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A Better Future

Posted On December 31, 2018

Making a purchase at the Store of Hope provides support for a juvenile work program

By JACKIE PERRONE     Photos by SALLY SCOTT

Hand-made gifts are treasured by the recipients. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have the talent and skill to create them, so, we hunt down places where artistic work is offered for sale. Here’s the bonus: every item sold at the Store of Hope paves the path out of detention for a juvenile offender.  Win-Win!

South Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) sets lofty goals in its calling of administering justice to young lawbreakers. Temporary loss of freedom? Yes. Discipline? Necessary. Offering hope for a better future?  Absolutely. The Store of Hope stands as a testament to the encouragement and optimism of DJJ’s work program. Dedication, effort, reform, and yes, art, come together here for the benefit of juvvies under detention, in a remarkable display of creativity.   It’s a world most of the public never sees.

The Store of Hope is housed in a former residence at 3208 Broad River Road on the campus of DJJ in northwest Columbia. Melanie Pompey manages the store as Program Coordinator, and relishes showing visitors around the showcases. Her colleagues Jarid Munsch and Andy Broughton of the DJJ staff explain the background which brought the Store into being.

“About 10 years ago this department began a work program for juvenile detainees,” says Munsch. “It’s treated like a job, and considered a special privilege for the young men and women who participate. Instead of idling their days away without purpose, they can earn admission to this program which teaches them useful skills. They also learn to show up on time, to stay for the workday, and to work with others.”

“First every person has to complete the GED. That in itself is something many have never been able to accomplish. Also, each must live up to the expected standard of behavior. If their behavior record is scarred, they can’t take part in any work program. This has to be maintained throughout their stay; a bad performance will bring on expulsion from the program. This is an amazing incentive to clean up their act.”

These students also acquire something many of them have never had: earned income for their efforts. Those who succeed in learning the trades can be paid for their accomplishment, with pay increasing as abilities develop. These stipends are held for them in a personal account which can be a nest egg to launch their return to freedom.

The satisfaction of a job well done; a new skill to create something useful; and money in the bank⸺these are incredible achievements for youngsters who may have been floundering for their whole lives. What better way to turn a life around?

The work program enlists the expertise of a variety of technicians and craftsmen as teachers.  Just a sample of some of the skills being taught: Upholstering, welding, picture framing, woodworking, art work, painting, sewing, pottery… the list goes on. Dave (carpentry) and Rebecca (upholstery) Morrison have been teaching their skills ever since the work program was created.  Alberta Graham guides her students in pottery and also framing. Youngsters who have never had the opportunity to express themselves in hand-made creations find motivations for learning. And talk about pride of accomplishment!  A finished chair or bowl or teapot made with loving hands for someone else to enjoy. It’s a new experience for all.

The Store of Hope came into being four years after the birth of the work program. Stacey Atkinson, who held the title of Director of Community Development at the time, came up with the idea to make their handywork available to the public, with the proceeds returning to DJJ to buy materials and keep the program going. Now retired from the daily schedule, she has turned her energies to working for homeless youth. She looks back on her years at DJJ as helping young people to be part of a living and learning community.

“You’ll find that at DJJ, the goal goes beyond teaching marketable skills,” she says. “We want the young people to leave there civic-mindedness, helping to create a healthy community for all. Everything is geared to a servant-leadership approach, re-directing abilities to create a product and to make a difference.”

“For instance, we had a program called Chairs for Charity. The Adirondack chairs they made were given to the faith community; the students learned the thrill of giving, along with the satisfaction of making something useful. This is their opportunity to dream, to develop marketable skills, and to give back to the community.” 

You’re guaranteed to be impressed with a tour of the Store of Hope. Pompey says that their most popular item, by far, is the Adirondack chair. They strive to keep a supply of them on hand, along with the upholstered chairs and stools in a variety of patterns and fabrics. Incidentally, donations of such items as old furniture, extra fabrics, wood and paint and of course money, are welcomed at The Store. Downsizing and getting rid of that tired old sofa? Pass it on to find a new future at the hands of artisans who will strip away its worn-out parts and give it new life.

Other popular items are the cutting blocks and knife racks made by the woodworkers, and pottery which features whimsical teapots and dishes.  Pillows are decorated with painted designs; pictures are framed carefully and expertly. “Last year we cleared about $34,000, which of course went right back into the program,” says Pompey.

By next spring, you’ll also be able to view a video of the youngsters and their mentors who are making the work program a success. Jarid Munsch is on board to produce this show and who knows? TV production may be added to the list of work program skills on the slate.  

Jarid Munsch says they like the phrase “Restoring Value.” It applies to their life situation as well as the products of their labors. The goal is discipline through encouragement rather than punishment. Experience has proved this to be achievable.

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