Bryan dusts donated merchandise for sale at Freedom Treasures Resale Store in Hartland Township. The store is one of several operated by Highland-based Freedom Work Opportunities where disabled adults can learn job and life skills. / ALAN WARD/DAILY PRESS & ARGUS

Hartland store gives disabled adults a chance

Her task of pricing items completed, Carrie was ready for her next assignment.

But first, she wanted a hug from Renee Stone.

“Working here can be very rewarding. Freedom is like a family,” Stone said.

Stone is the manager at Freedom Treasures Resale Store at 9532 E. M-59 in Hartland Township. The store opened in October and provides disabled adults with a place to learn valuable work and communication skills while earning their own money .

The Hartland store is

one of several Freedom Treasures stores — but the first in Livingston County — operated by Highland-based Freedom Work Opportunities. Other stores are in Highland, Waterford and Grand Blanc.

The nonprofit works with adults from Livingston, Oakland and Genesee counties whose disabilities range from autism and Down syndrome to loss of hearing or vision. Some have other developmental disorders or have physical maladies.

“They usually change our staff’s lives more than we do theirs,” said Marie Tino, marketing director for Freedom Work Opportunities. “It’s such a wonderful program. I come in and get my hugs every morning. They’re thrilled to be here. They want to work, they want to be doing something productive  with their lives, and we get to give them the opportunity to do that.”

Hard at work

While Carrie was pricing items in the store on a recent afternoon, her four co-workers were busy as well.

Nikki was steam cleaning clothing to remove any wrinkles. Ron was using a roller to remove lint from a donated coat. Bryan, wearing a dress shirt and tie, was meticulously setting dinnerware on a six-piece dining room set displayed in the store’s showroom.

Bobbie said one of her jobs at the store is to say hello to customers.Bobbie arranges clothing on racks at Freedom Treasures Resale Store in Hartland Township. / ALAN WARD/DAILY PRESS & ARGUS

“I like to greet people and help them find whatever they want,” she said.

Donated items are cleaned and sorted in the back room. Items then get price tags before they are displayed in the 3,000-square-foot store’s showroom.

The Hartland store’s inventory includes clothing, housewares, toys, furniture, DVDs and much more.

“It’s whatever people have donated, as long as it’s clean and sellable,” Tino said. “You’d be amazed at how much stuff we get that is brand-new with tags. Not everything is used.”

Training for life

The goal of Freedom Work Opportunities and its Freedom Treasures stores isn’t sales or profits. The goal is to help consumers, as the workers are called, gain the skills to lead productive lives.

“Even though we say they come here to work, this isn’t their job ; this is their training,” Tino said. “They come here to learn how to run a register, how to price and make displays in the store look good. They work in the back on cleaning items and processing them. They’ll be able to put that on their resume and be able to get a job out in the community eventually.”

Tino said Freedom Work Opportunities consumers often go on to find jobs at restaurants or grocery stores.

The agency also helps them prepare for job interviews .

“We’ve had some higher-functioning people who won’t even go into our program, we’ll just help find them a job and help with the interview process,” she said. “We just had someone with a nursing degree who we helped place.”

Robin Trimper is executive director of Freedom Work Opportunities. The organization was founded in Highland in 1983 by her late parents, Harold and Beverly Weeks, after their son, Chip, graduated fromhigh school  but found few opportunities for work.

Starting with a crew of six consumers providing lawn maintenance to area group homes, Freedom Work Opportunities has grown to include nearly 200 consumers doing assembly work, cleanup projects, recycling and other tasks as well as working in the resale stores.

“We give them a sense of accomplishment,” Trimper said. “They get to go to work every day like mom and dad, brother and sister, and earn their own money to spend.”

 

Donations welcome

Freedom Treasures Resale Store in Hartland Township is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Donations can be dropped off at the store, or Freedom Work Opportunities can schedule a pickup at the donor’s home.

Stone said the store’s inventory is rotated quickly. Items that do not sell in a timely manner are reduced in price, then given away if they still do not find a buyer.

“Hopefully, when a customer comes back they won’t see the same stuff,” she said.

Shoppers who meet the consumers and see the joy and pride they take in their work may leave the store with more than a good bargain.

“I tell my customers, you can actually see your money at work here,” Stone said.

For more information about Freedom Work Opportunities and its resale stores, call 248-887-1597 or go to http://www.freedomwork.org.