Photo by Bella Biafore
Tucked behind ELGA Credit Union on West Second Street, Reclaimed by Whaley is a small retail store creating a big impact on the Flint community.
Having opened its doors to residents in October of 2019, Reclaimed by Whaley sells new and lightly used clothes, shoes, homegoods and a variety of other products.
Except, it’s not just any old retail store. Not only does it create extra funding for the Whaley Children’s Center, but it gives foster youth a chance to gain job experience by providing employment opportunities.
“Already in the few months that we’ve been open we’ve had two former foster youth that have worked here,” said Ashleigh Sanders, Whaley Children’s Center’s director of community development. “One moved back to Detroit recently, so right now we have one girl who works here, she also goes to UM-Flint, so she’s really been enjoying her time. We’ve had great feedback from the community.”
The initial idea behind Reclaimed started just a year and a half ago when Mindy Williams, CEO of the Whaley Children’s Center, visited Sunshine Acres in Arizona.
Included at Sunshine Acres is a retail shop that uses donated goods to provide funding for the children’s home. William’s took inspiration from this concept and wanted to create something alike in the Flint community.
Putting her own spin on the idea, Williams wanted the Flint store to not only benefit Whaley financially, but most importantly have a dedicated role for foster youth within the shop.
“… A lot of previous foster youth have a harder time finding jobs. They have a lot more obstacles than your average teenagers or young adults. A lot of times there’s issues with getting to a workplace because they don’t have the vehicle, they don’t have the family support that other young adults do,” said Sanders. “So, they have more barriers and we just wanted to crush those barriers and give them a place they can start at.”
Because of the added difficulty for foster youth to find a job due to lack of experience or the inability to even get to work, opening Reclaimed was a monumental step in the right direction for the future of these young adults.
“I think it went right along with our Independent Living Program too, that was something that we kept getting feedback on,” said Casey Schlinker, Whaley Children’s Center’s director of program development. “As kids transition out, this is something that is a barrier. We have no work experience, we don’t have transportation, and so it really went hand-in-hand. For us to offer that workforce development piece, we have both upfront and behind the scenes opportunities for the kids…”
The Whaley Center’s employees are able to help foster youth build resumes, learn interview skills and, with the help of Reclaimed, build interpersonal development skills through retail experience.
“Not too many people know about us still since we just opened in October … When the community does come in it’s always positive and they’re always asking a bunch of questions,” said Rebecca Kinard, Reclaimed employee and UM-Flint junior. “I am able to educate them because a lot of people don’t really know what Whaley is or what they do. [The customers] knowing whatever they buy goes right back to the children makes them want to buy more things.”
Outside of the storefront, Whaley Center employees are working on developing a website where users can shop new and used products, entirely different from those in the store, that are also coming from various donations.
The website will become an additional tool for the Whaley Children’s Center to still receive funds from sales since the winter months offer a lot less foot-traffic in the store.
Moving forward, Sanders and Schlinker would like to host events in the space to get more people into the store, as well as inform the public on what the Whaley Children’s Center is all about.
“I think for us it’s kind of dual-benefitting because people are able to learn about what we are doing at Whaley when they stop in the store,” said Schlinker. “It’s a storefront, but here we are doing this work because of what we do at Whaley.”
The Whaley Children’s Center wants to create as many opportunities and provide as many skills as possible for their foster youth to use in the real world. To help with this, meeting new people through events in the store can be a huge advantage.
“We’ll probably have a whole calendar full of events come summertime; That’s definitely something we want to do,” said Sanders. “Most importantly, we want the kids involved … A really big part of being downtown is our foster youth are able to make those connections with people in our community that they otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to. It’s all about meeting new people.”
In regards to the community’s support already, Whaley is feeling the love.
“… It’s more than just a store, it’s all the different components and different partnerships,” said Schlinker. “We’ve been really lucky with the community support.”