Managers Gena Brown and Jeff Fleming are counting down the days until the grand opening of their new thrift store in north Raleigh.
But HANDmeUPs is no ordinary thrift shop. The store, opening Aug. 29 in Litchford Village, has a unique mission to employ and train older teens and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities.
“It’s hard to get somebody that hasn’t worked with somebody with disabilities to hire them,” Fleming said. “They look at what they can’t do, instead of what they can do.”
The store is operated by The Power of the Dream, a nonprofit organization that promotes empowerment for those with developmental disabilities.
Brown and Fleming, two friends who were laid off from their nonprofit jobs more than a year and a half ago, spent that time collecting donations and raising $60,000 to help launch the store. They will forgo their own paychecks for the first six months of the business to ensure that their employees get paid.
“We made the decision that we could go back to teaching special education or we could go ahead and start something where we could hire individuals with disabilities because there is a great need,” Brown said.
Brown and Fleming believe in the talent of their employees, including 28-year-old Brian Raia, who was helping organize DVDs in the store Monday, and Ingram Corzine, who was arranging jewelry.
“We feel like they find a sense of community when they come here,” Brown said. “They find a sense of purpose.”
The managers say it's not just about opening the doors and keeping them open. They want the store to serve as a model for other businesses to benefit those with disabilities.
“We are hoping to pay as many people as we can and then have more profit to continue on with the same sort of thing,” Fleming said.