Lot more behind storefront

Dec. 14, 2013 @ 10:49 PM

The Thrift Store on Garnett Street is the most visible aspect of Community Workforce Solutions, Inc. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Behind that storefront lie a half dozen programs designed to help individuals with disabilities prepare themselves for employment and move into the work force.

The Thrift Store offers members of the community good used clothing and other items at bargain prices.

Thrift Store manager Sandra Waverly said the bargains are even bigger on the first Wednesday of each month, when the store hold its “bag day.”

“It’s the best deal in town,” she said, explaining that customers are given a kitchen garbage bag. “They can have whatever they can stuff in the bag for $8. One customer stuffed in 116 items, mostly children’s clothing.”

Helping those customers are five full-time employees and four part-time employees. CWS helped prepare them for the their positions by providing evaluations of their job skills, training, coaching, employment assistance and on-the-job support.

Sandra Walker, vocational services director for the organization’s Henderson site, said these services combine to support their mission.

“We are committed to helping anyone with challenges to find employment and integrate into the community,” Walker said.

That’s not always easy.

Betty Brooks, community employment manager, said, “Our challenge in this economy is putting our energy into helping people find jobs. Many small businesses are not in existence any more. We try to build relationships with large corporations, but that’s harder, more impersonal.”

She used as an example a young man, whom she described as being limited in verbal skills. He had proved to be a good worker but lost his job when the company he worked for closed.

“We have to advocate for some when they can’t advocate for themselves,” she said. With CWS as an advocate, he was able to find another job.

Brooks said 90 percent of the referrals received by CWS come from the N.C. Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services. In a three-way partnership, Vocational Rehabilitation will pay for training, which CWS arranges through Vance-Granville Community College.

Training may be for anything from basic work routines to computer skills.

“Our goal is for them to obtain the highest level of performance,” Brooks said.

She added that CWS is seeing an increase in the number of clients with criminal records or with substance abuse.

“Those are additional barriers we’re helping them overcome,” Brooks said.

Hudson Burton, community employment coordinator, said, “All companies are doing criminal background checks and drug screening.”

Placing clients with those background factors is particularly difficult.

He described one client who had stolen hubcaps as a teenager but had no offenses since then.

“In North Carolina, whatever you’ve done since you were a child stays on your record,” Burton said. “The state is unforgiving.”

With its pool of clients, CWS searches for job opportunities with community businesses and organizations.

“Small jobs, large jobs. We’re willing to give a quote on it,” Waverly said.

Walker said CWS could work with a company to carve out a specific job for a client with a defined set of skills.

Burton added, “We try to match people and their assets with a job, so that their challenges are not a barrier to that job.”

That’s a plus for the company as well as for the worker.

After helping clients obtain employment, CWS continues to provide support to help them adjust to the demands of the job.

“We don’t just drop them,” Brooks said.

Waverly said this is a busy time of year for the Thrift Store. Donations will be particularly welcome at this time. In addition to clothing, the Thrift Store accepts books, furniture and household goods. A drop box in the parking lot is available for after-hours donations.

“We’ll pick them up, if needed,” Waverly added.

CWS is a non-profit organization.

“We have a form for tax purposes,” Waverly said. “To get a deduction for 2013, they need to do it before Dec. 31.”

The organization’s hot dog cart is a popular feature that reaches out into the community. Operated by Mark Ellis, it offers victuals to the public while it provides training in food service for CWS clients. The cart’s usual site is in the CWS parking lot. But it also has participated in chamber of commerce events and this fall participated in a back-to-school event with Warren County.

When the weather drives the cart inside, the CWS cantina offers snacks, sandwiches and soft drinks.

Community Workforce Solutions operates in both Henderson and Raleigh, with a satellite location in Durham and the Gateway Clubhouse program in Garner.

The Henderson address is 602 South Garnett Street. The telephone number is (252) 492-9555.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.