A new nonprofit thrift store is making it easier for adults with developmental disabilities to find jobs.
HANDmeUPs, the brainchild of two former special education teachers, had its grand opening in August and already offers dozens of volunteer opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities such as autism or Down Syndrome.
The goal is to convert those volunteer positions to paying jobs as the store off Litchford Road in North Raleigh grows.
The volunteers do everything from receive donations and sort clothes to tidy the shelves and work the cash register.
Last week, a group of volunteers from Community Workforce Solutions, a group that helps people with disabilities or other barriers to employment find work, spent a morning sorting and hanging clothing. A group leader guided them, helping them when it wasn’t clear where an item belonged and explaining concepts such as customer service.
Wesley Sanders, one of the volunteers, said he’s learning “good things” at the store.
“I like doing a job like this because it helps me keep focus,” he said.
Gena Brown and Jeff Fleming, the co-directors of HANDmeUPs, said their primary mission is to create jobs for people with disabilities in a way that makes their employees feel integral to the store’s success. But they’re also hoping the store will be a place where the community can see just how much every person has to offer.
It may take a little longer to train the volunteers or require some special adaptations, but they’re glad to do it.
“We feel like the investment is really worth it,” Brown said.
Both Brown and Fleming have taught special education classes and worked for Goodwill in job training programs. When Goodwill dropped the program they worked for, they decided to open the store through The Power of the Dream, a local nonprofit.
From their experience, Brown and Fleming knew that there are too few jobs in the community for adults with developmental disabilities. And even when people are hired, they’re too often considered a charity case. They’re not held to the same standards, and they’re the first ones to have their pay reduced or lose a job.
Brown and Fleming want to change that. They want to make sure their employees learn the skills they need to work and are held accountable for showing up on time, behaving appropriately and completing their work.
“They’re here to do a job just like anyone else,” Fleming said.
Until the store earns enough money to pay the employees, Brown and Fleming also are forgoing salaries.
Brown said it was scary to make the leap into running the store, but she’s glad she did.
“We love it, and we feel like it makes a difference,” she said.