PONCHATOULA — Jennifer Wells sorted through bags of donated clothes, tossing out those with rips or stains.
For Wells, who uses a wheelchair, it was a labor of love.
The 22-year-old Springfield woman, who has struggled with spina bifida since birth, works full time at Fabulous Finds, a resale clothing store in Ponchatoula.
Wells is one of three disabled workers at the store, a staple in the Ponchatoula community that is celebrating its one-year anniversary Sept. 14.
The new venture is one of many job opportunities the nonprofit Options has provided to people with disabilities in its more than 30-year existence. Its mission is to help people with disabilities live and work in the community.
Wells’ disability, which has her use a wheelchair most of the time, doesn’t stop her from giving 100 percent at Fabulous Finds.
“I’m a trouper,” Wells said. “Without this job, I would be going crazy. Being around other people makes me feel involved.”
Wells has worked at the store since it opened, sorting donated clothing and cleaning the 4,000-square-foot building.
“We’re always looking for ways to provide more work for people with disabilities,” said Christie Gardiner, Options development director.
The organization opened the resale store after visiting a similar operation a few years ago in the Lake Charles area, Gardiner said.
While it took a year to transform the Ponchatoula building into a retail store, it wasn’t long before word got out and an anonymous donor offered to pay rent on the building for the first two years.
The facility was one open room when the organization agreed to the lease two years ago, Gardiner said.
The Options maintenance crew worked swiftly to divide the store into two usable spaces and then construct bathrooms and fitting areas.
Maintenance crew members, many of whom also have disabilities, worked feverishly to paint the walls and the floors, Gardiner said.
Today, the store is thriving and 100 percent of the profits go back to Options to continue to create more job opportunities and to help disabled clients.
“Word of mouth just keeps spreading,” Gardiner said. “We have a bunch of loyal customers who come every week to see what’s new.”
Customers include Sarah Dubois, a Maurepas nurse who serves at Evergreen Life Services, an organization that sends many of its clients to Options for assistance.
“Our whole office comes here,” Dubois said. “They always have good sales, it’s very organized and it’s cheaper than most places.”
The resale store has clothing for children to adults at prices starting at around $3.50.
Dubois said she visits the shop at least once a week to see what new items she can find, many of which still have the retail price tags attached.
Her reason for shopping at Fabulous Finds runs deeper than the bargains she finds, she said.
“It gives them (people with disabilities) the opportunity to work with the community,” Dubois said. “They feel like they’re bigger than a person with a disability.”
Dubois also said the store also educates the public because they see people with disabilities doing what she called normal tasks.
From the smiles on the crew members’ faces, it was clear the store is fulfilling that goal for Wells as well as for Kenneth Greenwood and Lyddia Roe, both of whom have intellectual disabilities. Under the supervision of Crew Manager Sheila Smith, the three employees arrive early each morning to sort through each new batch of donated items, tossing out clothing with stains or tears.
“He’s like a machine,” Smith said of Greenwood. “He just doesn’t stop and he doesn’t ask for assistance.”
Smith said there isn’t a day the employees don’t arrive happy.
Smith said her job as their supervisor is rewarding and often lifts her spirits.
“You’re giving them something to look forward to,” Smith said of those with disabilities.
The store survives strictly on donations, which can be dropped off during store hours, Gardiner said.
In addition to Fabulous Finds, Options clients clean several businesses in the area, sell handmade jewelry, operate a firewood and garden center, operate a lawn service and an ironing service, shred papers for local business and sort and resell Mardi Gras beads.
For information on Options or the services it provides, call (985) 345-6269, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.options4u.org.
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