Local News

New thrift store employs those with autism

Posted August 19, 2013

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.

Thrift store Thrift store provides purpose, paycheck

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.


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  • btneast Aug 20, 2013

    I have an uncle who is disabled and he works in a warehouse making about $2.50 an hour. We all feel he's being taken advantage of but no one else will hire him.

    I have a question. Is your uncle able to perform at the same level as others in his area, or is his employer letting him work at a reduced pace due to his disability? If he is, that's not so bad, as you said, most employers would not even do that.

  • Wendellcatlover Aug 20, 2013

    This is soooo awesome! I wish my niece, who has Williams Syndrome, could find an agency like this where she could work in NH. Currently, she sits at home by herself all day because her mom and dad both work and watches tv. She can't even get online anymore because she got into some trouble on Facebook with a man pretending to be a marine...long story...anyway, something like this would be so good for her. It breaks my heart to know she's living such a boring, plain, existence. She could be doing so much more if she had the opportunity. She has so much to give.

  • djnm58 Aug 20, 2013

    YAY! Love this kind of news!

  • SharpEyes Aug 20, 2013

    These folks are great for doing this! I will visit them if I am nearby. I do have one question... are they paying all the employees full wages regardless of disability. I would really like to know because I would applaud them even more for that! For those who wonder why I ask, I don't know the exacts but look up the fair labor standards act 14c which allows a lower wage for people with disabilities. I have an uncle who is disabled and he works in a warehouse making about $2.50 an hour. We all feel he's being taken advantage of but no one else will hire him.

  • boykinmary Aug 20, 2013

    My next donation will be to this non-profit. Great story

  • greymomma Aug 20, 2013

    Such a great story!

  • TobyJoe Aug 19, 2013

    Wishing great success for this endeavor! I look forward to supporting this business, especially since I have a wonderful nephew who has autism. I'm excited to see someone helping these developmentally disabled people. Keep up the good work!

  • qrbyrd Aug 19, 2013

    love this!

  • rachel Aug 19, 2013

    good for them-this is a great thing to do!