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Jemez House Thrift Store reaches a turning point

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BY ROBERTA R. FINE
Special to the Monitor

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Jemez House Inc. Thrift Store is rounding out its 21st year as a community and youth resource. Thanks to the generosity of its donors, it is facing growing pains and must make some hard decisions, again asking the community for its cooperation and forbearance.

It has become an eyesore and a thorn in county management’s side due to unmanageable donations left on the store’s porch during off hours.

The organization is an outgrowth of a group home for troubled or neglected children founded by a pastor of the United Church of Los Alamos. When the group home closed in 1996, due to new state requirements that were too expensive for it to meet, one of the thrift stores that helped to support it remained open.

The newly formed board decided to use the funds generated to assist alumni of any group home in New Mexico to further their post secondary education. Since then, 65 students have received stipends for up to five years to assist their studies in areas such as auto mechanics, cosmetology, sociology, psychology, special education, business, engineering, anthropology and theater. They have studied at institutions in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Chicago, New Orleans, China, Italy and Puerto Rico. Most have graduated from their programs.

Some have not, but it is not considered wasted money to give a taste of learning to those who otherwise wouldn’t have received it.

These young people have not had the benefits of positive family experiences in work habits, money management, self-care and validation that they need to function successfully.

Many are burdened with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and other physical or mental impediments affecting their performance in school and society.

After group home and high school, they are on their own. Mercifully, the home counselors keep in touch with them, advising them when they ask for it, sending them applications, assistance forms, and other materials.

Jemez House Inc. Thrift Store is assisting seven students, two of which have children of their own whom they hope to support properly. These older students are usually the most successful. They have learned that life is not an easy ride. They make the most of every opportunity; appreciating every dollar sent to them.

Our students are just out of high school and usually have a disappointing first semester in college. They have come from a structured environment where most decisions were made for them. Being responsible for yourself and how you spend your time is both heady and scary. To retain their scholarship they must pass at least one academic class. Most students right their ship eventually and sail on to port.

Jemez Thrift Store answers more purposes than educating group alumni. Victims of fire and other disasters can restock their lives in two authorized visits without charges. On Saturday mornings of their monthly culling days, representatives from charitable organizations (homeless shelters, crisis centers, Habitat For Humanity, teen centers, refugee homes, etc.) may select items without charge. Once a month, the racks are thinned to make space for new offerings and the clothing bagged and picked up by Save the Children. A pair of volunteers regularly takes children’s clothing to an orphanage in Mexico.

Local citizens have discovered that specialty kitchen gadgets they’ve been searching for are sometimes available. Barely-used baby clothes abound as to tee shirts, men’s and women’s jeans and other clothing.

Cards for all occasions, gift wrap, boxes, tins, baskets, craftware, books, office supplies, compact discs and DVDs, golf clubs and useful items you never knew existed.

Some folks socialize there, shop together, bring grandma and the kids.

Teachers are missing a good bet if they don’t drop in and check out teaching aids, project odds and ends, holiday decor, necessary junk that you can’t elsewhere.

Over these years, the store has recycled a ton of material that might have ended in the landfill; now volunteers have to deal with the porch looking so unsightly that the county has had to take corrective measures.

The store is asking that donors do not drop off broken or soiled items because volunteers are not prepared to repair and clean them. Space and manpower are at a premium. Precious volunteer energy and work hours are spent carting items to the transfer station that should have been taken there by a resident.

Jemez House volunteers are part-timers who give from the heart and are not paid. Being a non-profit is weighty. Workers are not allowed to profit from any transaction lest they jeopardize that standing. Purchasing an item and then reselling it is permitted.

All have lives to lead, squeezing out time to help the cause; they request donors bring their contributions during the posted store business hours to allow them to comply with the county nuisance code.

There is not a lot of masculine muscle available to drag in herds of sofas. (The Mormon elders who regularly assist in the heavy work are a gift.) At the next board meeting on July 13, the members will have to confront these problems.

Many possible solutions will be considered. They include, rent more space to house contributions and solicit more volunteers to staff the space, close the store and use the trust account money to assist students as long as it lasts or hire a full-time manager, which will result in having less money for students. Does the community regard the store as an asset worth keeping?

Jemez House Inc. Thrift Store extends thanks and gratitude to all who have believed in its mission and assisted in implementing it. The board is asking for continued support for that mission and assistance to fit itself into an orderly, lawful slot in an orderly community.