Just one year ago, Sharon was using a walker to move around, and had trouble making eye contact when she spoke with people. Today, she moves freely, and loves helping customers at the Second Chance Thrift Store. Sharon will tell you her life has made a 180-degree turn since she started volunteering there through the Alternative Community Resource Program.
That’s exactly what Helene Stiffler had in mind when she created the peer-run coffee shop and thrift store at ACRP’s downtown Johnstown building. “It gives them a reason to shower in the morning, and to get out. It gives them a purpose. And I think it’s really important, especially for people in the mental health community or people who have been incarcerated and are looking for a second chance.”
The peers who run the Second Chance Thrift Store and its cousin, the One Sip at a Time Coffee Shop, are caseworkers and their clients receiving addiction and mental health services through ACRP. Some of them are working off community service hours. This is the first job some clients have ever had, and for many, it’s a first step on their path to self-sustainment. Through this program, peers develop important skills like customer service, working a register, and inventory management – skills they can use to get a paying job.
It all began in 2015 with a $1,600 grant from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies. That money bought a register, coffee equipment, signage, and furniture for the coffee shop. Within a few months, the coffee shop was paying for itself. With that success, the thrift store was a logical next step.
“These are the projects that we love to support,” says CFA Executive Director Mike Kane. “ACRP took our modest investment and turned it into a program that not only sustains itself, but provides important therapy in the form of work experience. They run a great coffee shop for everyone who works downtown, and offer quality retail at thrift store prices. It’s a win all the way around.”
Helene uses a wide network of friends and professional contacts to stock the store. Brand name clothing hangs with the tags still on, never having been worn. It’s packed with shoes, bags, shirts, children’s toys and clothing, kitchen supplies, jewelry, blankets, linens, and coats. Lots of coats, which the shop is giving out for free.
“We took a journey,” says Helene. “We thought we’d develop a coffee shop for our peer program, for them to meet people and develop other skills. We opened our little thrift store. We’re still on that journey. Every step we take is a second chance for everybody.”
The One Step at a Time Coffee Shop and Second Chance Thrift Shop are both inside the ACRP building at 119 Walnut Street. They’re open Tuesdays & Wednesdays from 10am-3pm, and Thursday from 10am-5pm.
The thrift shop is always looking for donations. If you’d like to help, call the store at (814) 619-0341 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.