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New Thrift store offers job skills for program residents
My Sister's Place aids homeless women
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Jessica Drexler, left, and Dawn Bedingfield, right, help Verna Courtney with her purchase Wednesday morning during the grand opening of My Sister's Place Resale Boutique. Proceeds from the boutique go back into the nonprofit women's homeless shelter.

For the past 17 years, My Sister’s Place in Gainesville has helped homeless women and children with shelter, meals, transportation needs, referrals and other services.

Now the program has job training — and a store where they can work.

Brandee Thomas, executive director of My Sister’s Place, cut the ribbon Wednesday for My Sister’s Resale Boutique, a new store located at 130 John Morrow Parkway in Washington Square. Proceeds from the store will go to the shelter and some shelter residents will have the opportunity to be paid to work in the boutique, earning valuable job-training experience.

“We will also be using the store as a work-experience site for our ladies to help build up their customer service skills and their soft skills,” Thomas said. “Ultimately, our goal has always been to help our ladies overcome the obstacles that led to their homelessness. When our ladies come in, most of them only have a background in warehouse work or they only have a background in being a cashier. They don’t have skills they need to help them pursue the management and assistant management positions.”

Most of the clothing and other items at the store are for women, but there is also a small men’s section. Thomas said shelter residents can come to the store and get items they need free of charge. All of the merchandise is donated and proceeds from sales will support the shelter.

Dawn Bedingfield, a former shelter resident, is one of the women who will be working in the boutique helping shelter residents who work there. Bedingfield and her family lived at the shelter for six months about seven years ago. Her daughter has a chronic illness that made it difficult for Bedingfield to care for her and keep a job.

“We lost our income,” she said. “My Sister’s Place gave us a sense of stability. It really helped us at a time when we needed it most. We needed stability; we needed love; we needed a family. They’ve become our family. That’s why I’m here, that’s why I do whatever I can to support this ministry.

“My Sister’s Place connected us with the people and the community, the work, the church — everything that helped us get me a part-time job, so that I could work and also take care of my children, specifically my daughter whose illness was just debilitating for the entire family,” she added. “Her medical condition has improved just because I was able to work part time and be at home with her and have flexibility.”

Bedingfield said she is excited about the new opportunities the store will give the shelter and its residents.

“This boutique is really going to help bring the funds in to help keep that ministry going and also train some of the women to learn personal customer service tools, management skills — all of those professional skills that they need in order to get along in the community and life.

Janet Quick, a board member and volunteer, works with the store to keep the displays looking nice and has also led efforts to get donated items for the store. She said she is “beyond excited” that the shelter is going to be able to offer job training through the boutique.

“This was exactly what I wanted to do, to help open a store,” Quick said. “We looking forward to actually training the women. I like to train, not give. The shelter teaches them how to be more independent.”

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