PTA Thrift Shop in Carrboro, Chapel Hill to change name after talks with National PTA

PTA Thrift Shop new endeavor important for organization’s sustainability

PTA Thrift Shop Executive Director Barbara Jessie-Black explains why it was important to use PTA Thrift Shop profits to build a renovated store and the YouthWorx on Main project in Carrboro.
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PTA Thrift Shop Executive Director Barbara Jessie-Black explains why it was important to use PTA Thrift Shop profits to build a renovated store and the YouthWorx on Main project in Carrboro.

The PTA Thrift Shop will drop the word “PTA” from its name in December after reaching an agreement with the National PTA, it announced Friday.

The nonprofit’s name will change by Dec. 31, 2019, PTA Thrift Shop officials said in a news release. “Certain key terms of the agreement are confidential,” they said. The National PTA issued a similar statement Friday evening.

“I am very pleased and excited to be moving forward with a new name and strategy aimed at bringing equity and opportunity to our youth, “ PTA Thrift Shop board Chair Dawn Edgerton said. “This organization remains committed to supporting local schools through our Project Impact grants, vouchers provided to school social workers for under-resourced families, and by offering below-market office space to the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools.”

Erin Schwie Langston, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools PTA Council, also issued a statement Friday.

“The CHCCS PTA Council is pleased that a resolution has been reached between the PTA Thrift Shop and the National PTA with respect to the removal of ‘PTA’ from its name,” Langston said. “As summer comes to a close and the new school year approaches, the 19 CHCCS PTAs look forward to the support of our local businesses and community to help with the needs of students and teachers across the district.”

PTA Thrift Shop Executive Director Barbara Jessie-Black said the organization’s board is still working out the details, but resolving the question about the name returns the conversation to “who we are now as a community.” She emphasized that the PTA Thrift Shop’s relationship with the schools and its mission haven’t changed.

“We have appreciated the name and continue to do so. It was at the behest of the PTA Council that we changed our name,” Jessie-Black said. “As far as that goes, we have always been clear about who the support goes to — the support goes to the PTAs, the monetary support, as well as some of the in-kind support that we give to the community.”

Name a simmering issue

The PTA Thrift Shop and the National PTA began confidential talks in March about whether the organization should stop using the word “PTA” in its name.

The issue has been simmering since 2016 when the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools PTA Council and many residents grew concerned that the PTA Thrift Shop was using the name but making little to no contributions to 19 local PTAs. Other decisions that have been criticized include changing the PTA Thrift Shop bylaws, ending local PTA input in decisions and replacing PTA volunteers with paid staff.

The PTA Thrift Shop, with Chapel Hill and Carrboro stores, was established in 1952 to sell secondhand goods to raise money for local schools. The last big grant — $265,000 — was in 2011, but only about $119,000 has been allocated in the last seven years.

In 2015, the PTA Thrift Shop created Project Impact grants, which spread another $39,655 among 13 schools. PTA officials said the grants are not popular because of the time and understanding it takes to apply for them.

The Project Impact grants for the 2019-20 school year were decided in the spring, Jessie-Black said, and will be announced this fall.

The PTA Thrift Shop and PTA Council entered mediation in 2018, but the council ended the talks, saying the thrift shop wasn’t forthcoming about its finances or its mission to help the schools. The PTA Council contacted the national and state PTAs late last year.

Mortgage payments

Tax documents show the PTA Thrift Shop 2016 tax filing shows it spent roughly 56 percent of its revenues on employee salaries and benefits in 2016. The 2017 tax filing is not online but should be available by Monday, Jessie-Black said.

It appears most of the money that was going to the schools now is paying a 20-year mortgage on the $5.5 million construction of a new Carrboro store and YouthWorx on Main, which leases affordable rental space to nonprofits.

A capital campaign before construction started raised about $1 million toward the project, Jessie-Black has said. Thrift shop officials confirmed in June 2018 that the nonprofit still owed $4.6 million, with monthly payments of roughly $26,000.

PTA Council officials have said Jessie-Black’s statements to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board in 2011 led them to believe the loans would be paid within a few years. The lost funding has left PTA leaders looking for creative ways to afford school supplies and student programs, including through fundraisers, donations and annual dues.

Some have questioned whether the money that used to support the PTAs is now supporting the YouthWorx project. There have been calls for a boycott and for the public to donate to other groups, such as the separately operated Chatham PTA Thrift Shop.

Jessie-Black said the PTA Thrift Shop doesn’t give any other money or support to the nonprofit organizations at YouthWorx, which include the Refugee Community Partnership, Skjaja and Healthy Girls Save the World. However, the PTA Thrift Shop partnership has helped all of those groups grow and increase their impact since moving into the YouthWorx building, she noted.

Social media posts and conversations can hurt an organization, Jessie-Black said, but they have not affected PTA Thrift Shop business.

“Our donations are continuing to flood in. We continue to have good sales,” she said. “You can’t make everyone happy unfortunately, and we want to be sure that the people that are clear about our mission and clear about who we are and what we do, and appreciate who we are and what we do, continue to donate and shop with us.”

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Tammy Grubb has written about Orange County’s politics, people and government since 2010. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.