Little Shop, Big Mission

 

Written by Christy Shuler in the March 2012 Issue

earcJust a little thrift shop at Third and Littler; that’s what some might see when driving past the EARC store. What they probably don’t see, however, is the incredible vision
behind it.

Just outside the shop is a young man unloading the truck, which is quite full. They have just made their run for the day. The man hoists a large TV from the back of the truck and carries it into the store, a huge grin spread across his face. As he takes it inside, another young man happily greets customers from behind the counter. Eventually, the proceeds from this television, along with the rest of the items in the store, will help fund their paychecks along with those of other developmentally challenged individuals like them.

According to a study done by the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council, there are more than 63,000 developmentally disabled persons in the state. There are 14,602 currently receiving funds.

EARC, or Employment and Residential Centers, currently employs roughly 130 client and staff individuals in Edmond. They hope to keep increasing that number.

There weren’t always such opportunities for people with special needs. In 1970, when EARC opened their first thrift store in Edmond, their goal was to raise public awareness of developmental disabilities and provide opportunities for disabled adults, particularly employment within their store. However, there was no funding for such a project and the agency relied solely on volunteers and donations to achieve their goal.

Today, EARC, a United Way partner agency, operates three thrift shops, two living centers, and provides assisted living services as well as in-home support to their clients. In addition, they run the Trails Sheltered Workshop which gives special-needs individuals work training through subcontracted jobs. Working alongside a supervisor or job coach, EARC allows these individuals to work directly with the public in a number of various positions both in and outside the thrift stores.

"Many people in Edmond know about [our] thrift stores, but they don’t know what we do," says executive director Bonnie Wells. "It’s not just a thrift store, [we are] creating jobs and opportunities for our clients."

However, the experience they give to their clients is not just about a paycheck. While many individuals with developmental disabilities are given government subsidies, they still have a need to prove themselves by being a part of something, explains Wells. Simply having the means to survive does not replace feelings of self-worth. "Being productive and being in a real job where you feel good about what you’re doing is what we’re trying to do with our clients" she said.

And while some special-needs adults do find work outside of their agency, these individuals often face trouble with the social aspects of their employment. Communicating with their supervisors and co-workers and fitting in can be more difficult than simply learning a routine task. EARC provides additional support in these areas so that their employees feel that they are an essential part
of a team.

Last year’s annual report by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services states that in Oklahoma County, 2,204 developmentally disabled are receiving state funds. However, 1,590 remain on a waiting list. "There are a lot of people with service needs out there," explains Wells. The means to provide that support, however, lies mostly in the hands of the public.

Donations are what drive EARC and their mission to success. Donated items in good condition are resold in the stores and the money is used to pay employees as well as fund work projects, transportation and housing services. Fewer donations mean fewer jobs for the coaches as well as clients and less money to house and transport
these individuals.

Thinking about donating but afraid your ’90s T-shirt won’t sell? Donate anyway. EARC accepts 100 percent of all donations and non-sellable items are placed into salvage where they are recycled and sold. With two shops in Edmond and one in Guthrie, there are even more opportunities to stop by. In addition, EARC offers pickup services for items too large or heavy to be brought to the donation center. And receipts are available for tax deductions.

As a small local agency, EARC prides itself on being an Edmond facility through and through. After all, the work they are doing is not just for their clients, but for the community. In essence, the more jobs they create, the more money is being circulated into Edmond. And they want to continue serving Edmond by building more job opportunities for its residents. That is, if folks keep visiting and donating to its thrift stores. "Edmond has always been a very generous community," said Wells.

Thrift stores are located at 1408 E. Oklahoma Ave. in Guthrie, 92 E. 15th in Edmond, with the donation center at 100 E. Third in Edmond. For more information, go to www.earcinc.org. For donation pickups, call 285-7658.

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