanted a career.

So he jumped on the opportunity to participate in a free 12-week advanced manufacturing and warehousing program at the Goodwill store near Union Gap. Though the program, participants have the opportunity to earn a variety of certifications, including one to operate a forklift.

“(I get) to learn new stuff and get the upper hand,” said Monjaraz, a 38-year-old Yakima resident.

The new course is the first to be held at the Union Gap Goodwill’s new work opportunity center.

(The store at 1907 S. First St., is in the Yakima city limits but Goodwill refers to it as its Union Gap store to distinguish it from a different store in Yakima).

Community and business leaders got to see the new career education center during an open house Wednesday.

“It takes a community to make that happen,” said Lori Forte Harnick, president and CEO of the Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region, which operates 37 stores and runs job training and placement programs in 15 Washington counties, including Yakima County.

She said that free job training programs are funded by donations and store revenue.

Goodwill has offered job training here before, but the new center gives Yakima Valley residents access to distance learning through simulcasts originating in Tacoma and Longview. Participants here aren’t only able to watch classes from the other two locations, they can interact with instructors and students.

The first session, the Advanced Manufacturing and Warehouse Program, is already underway. A new session of Goodwill’s Career Readiness Education & Development Program, a 40-hour training course aimed at helping participants master skills to secure employment, starts Monday.

The new center provides room for up to 200 students to participate in manufacturing and career readiness programs.

Goodwill wants to offer more programs in the future, said spokesman George White.

That means more training opportunities for students like Monjaraz, who said he is learning many skills. He’s excited about the possibility of becoming a machinist.

“I never put much thought in how much they produce,” he said. “It makes me want to learn more.”

Another student, Kristina Gjersing, 30, said she was initially unsure whether she would be successful.

“It definitely took me out of my comfort zone,” she said.

Gjersing, a Yakima resident, said she decided to participate because she needed a job and wanted to learn new skills. She found that she loved learning about different aspects of manufacturing and workplace safety.

She also has enjoyed meeting new people. During the open house, Gjersing approached Monjaraz Jr. and took a photo of the two of them.

“I don’t usually like being around a lot of people,” she said. The Goodwill program is “getting me out here. It’s breaking that wall.”

Reach Mai Hoang at or Twitter @maiphoang