Tucson has many resale stores. Some are built on consignment offerings, while many others are based on donations. But one offers some extra benefits that many people do not know about. That store is Deseret Industries, which is celebrating 75 years of service with an open house for ecclesiastical leaders on November 7th.
Owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deseret Industries (DI) is a chain of 42 stores that sells used items, but most importantly, they also help people transform their lives. In Tucson, the store is located at 605 East Grant Road, in the Fry’s shopping center. The store itself is clean and very well organized. The employees are friendly and happy. Perhaps part of the reason they are is that the store is more than a place to sell used goods at rock-bottom prices.
Sherri Wilson has been at the Tucson location for 12 years, the last 2 as manager. For her, working in the store is a labor of love. Local donations provide the stock, with only occasional help from another Arizona site when supplies run too low. The best times are when donations keep up with demand. The Tucson DI store serves all Southern Arizona communities, so accepts donations from far and wide.
DI also partners with other nonprofits in Tucson to help those in need. Wilson explained that organizations can apply for Community Grants to help in their humanitarian work. Catholic Social Services, International Rescue Committee, and several other local nonprofits have participated in this area of outreach.
Everything donated is used in one way or another. If an item doesn’t sell in the store, it will be sent to the DI center in Mesa where like items are assembled into 250-pound bales and sent on. The bundles may end up in a humanitarian aid or disaster relief shipments. In the case of a clothing item in poor condition, it may be cleaned, shredded and sold to be used as stuffing in furniture. “Nothing is wasted,” Wilson said.
Wilson often states that, “if you can merchandise at DI, you can merchandise anywhere.” While regular retail stores may have 100 of one item, she explains, DI more likely has one each of 100 items. To arrange those logically so that shoppers can find what they are looking for takes discipline and an ability to follow rules—skills that can be used in many professions.
Which brings us to the other thing DI does so well: they transform lives. There are three full-time and two part-time salaried employees at the store. Wilson is supported by two Job Coach Trainers, Josh Richins and Daniel Barnett, plus Development Specialist LaWana Mills and Administrative Assistant Julie Burke. The 25 or so associates are individuals who need help preparing to enter or reenter the workplace for various reasons. About 10% are immigrants. At any given time, between 30 and 40% are disabled in some way. The rest are people who have some kind of hurdle to overcome.
All come to DI on the recommendation of their Mormon bishop (similar to a minister or pastor) with responsibility for the congregation in the geographic location in which they live. That does NOT mean that they have to be members of the Church; but they do have to go through a screening process with a bishop. “We are a bishop’s storehouse,” Richins explained. This is a resource of the Church that is administered just as any other welfare-related program. Acceptance is based on need.
People work at DI for various reasons. They may lack social skills needed for the workplace. There may be a vocational training that they need but can’t afford. They may be looking for more meaningful work or a career change. Perhaps they are looking for better wages. Some have been through rehab or have done jail time and want to get their lives back on track. Whatever the reason, the job coach trainers work with them one-on-one to help them achieve their goals. They are also assigned mentors to encourage them along their paths, many of whom become good friends. “A good mentor makes all the difference to an associate,” Wilson said.
The job coach trainers both hold education-related degrees, so are well qualified to help people in this way. Josh Richins explained the most exciting part of the program: when people are enrolled, they sit down with one of the trainers and map out a plan with short- and long-term goals. “We remove barriers to finding jobs,” said Richins, whether those barriers are lack of a GED or training, criminal records, or something else. They work toward proficiency and confidence in the basics and specifically targeted work behaviors.
DI also has a very special program that allows qualified associates to receive further training for a particular vocation. DI and the associate work together to partner with a business in the community, which provides training not available at the store. The associate works for the business partner, while being paid by DI, for up to six weeks. This allows the candidate to find out if this is really the kind of work he/she wants to do, and helps with the transition into that role.
Currently, one DI associate who is interested in becoming a hair stylist is working for Ivan’s Studio on First Avenue as part of this program. The owner participated in a prior business partnership and was happy with her experience, so she was eager to be involved again. In such an arrangement, the employer may or may not hire the person once the training is over, but the candidate is sure to gain skills and feedback that will help him/her find a job. DI helps with that part of the process, too.
Deseret Industries may be a little out of your way, but when you consider all the good they do, perhaps it is worth it to go the extra mile to take your donations there. Other ways to help are to shop in the store and to volunteer when opportunities are offered—especially if you are asked to be a mentor.
The Deseret Industries 75th Anniversary Priesthood and Leadership Open House is Thursday, November 7th. Of course visits from any interested parties at other times are welcome, too.
Mentor link: http://deseretindustries.lds.org/?lang=eng
Rehab link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhZPaTq91tE
Local donations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXOlPGrIVaY