When four mothers found lifetime opportunities for their intellectually challenged children limited they decided to take matters into their own hands and work toward making their future more than depending on strangers or government programs to take care of them.
Donna Hicks, Patty Shackleford, Janie Kilpatrick and Joy Curtis enlisted the help of Steve Remshardt, a retired postal worker and area coordinator of Special Olympics Red River Area 13. They formed a non-profit organization known as Bridging the Gap Together, Inc. and opened the Good Deal Thrift Store. That would be the beginning of a journey to provide opportunities not only for their children but others who are unable to perform in a regular work environment.
Their biggest concern for their children was what would happen to them when they are no longer able to care for them. The state currently has seven group homes for disabled but none are located nearby and may not even be available later due to funding. The children are now young adults and their productivity in the work place is limited but giving them simple chores to do gives them confidence and feeling of self-worth.
They began building their dream almost five years ago with the purchase of the old Colvert Dairy building at 401 N. First Ave. in Durant. Two of the women had worked with thrift stores before and one of the stores with federal funding had a long waiting list for participation. With donations from the public, they have succeeded in providing part-time jobs for 10 disabled people and six paid employees.
Under the supervision of the employees, the disabled are allowed to work an average of nine hours per week that has given them the feeling of accomplishment, especially when they are given praise for a job well done. While donations have been sufficient to keep the doors open and people working, there is now a need to improve the building, especially in the work areas with hot weather approaching.
“We need ceiling fans or air conditioning in the work areas,” said Remshardt. “We bought the old building from the owner and it does need improvements which we have been able to do piecemeal with donated material. In addition to fans, we need light fixtures and would like to obtain a van for transportation.”
They are very involved in the Special Olympics and a percentage of their profits go to the Red River District 13. Remshardt, Shackleford, Kilpatrick and Hicks all share a rich history of 27 years attending the summer and winter Special Olympic Games. Throughout the year, they organize bi-weekly bowling practices and direct other practices such as track and field, basketball, softball, volleyball and equestrian.
Donations are accepted in the rear of the building and they have had some problems with people driving up at night and loading up donations. One of those thieves got a surprise when they were captured on camera and a picture of the vehicle posted on the Bryan County Soundoff Facebook site. The make and model of the car was quickly identified and a distinct pinstripe on the hood gave police the clue they needed to make an arrest. That hasn’t completely stopped thefts, but cameras are in place to help identify the suspected thieves.
Through association with Tiedemann Globe in Arizona, Good Deal Thrift is able to recycle clothing, shoes, purses, bedding, linens and other items that cannot be sold due to damage or lack of demand.
“We believe that having our employees work in a regular business environment will raise awareness of their capabilities so they can become a more accepted, productive and valued part of this community,” said Donna Hicks. “We believe that after the death of the parents or caregivers, it is in the best interest of the special-needs resident to be able to remain in the same location, near their jobs, homes and network of friends and supporting professionals.”
Having a disabled child, either physical or intellectually challenged presents a mountain of obstacles for parents and probably the most pressing is what to do for their child when they or the primary caregiver is gone. These mothers and Remshardt will continue working on every aspect of their child’s future in hopes it will make a difference when they are gone.