Since last fall, a large group of volunteers through Easterseals Arc’s Transitions program have been working at the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store on South Calhoun Street. The program connects adults with disabilities with community-inclusive volunteer opportunities to help them develop foundational job skills for employment.
The partnership has been a resounding success on many levels. Sales at the thrift store are way up. That allows the organization to better fulfill it’s mission to empower people and eliminate poverty through a variety of programs.
When donations come into the warehouse, the volunteers sort all the items, then tag and hang the garments. They develop social skills by interacting with donors dropping off items, and have some in-store interactions with customers. Most importantly, they’ve built strong relationships with the thrift store staff.
David Till is the Volunteer Coordinator/Warehouse Manager at the thrift store. Till served in the military and is a retired civil servant, but says working with the volunteers from Easterseals Arc is the most fullfilling job he’s ever had. “They just love. There’s nothing that they want. They just want to be here and enjoy the work. I could be having one of the worst days of my life, but I know if they’re coming in that day, my day is going to change. It’s just awesome.”
Felicia Mihm is a direct support professional for Easterseals Arc. She says nothing makes her happier than seeing the volunteers gaining valuable experience in retail education that prepares them for more fullfilling work down the road. “We started tagging clothes and sorting items and it leveled up from there. Now these guys are filling racks left and right.”
Lara Schreck, Executive Director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Fort Wayne says the collaborations of the two organizations has been a blessing. “The groups that come here are so enthusiastic and hard working. We value them and everything they bring to our organization. They’ve helped us increase sales 50% in the past six months. That funding then goes back in our community to help with our other programs with food, rent, and utilities for people in need.”
Brian Holloway is one of the volunteers who benefits from the experience. “I love helping out with people. It feels good, and I love it!”
Scharn Johnson, another Warehouse Manager says it always feels good when the volunteers can see first hand the great work that they’re doing. “Once we get the clothes off the table and on the rack, we will take them over to the store so they can see the progress they did and where it goes and how much good they have done. Every day is a challenge, but it feels good to be able to give back to the community.
After spending a little time with the two great service organizations, it easy to see why the partnership between St. Vincent de Paul and Easterseals Arc is Positively Fort Wayne!