New thrift store helps Ibero clients, community

ROCHESTER — Michelle Thompson-Taylor came to the grand opening of Ibero-American Action League’s new thrift store to support the agency’s work in transforming a former blight in the neighborhood into a bright, clean place that will help the developmentally disabled learn job skills.

But the University of Rochester staffer who works in the admissions office also walked away with a Scrabble game that she found for $1.

"It’s beautiful," Thompson-Taylor said of the Fashion Works thrift store located at 200 Clifford Ave. "And the idea of community development in the area is really great."

More than two dozen people came out Nov. 17 for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the store, which also will offer clothes and household products for neighborhood and community residents. Fashion Works will employ five people — referred to as consumers — who participate in Ibero’s day-habilitation program, which operates in a building adjacent to the store. Two of those five people speak Spanish.

The day-habilitation program — created in 2003 specifically to meet the needs of Latinos with developmental disabilities — offers individualized plans for consumers and includes such activities as computer training, cooking and writing. Social-skill development, which is another key facet of the program, also will be part of the training provided to consumers who work at the store, said Maureen McGory, program director.

Fashion Works’ prevocational training also will offer on-the-job experience that will develop consumers’ money-management and organizational skills, she added. The store officially opened on Oct. 26, and consumers had been cleaning and preparing the store for the grand opening since Sept. 1, McGory noted.

The ultimate goal is for the consumers to move on to jobs in the community, she said.

"They’ll have a better chance at being hired and being successful," she said. "And as they (consumers) move on, others will move in."

Fashion Works employee Nereida Figueroa said that she has enjoyed all the preparation that went into opening the store. She said that the store employees had to sort all the clothes that were donated for the opening, wash them, and fold and steam those that would be on display. In addition to selling clothing for adults and children, the store will sell shoes, household items and toys.

"When people come in and buy something, I put it in the bag," Figueroa said. "Everything is a cheap price. We like it here."

Hilda Rosario-Escher, Ibero’s president and chief executive officer, also is happy to see her dream come to fruition. The Ibero-American Development Corp. (IADC) division acquired the property more than 10 years ago, which includes the day-habiliation-services building and land on which now sits a 32-unit apartment building and two group homes, said Tom Madden, an IADC construction manager.

The store will serve four main purposes, Rosario-Escher noted: It will provide services to Ibero’s own consumers; provide services to the community; add jobs to the community; and bring community development to property that had been boarded up for years,.

"The transformation is phenomenal," Rosario-Escher remarked. "This is an oasis in the middle of a desert … bringing hope to our community. That’s really important."

The store building had been vacant for a number of years, said Eugenio Marlin, IADC’s president and chief executive officer. The property was formerly a lumberyard and the store served as a showroom, Madden noted.

Securing a $310,000 loan through the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities to renovate the store and complete the reconstruction took about three years, Marlin added.

"The value added to the neighborhood is incredible," he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fashion Works is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Anyone interested in making donations should call 585-544-7064, ext. 245.

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