Originally created 07/05/97

Welfare recipient finds thrift store work rewarding



Everything has to be neat and organized, said Gayshell Dunn as she hung men's shirts at the Children's Missions Thrift Store. Everything has its place, she said with pride.

Ms. Dunn, 28 years old, had never worked a day in her life until the day she walked into the thrift store, where she started volunteering more than a month ago.

"At first, I didn't like it because welfare had me working. But once my case manager helped me find someone to watch my kids, I came and started volunteering," said the young mother of four. "This is easy work, I'm glad I'm not in the heat. I wouldn't mind doing this from now on. "

Ms. Dunn's responsibilities include making sure the men's and baby clothing "departments" are organized, creating wall and floor displays at the store, separating and washing donated clothing.

She has been on the state's welfare rolls for the past 11 years. She and five other women, also long-time welfare recipients, volunteer at the thrift store on Central Avenue. They all hope to gain retail experience that will help land them paying jobs.

Georgia welfare reform laws were passed by the General Assembly this year. Under the new law, welfare recipients have a lifetime limit of four years on welfare unless they receive department approval for hardship cases such as medical disability or domestic abuse. The welfare law includes funding for job care and child care.

The thrift store's main purpose is to serve as a funding source for an orphanage that area church leaders are building in Nicaragua. But the leaders soon realized that they could help those in the community as well, said thrift store project coordinator Marcie Sweeney.

The workers come in with low self-esteems and don't want to work at all, Mrs. Sweeney said.

"They come in complaining of aches and pains that won't allow them to work or lift things. What I tell them is that I have aches and pains too and I work," said Marvelly Brooks, the 64-year-old grandmother who directs the thrift store project.

So how does this small, local business deal with such an attitude?

"Instead of turning them away at the door, we tell them we'll give it a try and we'll work together- putting up with each other's pains," Mrs. Brooks said. "They had an attitude when they first started but now they love it. They have a chance to be creative and an opportunity to get out of the house. They don't want to sit around the house all day and do nothing."